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Grant Gilchrist gets the Scotland captaincy back at last, but he’s not even thinking beyond the summer tour

Grant Gilchrist speaks to the squad during Scotland training at Oriam this week.
Grant Gilchrist speaks to the squad during Scotland training at Oriam this week.

Grant Gilchrist isn’t looking at his latest stint at Scotland captain any further than this summer tour to South America, because he’s been down that road before.

Eight years ago the Edinburgh lock was the surprise choice of Vern Cotter as the coach’s first Scotland captain, only to break his arm on the eve of the autumn tests. Repeated injuries that followed meant he didn’t get a sniff of the captaincy until 2018, against Canada on Scotland’s last summer tour.

But with Stuart Hogg resting after a punishing schedule over the last three years, it’s Gilchrist who has taken the reins for the three tests in Argentina this summer. But although there remains doubt about whether Hogg wants or will retain the job when he returns, as far as Gilchrist’s concerned, this tour is all it is.

‘You never know when it’ll be your last game for Scotland’

“I haven’t looked beyond this,” he said. “It is a huge honour to be asked to captain this squad in a three-test series. I’ve never played a three-test series before, so to be asked to lead a young group like this is awesome for me.

“It’s a great mix – a young squad and loads of energy and enthusiasm. There’s a few older heads to hopefully tie it all together. The growth we can have on a four-week tour is different to a Six Nations.

“I’m not going to look beyond this tour and making sure that individually and collectively we put the right foot forward. What happens beyond that won’t be up to me.

“I’m experienced enough to know that you never know when it will be your last tour, or your last chance to play for Scotland, never mind captain the side. I will play every game like it is my last one.”

‘They’ll have to stand up and lead’

Gilchrist hasn’t been skipper often but he has long held a leadership role in the squad. But with Hogg, Finn Russell and Jamie Ritchie not touring, they’ve needed new faces in that group.

“We’re giving loads of guys opportunities to lead,” said Gilchrist. “From the more experienced guys we’ve got Mark Bennett, who’s got vast experience at Test level and has played at the Olympics as well.

“And of course we have Mish (Hamish Watson). He’s usually one for quiet leadership but he’s a Lion, and we’re asking a lot more from guys like that and they’re responding brilliantly.”

But some of the newer members of the squad are being encouraged to take leadership roles, he added.

“I know Rory Darge speaks really well and has got great leadership potential,” continued Gilchrist. “I knew that from when he was a young lad at Edinburgh. He’s got an old head on young shoulders and he’s somebody who will develop into a leader.

“There will be others who will emerge from this tour and that’s part of the excitement of it. Especially in the first week they’re going to get opportunities to pull on the jersey and they’ll have to stand up and lead.”

‘We take a checkpoint now’

Scotland may be missing some of their big guns this next four weeks, but Gilchrist is placing huge importance on this tour as the beginning of something significant.

“We want to start our journey to the World Cup as of this tour,” he said. “We’re going to take on a lot of learnings from the Six Nations. We take a checkpoint now, what things we did well and what things we need to improve on.

“It’s quite obvious that getting a Test series win in Argentina would be a huge boost going into the autumn. Then we’re playing back at Murrayfield with that momentum behind us, and moving on to the Six Nations.

“From the learnings, I think playing the game further up the pitch is probably the biggest one.

“We played a lot of good rugby in the Six Nations in our own half. We were making linebreaks and putting good phases together. But we were doing it on our own 10-metre line and not making anything from it.

“The other one that stands out is discipline. We gave away too many penalties, which again invites (the opposition) into your half. We need to look at ways in which we can play our rugby in the opposition’s half.”

‘I’ve been so impressed with Blair’

The absence of Russell and withdrawl of Adam Hastings leaves Blair Kinghorn with a chance to get miles on the clock at 10. Gilchrist has full confidence in his Edinburgh team-mate.

“I’ve been so impressed with Blair this season. This is a tour for him to stand up and lead as well. I’ve seen him do it for Edinburgh all season.

“He’s been outstanding in the way he’s led and the way he’s played. You see the flashy moments but he’s putting in the work on and off the pitch to develop all the parts he needs.

“I still think he did a lot of things really well in the game in Dublin. I think those game-controller positions of halfback and ten tend to need a bit of time in the saddle.”

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