AT the World Cup last year, Ben Toolis spent a lot more time sitting on the sidelines than he would have liked.

The lock didn’t make it into Gregor Townsend’s match-day squad for any of Scotland’s three games in Japan which, for any professional player with ambitions of testing themselves against the world’s best, would be a crushing blow.

However, rather than return from Japan and sulk, Toolis got his head down with his club, Edinburgh, and made sure he improved his game to such an extent that Townsend had no choice but to give him game-time at the Six Nations.

And his approach worked. Toolis has been selected as a replacement for both of Scotland’s fixtures so far in this Six Nations tournament, playing 17 minutes in the opening match against Ireland before getting 25 minutes under his belt against England just over a week ago.

And while the Australian-born lock would never dream about complaining about his lack of minutes in Japan, he is pleased to see the work he has put in since his return has paid off.

“That is just the way rugby goes sometimes,” he said of his omission from the matchday squads at the World Cup.

“You don’t get the opportunity but I tried to play better when I came back and I am happy at the way I have been playing. It wasn’t ideal for me but I want to take the next opportunity.

“I have just tried to be consistent and improve in the things that the coaches wanted me to improve on. The feedback from the coaches is that I have improved in those areas. It comes down to small margins (for selection).

“Things like my ball carrying, the contact area, little ,marginal things, little tweaks here and there . I think I have improved and the coaches (think so) as well.”

Toolis would never treat selection as a foregone conclusion but things look positive for him for the remainder of the tournament too.

Grant Gilchrist, who he is battling for selection, was sent back to his club, Edinburgh, during last week’s fallow week and and so Toolis appears to have the upper hand for now when it comes to making more appearances in the tournament.

But the 27-year-old is too experienced to look too closely into things like Gilchrist returning to Edinburgh while he was retained by Scotland.

“I guess one of us had to be held back and I had been on the bench twice while Gilcho (Gilchrist) hasn’t played in the last couple of weeks so we both need game time,” he said.

“We will wait and see. We have all been playing well so whoever gets the opportunity will do their best to make the most of it.”

Scotland may not have had the ideal start to this Six Nations having lost both their fixtures so far, but on Saturday, the side has the opportunity to get things back on track.

The Scots travel to Rome to face Italy in what is a must-win game for Townsend’s men. It is the game Toolis and his teammates know that on paper, they should emerge victorious, but things are never as straight forward as that against the Italians.

The last time Scotland visited Rome two years ago, they scraped a narrow victory thanks to a last-minute Greig Laidlaw penalty and while Toolis didn’t play in that fixture, he knows the unpredictability of the Italians means that complacency must not be allowed to creep in.

“You don’t know what they will bring,” he said of Franco Smith’s side.

“Sometimes they’ll have different game-plans and they’ll surprise you.

“Against Wales they weren’t too good, but against France, in France, they had glimpses of brilliance, so especially at home they’ll be really tough.

“We have a basic idea but they’ll have a game-plan up their sleeve to pick holes in our game, so we’ll have to wait and see.

“I think most team are trying to speed up their game-play. The best teams in the world score through chaotic pressure with heaps off loads.

“A great example of that is France who have an offloading game that scores heaps of points, so they [Italy] are probably trying to add more to their attack, and they’ve done well with that, so we’re going to have to be sure that we’re up for it.

“They are a physical team. At the start they are very physical and then run out of gas towards the end, but I don’t expect it to be like that next week at home – they’ll find that extra adrenalin.”

The pressure is on Scotland on Saturday not just to perform, but also to get a win in Rome.

It would be understandable if morale within the squad was low, particularly considering both losses against Ireland and England could potentially have been turned into wins if Scotland had not made quite so many unforced errors throughout the 80 minutes.

But rather than the mood being downbeat within the squad, Toolis insists the feeling is generally very positive.

“I think even before the start of the Six Nations, there was a pressure to perform after a poor World Cup,” he said.

“Morale has been fine, it has been good. We had a close loss to Irish when we could have, and maybe should have, beaten them, then England at home is very tough game against a side that reached the World Cup Final, and we probably just made too many errors, which didn’t help. We just need to cut those things. Small tweaks will get us close to where we want to be.

“Italy away in our third game, we need to get momentum for those last two games, I’m sure we will be ready to go.”