Waiting game over as Grant Gilchrist prepares to win first Scotland cap

Edinburgh's Grant Gilchrist. Picture: SNS
Edinburgh's Grant Gilchrist. Picture: SNS
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MURRAYFIELD might be the ancestral home of Scottish rugby, but things happen whenever the national team head north to Pittodrie, where Tonga are tackled tomorrow.

The first time the ground was used, against the Barbarians in 2005, coincided with Frank Hadden’s debut as coach, while, three years, later a 41-0 win over Canada marked the only tries scored so far at Test level by Al Strokosch and currently injured Ben Cairns on a snowy day when pitch lines had to be put down in red.

Move forward two years and a meeting with Samoa saw not only Dan Parks overtake John Rutherford’s drop goal record with a 13th strike, but 50th caps for Allan Jacobsen and Sean Lamont.

There was also that final kick with which Ruairidh Jackson slotted a penalty for his first international points and the win.

This time, 22-year-old Edinburgh forward Grant Gilchrist takes his place on the bench for the first time ready to demonstrate just how swift progress can be.

“At the end of last season I was still on an SRU development contract,” says the 6ft 8in and 18st 7lb second row. “If I do get on then hopefully I can show that if you are prepared to work hard then the rewards can come your way – and quickly.”

For Gilchrist, promotion to the edge of Scottish rugby’s top honour comes after careful planning.

“For the past fortnight I’ve acted as 24th man [travelling reserve] for the visits of New Zealand and South Africa. I feel it has provided invaluable experience getting to see close up what is required and how hard the guys work. Certainly I’m glad to be included in the matchday squad for the first time this way rather than drafted in at the last moment as might have happened as 24th man, as that would have meant somebody getting injured.”

What may also count in Gilchrist’s favour is the fact that last year he travelled to New Zealand on a Macphail Scholarship and had a taste of the Pacific Island flavour, including Tongans, that percolates Kiwi domestic rugby.

“I have learned there are some big boys among the Islanders who hit hard; fortunately the Scotland squad is equally solid.

“We have each had data on our opponents put on to our laptops and we have done our homework. Above all, we will be aiming to pin them back with good defensive lines.” If Gilchrist gets the nod, he will take the number of capped players in Edinburgh’s squad to 17 and there are six colleagues on duty in the matchday squad tomorrow to help him settle.

The statistic that may count most, though, is that Scotland’s starting line-up contains 382 caps to Tonga’s 198. The Scottish pack weighs slightly heavier, too, at 112kg to 111kg and must not be bullied the way they were by South Africa.

“Getting ball away from the rucks quickly and upping the tempo will be crucial,” says Gilchrist – and the irony is that although Scotland average a single try per match in coach Andy Robinson’s 34-game tenure (15 wins) they have proved adept at crossing the whitewash on Aberdeen’s narrower surface on the evidence of both the Baa-baas and Canada visits. Nothing less than a convincingwin is needed again tomorrow to restore confidence and provide momentum given Scotland haven’t won at home this year.