When Grant Gilchrist is asked if he feels he is owed a bit of good karma following a luckless couple of years, he taps the table and says “I’ll just touch a bit of wood here”.
You imagine it’s something he does quite a lot after suffering two major long-term injuries in as many years.
The Edinburgh lock will make his first Scotland start in over a year against Argentina this evening and admits his troubles have made him more appreciative of his time spent on the rugby pitch doing what he loves. Gilchrist’s future was looking bright in the summer of 2014 when, at the age of just 24, he skippered Scotland to a tour win over the Pumas in Cordoba. Scotland coach Vern Cotter was sufficiently impressed to name him as his captain for the autumn Test series later that year and that’s when the wheels came off.
A broken arm ruled him out of the series and the rest of the season, although he battled back to make the World Cup squad. There was more misfortune before the tournament in England when he was picked as skipper for the warm-up game in Turin but had to pull out on the morning of the match with a sickness bug.
Then he was forced out of the World Cup with a groin injury he picked up in the second pool match against the United States at Elland Road – a problem which subsequently required surgery and another season was wrecked.
“I’m more grateful for the time I get to train and to play,” said Gilchrist. “I like to think I got better and I like to think I try to get better every time I’m on the field. There are loads of areas in my game that I want to improve. Obviously, there’s a lot you can’t work on when you’re injured, but there are certain things you can do.
“Mindset wise, I like to think that I appreciate how much I enjoy what I do. It might be a really wet, cold day and you’re out scrummaging and maybe I took that for granted.
“Now, though, I really enjoy training a lot more than I did. I don’t take anything for granted now; I really enjoy it all and make sure that I’m trying to use every minute that I’m on the training field to get better. I know what it feels like to be away from it so I want to make the most of it.
“It has been a frustrating time. It is in the past now. I am just focusing on the job within the team. It was great getting back playing for Edinburgh and last weekend I loved every minute. I was disappointed we did not win but to be back was a great feeling.” Gilchrist came off the bench against Australia last weekend, covering an unfamiliar blindside role for a period, but packs down for his 14th cap today with Jonny Gray in the second row after Richie Gray was ruled out with a possible concussion.
The brothers have formed an impressive partnership in the national team’s engine room but Gilchrist relishes that competition.
“To play in this team I know I have to play my best rugby all the time,” he said. “Jonny and Richie played really well last weekend so I knew coming on to the field I had to perform but I think that is great. I love the competition.
“I know I am competing against world-class players like Jonny and Richie for a place in the team.”
Another man who is appreciating every minute of his time in the Test arena is John Barclay, the Scarlets back-rower who has firmly re-established himself in the Scotland team after two years in the wilderness.
“I know I’m not a kid. You see these guys at 20 and 21, winning their first caps, and there is definitely a shift from when I was in the squad before,” said the 30-year-old, who will win his 54th cap this evening when he starts at No.8 with rookie flankers Magnus Bradbury and Hamish Watson either side of him.
“I know I’m not going to play forever. You definitely have that appreciation, the older you get. I definitely want to play more and I enjoy the way Vern lets us play, the way Greig [Laidlaw] leads us. It’s a good place to be at the moment.
“I was thrilled to get back involved – and I feel quite proud of the fact that I stuck in there and managed not only to get involved, but stay involved.”