Gilchrist | Lock, Stock and Barrell
Six years ago, on a cold winter’s day in Paris, Grant Gilchrist was counting down the hours. The 22-year-old Edinburgh lock had been named in the starting 15 for Scotland’s Six Nations game against France at the Stade de France and he couldn’t wait to make his debut for the national team.
“I was obviously nervous,” he said. “It was a 9pm kick-off as well, so it was probably one of the longest days of my life waiting to get my chance.
“But I was starting and the good thing about that is that once you get going it’s just like any other game – well, it wasn’t really like any other game - but it was in the sense that you’ve got a lot to keep your mind occupied. I remember that the noise was incredible and it was a really special place to make my debut.”
Scotland didn’t win that day, with the hosts claiming a 23-16 victory, but it was the start of what has become a long Test career for Gilchrist.
A product of both the Alloa and Stirling County clubs, Gilchrist played for Central Crusaders U15 and U16 and Caledonia U18, before going on to represent Scotland at U19 and U20. He says that when he first started playing rugby, his ambitions didn’t involve being in the boilerhouse.
“I played in the backs when I was younger because I wanted my hands on the ball and I wanted to be involved,” he said. “But as I grew and grew and got taller and lankier I started hearing ‘you’re going to be a second-row’.
“So I slowly made my way there, from aspiring to be a back and deep-down knowing I was going to be a second-row, and now I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Gilchrist’s strong performances at age-grade level saw him awarded the John Macphail Scholarship which meant he was able to spend the summer of 2011 playing club rugby in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Having signed with Edinburgh ahead of the 2010/11 season, he made his competitive debut for the team in the first game of the 2011/12 PRO12 campaign against Cardiff Blues and later that season made his Heineken Cup debut in an away victory against London Irish.
He has remained with the capital side ever since and is now a club centurion. He says he had a connection with the club from a young age, as a close friend’s father was an Edinburgh forwards coach and they would go along to cheer on the team on Friday nights.
“I’ve got a deep connection with the club,” he said. “If you include my academy career, I’ve been there for about ten years now.
“To have played for this length of time is a real honour and I’m just desperate to be involved. We’ve made some good strides - we’ve still got a way to go but it’s an exciting time to be at Edinburgh and I’m looking forward to the future.”
Whether playing for club or country, Gilchrist takes pride in his job. He talks about the importance of the set-piece and how the line-out is a big part of a lock’s job - making sure the team is winning the ball and controlling the line-out driving maul. Then there’s the line-out defence and defending drives, not to mention pushing at the scrum.
“There’s quite a lot of prep that goes into the technical side,” he said. “So the line-out takes a lot of homework; looking at the opposition.
“We do a lot of technical stuff in training to make sure you get it right, but then when it comes to the game you’ve got to be adaptable as well. If you prepare well then you feel that you can perform well.”
He makes the point that in the current Scotland squad it’s expected that no matter what your position, you’re expected to be an all-round player.
“That’s a big thing in this team, that everybody one to 15 has to be able to handle the ball and run with the ball really well,” he said. “Obviously you have your specialist areas but everybody has to have a core skillset because with the way we play it doesn’t tend to matter what number’s on your back.”
As a senior member of the squad who’s captained Scotland on several occasions, Gilchrist feels he has a responsibility towards the younger players in the Scotland camp. He’s been sharing a room with uncapped hooker Jake Kerr and they’ve had a few good discussions about the line-out. He says that for him it’s about being open to giving advice when it’s asked for, but equally being careful not to force your opinions on others.
“If you are a more experienced player you have to make sure that you’re setting a good example around camp and in training and in games, that’s how I see it,” he said.
Gilchrist also talks about how important the time the squad spends together in the run-up to and during a campaign is. Whether it’s on the training pitch or spending time together in the evenings, he says it makes a difference.
“We talk all the time about becoming a closer team and getting to know each other. The more that we do that, the more it correlates to performance as well,” he said.
Every player who’s been chosen to participate in the Guinness Six Nations knows that each round of the competition will be a challenge. Gilchrist describes the tournament as a “step up” and the “biggest event in northern hemisphere rugby”. He says he’s relishing the opportunity to get stuck in but knows the opening match against Italy will be a tough one.
“You’ve got to look at how well their professional teams are doing in the Guinness PRO14,” he said. “They’ve got a lot more depth and have certainly made a lot of improvements over the last few years, at international level too.
“It will be a really tough Test match and we will have to be at our very best otherwise we won’t be on the winning side.
“It’s going to be a big challenge first up but at home, with the great support we get at BT Murrayfield, we’ll be making sure that we get our performance right and if we do it’ll be good enough.”