Rugby: Gilchrist urges Edinburgh to keep their focus for Llanelli test

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Giant second row forward Grant Gilchrist is urging Edinburgh Rugby colleagues to remain focused on the task in hand when the RaboDirect Pro 12 League continues with the visit of Llanelli Scarlets to Murrayfield tonight.

With a momentous Heineken European Cup quarter-final at home to Toulouse just eight days away it would be understandable if minds were to dash ahead to what is undoubtedly the biggest fixture undertaken by the Capital side since they last reached the knockout stages in 2004.

But the 6ft 7in and 18st Gilchrist, who has been among the team’s busiest players this season with 16 league appearances and five Euro outings, says the smart thing to do is use the Scarlets test as a means of ensuring the squad is up to speed while at the same time boosting an ailing league position.

“We can use the Toulouse game to our advantage in the sense that we go in knowing Scarlets will be a massive test which can set us up well. To have two big games back-to-back is ideal and while our form in the league needs to be sorted this is an opportunity to do just that knowing the boost that would come from taking care of opponents aiming for the top four and play-offs.”

In fact, Scarlets have aggregated 98 points in recording successive wins over Treviso, Connacht and Cardiff.

Gilchrist, who recently moved out of the elite development ranks with a first full contact, added: “All we have been talking about is getting a win this week and setting ourselves up (for Toulouse). This weekend is about the win, first and foremost. If we go out and win this game then the Toulouse fixture takes care of itself because of the momentum we’ll generate.”

Injury delayed 21-year-old Gilchrist’s entry to the Edinburgh ranks but he has been making up for lost time and doesn’t intend to relinquish the jersey at this stage.

“I’ve probably exceeded my expectations in terms of game-time but the more you play the more you learn and I’ve got a few games under my belt now.

“Among these was the previous match at Scarlets (17-33) and we have to keep it going this time because things were quite close back then before they ended up pulling away.”

In fact, this is an opportunity for Edinburgh to put right a record that shows not only a run of three defeats against Scarlets but the fact they have failed to beat any of the Welsh teams in the league this season.

With a full international contingent back, though, and Scarlets so far unable to win outside the Principality in the league in 2011-12, opportunity knocks to end a run of eight Edinburgh league matches without a win.

Certainly, Stuart McInally, restored to No. 8 after a stint at open-side flanker for the first time in senior rugby last weekend against Newport Gwent Dragons, believes there is an extra edge to Edinburgh’s approach.

“We know we have not been performing and it has been a wake-up call these past few weeks when there were tries conceded that shouldn’t have been,” says the uncapped McInally, adding: “I wanted something good for the internationalists to come back to (so) it is really disappointing how we have lost five games and picked up one point in their absence – unacceptable.

“I am not interested in losing this game but at the same time we can’t expect to turn up and expect that it will not happen.

“I know Scarlets are extremely hard to break down. They have some dangerous runners in their backs such as George North, Jonathan Davies and Sean Lamont, plenty power.

“For us it is about taking ownership and making sure we can perform with this summer’s Scotland tour a huge incentive for me. Hopefully by playing open-side I have demonstrated I have another string to my bow while still completely focused on being a blindside flanker or a No. 8. Open-side is a bit more free roaming while blindside is more ball carrying. “I am not trying to convert but it helped to have had that experience.

“The summer tour (of Australia and South Seas) is a huge goal. I felt I was there or thereabouts the Scotland team when I was briefly 25th man (stand-by reserve) for France until I hurt my knee slightly.

“Still, training with Scotland was a great experience and I want to play for my country more than anything. It is such a big goal and to be involved with the squad was a step in the right direction, but I don’t want to be 24th or 25th man, I want to be pushing for a starting place instead.

“I need big opportunities and the next few weeks are exactly that. Starting against Scarlets.”