Interview... Taylor set for centre stage
The long-awaited return of Scotland centre Duncan Taylor was confirmed yesterday when Head Coach Gregor Townsend named the Saracen in a new-look centre partnership with Huw Jones.
It’s been a long road to recovery for ‘Super Dunc’ who last featured in dark blue on the 2017 Summer Tour, playing at full-back against Italy in Singapore and excelling in the midfield in the win over Australia, before being forced off with a hand injury in the closing Test defeat to Fiji in Suva.
In the first year hence, a series of injuries plagued his efforts to mark a return, most notably back issues and the refusal of concussion-related headaches to dispense for what could often be for weeks on end.
Despite being unavailable for selection Taylor was still a regular in Scotland camps during these testing times, always willing to be part of the goings on behind the scenes but knowingly unavailable to take part.
The turn of the seasons last year brought relief from various injury symptom and niggles.
He began his return to training for Saracens in earnest and full of hope, only for a knee injury sustained in a A-League game on the eve of the season’s start to come with news that he would be side-lined for at least another nine months.
“I had various different things going on in the first year and this last year was just a freak accident, playing for the first time in a few months, having had back problems.
“I did a few ligaments in my knee which kept me out for nine months or so, which is the whole season, so I’ve just been cracking on with rehab to be as fit and as strong as possible coming back and staying on top of all previous injures, which has proven quite difficult.”
Taylor has not had his troubles to seek in a career in which he has still managed to amass a huge amount of credit in the game time he has been granted.
He grabbed his first chance to shine for a senior Scotland with a try in the first five minutes for Scotland A back in 2013, in the 13-9 win over England Saxons (the side's first win on English soil on the sixth time of trying).
He went on to make his Scotland debut in the opening match of the 2013 quadrangular tournament against Samoa and made his first start at BT Murrayfield in the second Autumn Test of 2013 against South Africa, which he followed up against Australia.
Taylor added a further six caps during 2014, despite his summer tour being cut short by injury after the first Test against USA.
A sequence of ill-timed injuries meant it was two years until Taylor returned to the dark blue of Scotland, when he finally had the chance to showcase the talent that has instilled him as favourite at the multiple English Premiership and European Champions Cup title-winning Saracens.
His versatility saw him start the 2016 Six Nations campaign as a wing replacement against England however he capitalised on an injury in midfield to start the remaining four games at centre, registering sensational long-range scores against Wales and France and finishing the campaign as one of the national team's top performers.
A starting role in Scotland's summer tour win over Japan would be Taylor's last outing for a year through another ill-timed injury however, he returned to the test arena the following summer to start all three tests against Italy, Australia and Fiji, scoring his third Test try in the win over the Wallabies in Sydney.
Scotland fans have become somewhat accustomed to the intermittent availability of the popular figure whose quality is apparent to fans and coaches of club and country alike, however, as he spoke to the media at Oriam earlier this week his most recent battle came across as the most challenging of all.
“You go through your ups and downs and it just pays dividends to have everyone around you, your family, your friends and the support staff,” he said.
“The guys at Saracens have been amazing, the guys here [Scotland] have been amazing so I’m just thankful to have all those people around me.
“I’m probably a little bit more resilient than I thought.
“I went through a few knock backs and this [knee injury] was a big step back because I was coming into the season feeling good and was hopeful for an injury free season – it really tested me mentally in the first few months.
“I’ve come through that and I feel a better bloke for it.”
Reflecting further on his concussion challenges of two years ago and how the unknown compares to the known deadline of his knee injury he added: “That was a really challenging time.
“A lot guys have gone through it now, with the head stuff and concussion problems. The unknown of when you’re actually going to feel well again, when you’re going to feel normal.
“Rugby just takes a back step because you don’t even know if you’re going to play rugby again at that point. It’s just about trying to feel good in day-to-day life.
“That was very challenging in its own and probably more challenging than the knee injury where I’ve got a set period of time.
“There was no rush and I was given the best care possible, going in to see specialists left, right and centre to try and get to the bottom of what’s going on. Throwing the kitchen sink at it and sort it all out.
“The only thing that would help was just switching off and going for sleeps and sitting in dark rooms. It wasn’t the best period of time and it took quite a long time to get out of that.
“You get a lot of anxiety about the unknown. You’ve never really been tested in that way before. I was thinking my rugby was done and panick because you don’t know what you’re going to do after rugby.
“I don’t have many qualifications or too much off the field as far as that’s concerned. Waking up every day with that battle is quite tough.”
Taylor has been considered ‘fully-fit’ for several months now and, while a return for his club before the season’s end was never part of his programme, it almost became a reality for the Premiership final as the club’s centre resources became strained.
That call never came and he has since enjoyed a full pre-season in Scotland camp and, by all accounts, a full bloodied hit out against Edinburgh behind closed doors at Oriam.
After such a long spell it would be understandable to be a little rusty however Taylor explained that, after all his setbacks, taking to the field gave him no cause for concern.
“It’s the easiest thing,” he said.
“With the knee stuff I’ve just been looking forward. Everything you do, all through the winter months – all that bleak stuff – you’re doing it for one reason and that’s to get playing and be there with your mates.
“I was really excited just to get back out there again in that live situation. It was great to be out there with the guys and put the structures we’ve been working so hard on over pre-season into play and do it against a live defence, and you’re defending as well. It was great to be back out there.
“I’m super excited for the time that I do get back out on to the pitch. I feel fit and well, for a change, so fingers crossed that’ll continue.
“I’m confident I’ll be able to get straight back to where I was before. The training that we’ve been doing over the last couple of months has been very intense and full-on.
“I’ve enjoyed that as my body’s been challenged in lots of different ways so I’m very confident I can get back to where I was before.
“It’s very exciting just to be involved in this initial set-up and come to the pre-season training with Scotland is just a dream, and obviously the dream is to go to the world cup.”
This week Duncan spoke openly and honestly about his past issues with concussion.
Scottish Rugby takes the issue of concussion extremely seriously. Our Concussion Policy provides advice and guidance for clubs and schools, players and their families and the volunteers who are the heartbeat of our game.
We will continue to monitor best practice in this area and will, where necessary and appropriate, update our Policy accordingly. Scottish Rugby is committed to providing a safe and enjoyable sport for all. Please remember - If in doubt, sit them out.
You can read more about Player Welfare at all levels of the game at this separate section of the Scottish rugby website.