Gilchrist reflects on his Scotland career as he gets set to win 50th cap

Gilchrist reflects on his Scotland career as he gets set to win 50th cap

One of Grant Gilchrist’s earliest rugby memories is heading along to BT Murrayfield with his grandad 22 years ago, in the swirling wind and rain, for a game which saw a Duncan Hodge-inspired Scotland win the Calcutta Cup against their Grand Slam-chasing opponents.

That 19-13 triumph, whereby Hodge scored all of his team’s points including an iconic slippery lunge for the line, may have been Gilchrist’s first experience of such bedlam, but it was certainly not to be his last.

Little would the then-nine-year-old have known, but he would go on to grace the BT Murrayfield turf numerous times throughout a stellar international career, albeit there was a bit of a wait to face the Auld Enemy in Edinburgh – a wait that would be worth it, though.

A Scotland debut came in 2013 when Gilchrist was selected to start the final Six Nations match against France, having represented his country throughout age grade sides.

“Oh you don’t forget your first cap,” he explained. “I was a young lad, 22, playing alongside guys like Big Jim [Hamilton] and Al [Kellock] on a wet night in Paris. I remember it was a typically French 9pm kick-off; it was the longest day ever, knowing I was starting!

“It was a close game, 23-16, I had all my family across to watch and it was a special, special night.”

Grant Gilchrist's debut v France in 2013

For a player approaching 50 caps, it is perhaps surprising that Gilchrist’s next involvement in the Six Nations didn’t come until 2017, having suffered a series of injury complications along the way. His tenacity in recovering from these setbacks is testament to a genuine will to do well for Scotland, in a career that is blooming now as much as it ever has.

“That’s something I’m very proud of. I’ve had campaigns when I’ve been a first choice and played a lot, had years when I’ve picked up a few caps here and there, but I’ve managed to play at a level when I’ve been competing for a place for a long time now – and it’s something I plan on continuing to do for a while yet.”

That 2017 Six Nations involvement sparked a purple patch in Gilchrist’s international journey. He played a part in some of the most memorable BT Murrayfield games in recent history, including the narrow loss to New Zealand later that year, when the stadium rose as one to offer its appreciation to the totemic Doddie Weir and then, a few months later, that aforementioned first home encounter with England.

It would be the game that everyone would end up talking about. Scotland won 25-13, but the manner and swagger of victory was such that BT Murrayfield was rapturous to say the least.

18 years on from being soaked with his grandad as a spectator, Grant played a part in that Calcutta Cup masterclass. He recalled: “It’s the earliest memory of coming to BT Murrayfield and we were in one of the front rows, getting rained on throughout, but it was a first taste of just how good the atmosphere is at the stadium and I had to wait quite a while to actually play England at home in 2018. The atmosphere was pretty much unrivalled for me to this day, the best I’ve had in my career; it was unbelievable how passionate and noisy the crowd were.

“I’m sure people were still there an hour after full-time, so it shows how massive that win was for us. That and the New Zealand game in 2017 are the two that stick out in terms of being beyond your dreams and I just absolutely love playing at BT Murrayfield.”

The giant Edinburgh Rugby second row, known affectionately as ‘Gilcho’, went on to feature in the madcap 38-38 draw at Twickenham the following year before gaining selection for the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and featuring in the last two iterations of the Guinness Six Nations.

Having been present throughout Scotland’s progress in that time, the 31-year-old reckons that the spirit in camp is a big factor in the registering of some impressive results recently, as he added: “I think since the World Cup in 2019, the emphasis has very much been on the squad being close and there’s been a marked shift in that respect. Everyone is wanting to play but we’re all right behind the team – I’ve been in the non-23 at times and it really is a whole squad effort, and we’ve seen results come off the back of that.

“You can’t rely just on guys who take the field because the quality of preparation by 40 guys or however many counts for so much.”

Gilchrist is on the cusp of reaching 50 caps, a fine achievement by any international player, but one he typically won’t assume will happen. Rather, the big lock will keep doing what he’s always done and work hard to earn such honours.

“I’d love to get to it as I’m getting close,” he added. “Every time I go into camp I’m looking for the opportunity to play and I’ve always been like that. I feel like I’ve had conversations when not selected and my reaction is always the same: what can I do to get back in? And that’s always been my attitude; I want these experiences as much as possible and hopefully reach that 50.”

Gilcho has been a mainstay of the Scotland set-up for nigh-on a decade now and on Saturday will run out in Cardiff for the 50th time in a Scotland shirt. That kid in the stands, soaked through as Duncan Hodge led Scotland to a Calcutta Cup victory 22 years ago, would be in awe of the player he has become.

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