Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis has a double target against Lyon

Ben Toolis collects. Picture: Robert Perry
Ben Toolis collects. Picture: Robert Perry
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Ben Toolis goes into Edinburgh’s European Challenge Cup tie tomorrow at Lyon determined to prove a point on several fronts.

Firstly, second row Toolis wants to get the win that will stretch Edinburgh’s unbeaten run in the pool to five matches, and qualification would be guaranteed with a try bonus point.

Then there is the matter of trying to impress Scotland coach Vern Cotter.

But it is also possible to discern that 22-year-old Toolis wants to show Australia, where he grew up and was a member of the national rugby academy, what they are missing.

“Australia didn’t want me (so) I took my opportunity to come over here, go with the flow and see what happens,” says Toolis, whose twin, Alex, is also on Edinburgh’s books though developing at a slower rate.

“The door wasn’t necessarily closed in Australia. It was more that they hadn’t seen a lot of me because I had played volleyball (to representative standard).”

This son of a Scottish mother, from Carluke, saw his life change when Murrayfield director of rugby, Scott Johnson, was back in his native Australia and made an approach having got wind of Toolis’ heritage.

“The opportunity from Scott Johnson obviously came through an Australian connection,” says Toolis, adding: “What Scott was offering Alex and myself was very appealing, a chance to get into the professional system as quickly as possible.

“I wanted to play for someone who wanted me.”

Coincidentally it was an outing from off the bench against Lyon in the reverse leg of the fixture that, by his own admission, launched Toolis’ career, and nine successive starts down the line he has convinced Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons of his international credentials.

Says Solomons, who awarded Toolis a one-year contract extension last week: “It is up to the player to take the opportunity he is given.

“There was a time before Ben started playing for us on a regular basis that (forwards coach) Steve Scott and myself sat down with him and pointed out things that were important for him to bring, particularly his physicality and carrying at the breakdown. Also his defence.

“He started playing really well in club rugby (with Heriot’s) and performing in practices.

“He got an opportunity and grasped it with both hands.

“He is an incredible athlete with a great physique. He has got fantastic hand-eye co- ordination and aerial skills given the fact he is an international volleyball player.

“Ben is highly intelligent and has taken responsibility for calling the line-outs as well as being a demon at scrum time who pushes every time.

“Also his work rate is through the roof.

“Of course he can get better but he has established himself this season and it is great to see guys come through. He is a helluva player who I absolutely see playing for Scotland.

“Scott Johnson did a tremendous job in getting him here and spotting this talent.

“Australia will be kicking themselves.”

Toolis has certainly taken the line-out responsibility in his stride, saying: “I’d done it in the Australian club system which is a high standard.

“From that to professional level is tougher still but I came on against Lyon for Grant Gilchrist (broken arm) who called the line-outs and was happy with the way it went. It was a positive for me to come on in that situation.

“To get 55 minutes and be proud of how I performed, I just felt after that I needed more game time.

“This weekend Lyon’s front five will be a major part and when they were here they had a player who was so big they could hardly throw him up in the air at the line-out. The maul will be a big part for us and we have been working on getting it going and defending it.

“They will want to spin the ball wide too. So we will have to be on the front foot.”

Edinburgh announce their team later today, and Solomons has banished fears concerning hooker Ross Ford, who left the field during last week’s win over Connacht having recently had a back problem.

“It was nothing – just a twinge in Ross’s ribs.”