GreIg Tonks will renew old acquaintances today as Edinburgh Rugby head for Melrose to tackle English Premiership giants, Leicester Tigers.
But the opening pre-season friendly against a club where Tonks spent three years attached to the youth academy early in his career will be anything but a social occasion.
Now 25, he has time to make up after his second season at Edinburgh was ended abruptly in February by a shoulder injury while playing for Scotland A against England Saxons.
Until then, it had all been going swimmingly for a player born in Pretoria to a Scottish mother. In his debut season at Edinburgh, he was voted “players’ player of the year” and he celebrated with his (so far) only cap for Scotland against Samoa in the quadrangular tournament in South Africa weeks later.
Returning having set such a high standard, Tonks decided versatility was as good an encore as anything.
Switched from full back to stand off at the 11th hour in emergency circumstances at Gloucester when Harry Leonard failed a late fitness test for a Heineken European Cup tie, Tonks played such a pivotal role in a sensational victory that he kept the No.10 shirt for the next four matches until his injury.
During that period, both Leinster and Perpignan were also defeated by Edinburgh
“I got thrown in at the deep end when we beat Gloucester at Kingsholm, then had a few good wins,” he recalled. “I enjoyed playing there. It was a bit different and Alan [Solomons] has confidence in me.”
Now comes perhaps his hardest challenge – to hold off new signing, Tom Heathcote, starting today. “There’s competition in my position, alright, but that’s healthy,” declared Tonks.
The likelihood is both men will be used and Tonks knows what will be expected.
“It will be about getting into your stride, putting into reality some of the things you talk about all pre-season. It will be about strategies and plays because there’s only so much you can do in training.
“I wouldn’t say this pre-season is hugely different. Wherever you go, pre-season means a lot of work and a lot of weights. A ten-week period has been long and really tough, but it’s only going to be good for us.
“However, it takes a match to see how it all unfolds. Things you think might work well don’t always work well which is why we need this hit out.”
Compared to last season when coach Solomons arrived as the competitive curtain was rising, to be followed at various stages by assistants and southern hemisphere signings, Tonks believes Edinburgh are much more settled. “The guys are confident. The main thing is every player is here now. Last year we had guys coming in midway through. Now we are starting from scratch with a full squad. Guys have got to know each other. From day one there’s been a team environment.
“As for the team last season, it was a little bit up and down and one of our problems was that on our day we could do pretty well; it was doing it every week like the better teams do.”
Physicality and consistency are certainly bywords for Leicester who are undoubtedly one of the “better” teams.
Tonks appears grateful for the grounding he received there while being loaned out to a Nottingham team he helped narrowly defeat Heriot’s at Goldenacre in the inaugural B&I Cup before moving on to Northampton. “Leicester played last week so they have had a game to get some rustiness out of systems which is something we haven’t got,” he observes. “But two weeks away from the start of the season, I don’t think they will go too lightly.”
The same will be the case with Edinburgh, where competition in an expanded squad is surely best illustrated by messrs Tonks and Heathcote.