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The pressure and privilege of playing at the highest level

This blog has become a welcome bit of mental stimulation for me and I hope you’re all enjoying reading it as much as I am writing it.

In this busy time the neglect I have given to my university course has left me with little else to keep my under-active mind ticking over so it always provides a bit of fun putting some of my experiences on to paper - or at least to digital record.

Now is a good opportunity for me to provide some insight into the feelings of a newly capped internationalist coming into one of the biggest games played in world rugby – the Calcutta Cup.

Coming into the final few weeks leading up to this crunch match, I had begun to start feeling the pressure to perform well for Edinburgh Rugby.

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I’d had a good start to the season but generally I feel coaches are inclined to make selection decisions on fresh memories and taking current form into account is very important.

I thought I was in contention for a place in the Scotland team but I knew the weight of the competition I was against, not to mention the importance of the last month of Edinburgh Rugby games to our season.

Unfortunately this was worsened by a minor hamstring injury that caused me to miss Edinburgh’s crucial pool game against London Irish. The injury kept me off the training pitch for the first week of Scotland camp for the RBS 6 nations. This was maddening. Having to watch from the side-lines as the chance to play in what would be the biggest match of my career got slimmer and slimmer.

However, after a few days and several excruciating physio sessions, involving various medieval treatment methods (I’m sure the healers would disagree) I was training and selected to start in my first Calcutta Cup experience.

The first few minutes after the selection meeting felt very daunting and the pressure to perform at the highest level became very real. Once we were out training again I was brought softly back down to reality.

It’s the same game that I’ve been playing since I was a fresh-faced boy challenging my dad to daily 1v1 touch rugby “world cups” in our back garden. Admittedly my face is no more rugged 15 years later and the challenge remained the same!

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t small differences – a 67- thousand seater stadium packed to capacity with passionate, screaming fans is one worth mentioning.

Very little in the Scotland camp happens by accident, so when me and fellow new cap Lee Jones found ourselves rooming together we assumed it was by design. As you might imagine we had many a late night discussion about the task that lay ahead of us, which again I’m sure was intended.

After triple-checking my bag and double-checking my iphone playlist it was onto the bus and off to Murrayfield. People lined the road as we approached the stadium and queues grew by the second as Scottish supporters stacked up the pints before making their way in the Stadium for the massive pre-match build up and the beginning of the famous game – the oldest international fixtures in history no less.

It’s cliché but it must be said that the highlight for me was running out of the tunnel before the anthems: fire, lights and a thunderous roar from the home support made for an unbelievable experience.

It’s an experience that very few people will be lucky enough to have and I for one am thankful for it.

On the other hand, to have that feeling of ecstasy, and have it ripped out of your chest through the sorrow of defeat is hard to take.

I hope there are many more winning than losing feelings in the rest of my Scotland career, which continues against Wales this Sunday – in another huge stadium, with another huge atmosphere.

Bring it on.

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