Sam Skinner has good recent memories in the Scotland second row and is relishing moving there despite the bad luck of his Exeter team-mate Jonny Gray.
The versatile big forward played in the win in Paris last spring, covered for Gray during the autumn and came on for a key lineout steal at the death against England.
Gray’s ankle injury in the first half against Wales flared up when he returned to the Chiefs. Skinner, who is leaving Sandy Park to join Edinburgh next season, felt for his clubmate.
‘The scans weren’t as positive as we’d hoped’
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) February 21, 2022
“When we both went back down to Exeter and at first I didn’t think it was going to be too bad,” said Skinner. “Jonny’s a tough guy and he was able to continue playing, so we were all hoping that he would be available for this game.”
Gray’s ankle was strapped in Cardiff and he was able to play the full 80 minutes, but further examination required treatment and he’s out of the game this weekend against France.
Reports from Exeter this week suggest it’s unlikely he’ll feature in the championship’s final two games either.
“The scan results came back, and they weren’t quite as positive as we’d all hoped,” added Skinner. “So, I’m gutted for him, obviously.
“He’s had a torrid time with injury of late. It’s the same with Suz (Rory Sutherland, another Cardiff casualty) but that’s just the nature of the game.
“It’s really frustrating. Jonny’s a huge loss for us because he’s a fantastic Test match player, so it’s disappointing.”
It does mean Skinner will surely get the call – the experienced alternative Scott Cummings is also out – to move into the engine room with Grant Gilchrist. That will renew the partnership in the win at the Stade de France last March.
“It is always an honour to step up,” he said. ““I used to find it a bit more of a challenge than I do now. I enjoy both roles just as much, to be honest.
“In the back-row you are a bit more free of scrums and line-outs, you get in the mix a bit quicker. Whereas in the second-row you do a bit more of the tight stuff.
“I’d probably say I’m a bit more used to playing in the second-row now. Maybe even more comfortable playing in the second-row, but I really do enjoy playing in the back-row as well.”
‘We’ve got to move forward again’
— EK Rugby Analysis (@ek_rugby) February 5, 2022
Skinner certainly fits the modern template of the mobile, dynamic second row. Scotland maybe need a bit more dynamism in the front five to challenge France after the Cardiff loss.
“Ultimately we’ve got to move forward again and it’s a huge challenge this weekend,” he added. “But briefly looking back, from England to Wales, in terms of performances, they actually weren’t too dissimilar.
“We were strong in some areas and weak in others. We’re not the finished article yet and we’re still trying to improve week in, week out.
“We were on the right side against England, and playing at Murrayfield gave us that boost to seal the win. Being on the wrong side of the result , despite putting in a similar standard of performance, naturally brings on pressure.
“We believed we could go down there and win and we put a lot of energy into that game. We were gutted not to get the result but we’ve got to move forward.
“That’s the beauty of sport – you get another week to change people’s opinions and get a win under your belts again, so we can’t wait for France this weekend.
“We’ve got to put it right, because this is a do or die for us this weekend.”