Bayliss: It was such an honour to represent the jersey
Making your international debut is a momentous occasion for any sportsperson in whichever field they happen to excel.
The sense of occasion surely jumps up a notch or two when it happens to be set against the backdrop of more than 67,000 people; but throw in being asked to lift a trophy at the end of it all and you’re entering the realms of whatever comes after the cherry is placed atop an ice-cream sundae.
From sundaes to Sundays. In the aftermath of Scotland’s 15-13 victory over Australia in front of a full BT Murrayfield on 7 November, Josh Bayliss and Ewan Ashman were asked by captain Stuart Hogg to do the honours and collect the Hopetoun Cup, which had just been retained for the second time following quickfire wins over the Wallabies in 2017.
It was a classy offering from the vastly experienced Hogg at the end of an emotional day for all involved. Not since March 2020 had Scotland played in front of a capacity crowd and for the new caps to be asked to collect the glassware their team had fought so valiantly to keep, a perfect debut was rounded off.
“It was almost like an out-of-body experience when Hoggy asked us to go and pick up the Hopetoun Cup,” Bayliss said. “It made such a special day even more memorable and to get asked to do that was totally unexpected.”
The 24-year-old Bath back-row, who entered the fray for British & Irish Lion Hamish Watson for the final ten minutes of a nerve-jangling contest, talked about taking to the BT Murrayfield pitch for his international bow: “You do get the chance to take the atmosphere in when you’re a replacement, but the minute you get onto the pitch you’re so focussed on the game and nothing else.
“It was such an honour to represent the jersey and it’s a privilege to have that opportunity. It’s everything I dreamed of and so much more when it actually happened. It was such a proud moment for me and my family, to win that first cap, and I’ll never forget it.
“[Vice-captain] Jamie Ritchie presented me with my first cap and to get that from him was really special as he’s been really good to me since I first came into camp at the start of the year. He’s always willing to chat and for a player of that standing to give you your first cap, yeah it’s very special."
In becoming a Scotland international, Josh’s journey has seen him go from something of an unheralded prospect - selected initially at the start of this year to bolster a squad nursing a few injuries - to a Hopetoun Cup winner, all in the space of around eight months.
Rubbing shoulders at The Rec with the likes of British & Irish Lion Taulupe Faletau and England’s relentless rig Sam Underhill, Bayliss has stepped up to join such illustrious company seamlessly.
His impressive form for Bath saw Josh grab the attention of Scotland’s coaching team, with a call-up to Gregor Townsend’s squad coming ahead of the concluding match with France during the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, a game that his now international colleagues won with distinction to represent a first win in Paris since Bayliss was but one year old.
He recalled: “I was sitting where I am now actually, on my couch, and Gregor gave me a call and it went from there really. I had hoped to make my debut in the summer on the tour that got cancelled, but to eventually get the chance to win a first cap at a full BT Murrayfield was just incredible, in front of a full crowd.”
Bayliss’ inclusion in the Autumn Nations Series squad saw the former England age-grade star link up with a number of familiar faces: he actually faced now-international teammates Darcy Graham and Matt Fagerson during the 2017 under-20 Six Nations, who were coached by John Dalziel – now in charge of the Scottish pack.
And coming through the ranks at Bath, alongside the likes of Adam Hastings and Cameron Redpath, Bayliss is in a position whereby he knows many of his current and future international colleagues. He explained: “The whole team at Bath have been really supportive, not just the back-row guys [Toby Faletau and Sam Underhill are esteemed teammates] but yeah, they’ve been great with me and I always pick things up from them.
“I went to school with Hasto [at Millfield School] and played a little with him at Bath. He’s a great player and a larger-than-life character! He’s always trying to keep spirits up in camp. There’s a few of us that are all around the same age and the squad has a real mix of youth and experience.
“I’m now going back to continue to work hard at Bath and try to experience this again - if I have to work even harder to make that happen I’m prepared to do whatever it takes.”
Such an unwavering statement is typical of so many of Scotland’s young twentysomethings, many of whom have taken to international duty with aplomb over the course of the past couple of years. You get the feeling that Josh Bayliss has had a taste of what comes with representing the dark blue jersey and that he’s hungry for more.