THE international wilderness, like any other kind, is an inhospitable place. Stay there long enough and you can lose all hope of escaping from it.

But Damien Hoyland has never lost hope of coming back in from the cold. And, five years on from his last appearance for Scotland, the Edinburgh winger’s defiant optimism about his Test future may well be justified over the coming weeks on the national team’s tour to South America.

Saturday’s game against Chile in Santiago is an ‘A’ fixture for which caps will not be awarded, but if, as is likely, Hoyland is selected to start in that match, he will have an ideal chance to stake his claim for a place in the three full Tests against Argentina which follow. Although there is a fair amount of competition for the two wing berths from Darcy Graham, Rufus McLean, Kyle Rowe and Duhan van der Merwe, the 28-year-old is feeling fresh, fit and in good form after only returning from a five-month injury lay-off in May.

In the early months of the season just ended, Hoyland thought he was playing his best rugby for some time as Edinburgh hit the ground running under new head coach Mike Blair. That made his knee injury especially frustrating, but the enforced break could turn out to be beneficial for him now, at a time when other players may be feeling the effects of a long campaign. 

“I feel that I hit some good form at the start of the season which I’ve maybe not had for the last few years, so when I got that injury I was pretty devastated,” Hoyland said yesterday from Scotland’s training camp in Chile. “I worked pretty hard to get back to where I was, and then after that injury it probably took me a few weeks to get back into the rhythm of things. 

“I was probably quite disappointed that I didn’t get to where I was as quickly as I’d thought I would, but I feel over the last couple of games I was hitting that form again that I had just before the injury. So I’ve got that confidence and my body is feeling good, so I’m just going to kick on from here, hopefully."

That meticulous work ethic helped Hoyland to win his first cap back in 2015, when he came off the bench in the World Cup warm-up game against Italy in Turin. A second cap followed against Japan the following year, then two more - against Italy again and Fiji - in 2017. Then nothing.

“I think I did really well to get involved seven years ago, but I slipped away and had quite a lot of injuries in that period and struggled to get back in the mix,” he continued. “I’m really excited to be back involved now and I want to make the most of this opportunity and grab it with both hands.

“Every time you’re involved in camp or training it’s an opportunity to showcase yourself and to put your best foot forward for selection. I’m hoping for an opportunity but it’s a coaching decision at the end of the day. If I do get that opportunity it’s about doing as well as I can to be in the coaches mind for selection moving forward. I’m trying to train as best I can and let’s see what comes of it.”

The tour party arrived in Chile on Monday and had their first full training session yesterday in preparation for Saturday’s match, at which a crowd of around 20,000 is expected. With a world ranking of 23, the Chileans will start the game as underdogs, even against a Scottish shadow side. Nonetheless, Hoyland is convinced that they should not be underestimated, and that the tourists will need to be prepared to dig deep if they are to get their South American stay off to a solid and victorious start.

“They’re a bloody good team,” he added. “That’s the main thing that we’ve been trying to reiterate. They’ve had some big wins - they beat Russia recently. And they’ve got some big games - they’re playing the USA in what’s going to be a World Cup [play-off]. 

“They’re obviously there or thereabouts to being a World Cup team. They’re going to be tough to play and I think it’s one we’re going to have to be ready for physically and mentally.”