Whenever the grind of trying to prove his fitness over the summer so as to earn selection for Scotland’s World Cup squad felt like it was getting to be too much, Javan Sebastian was able to look back at the short spell he took out of professional rugby back in 2016 and remind himself of how glad he really is to be on earning a crust working on a training pitch or in a gym rather than in a windowless butchery in South Wales picking chunks of meat off a conveyer belt.

The 29-year-old will make his first start for Scotland in a much-changed team to take on Pool B whipping boys Romania in Lille tonight, charged with providing a solid scrum platform as Gregor Townsend's boys hunt a bonus-point win which will keep their World Cup quarter-final dream alive.

It’s hard, unglamorous work at the pit face of the scrum, but the Welsh-reared front-rower – who came through the Scarlets academy and had a short spell on the fringes of the Glasgow Warriors squad in his younger days – has seen enough of the real world to not be fazed by that challenge.

“Working in a butchery was a really dark time,” reflected the former Wales Under-16 and Under-18 cap. “It was after I left Glasgow, having been there for a year. I went back home to Wales to have my firstborn.

“I took a year out of rugby and didn’t really end up having a job, so I applied to be a butcher and started to play semi-pro. I worked at the butchers for about two months. I couldn’t hack it any longer than that. It was not a nice place.

“That was back in 2016 and I thought my professional rugby career was pretty much over, but I discovered normal life wasn’t for me, so I thought I would try to play rugby again!”

Sebastian was getting his rugby fix at that time playing for Carmarthen Quins in the Welsh Premiership, and that was hardly light relief from the day job.

"Playing semi-pro in Wales is also pretty dark,” he explained. "You go to places like Neath, Cross Keys away, when it’s raining, it’s seven o’clock at night and the pitches are deep in mud.

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“But the coaches at the time – Craig Evans and Richard Kelly – really pushed me on to try and go for more than what I was doing at that time.  They helped me open my eyes to what I could potentially do.

“Being a butcher or in any other normal job is quite tough. I’m not saying that being a rugby player isn’t tough, but the real world is scary.”

Sebastian’s second bite at the rugby cherry came when he reconnected with Scarlets in 2017 and he was a surprise call-up to Gregor Townsend’s squad for the summer tour to Romania and Georgia in 2021, before that expedition was called off before departure due to Covid.

His first cap eventually arrived as a replacement against Japan the following Autumn and he’d added two more sub appearances to his rugby CV by the time he was named in Scotland's World Cup training squad at the start of the summer.

He was initially considered a longshot to make the final 33 for France but impressed the coaching staff with his work-rate in training over the summer before sealing his selection as the third tight-head in the squad – behind Zander Fagrson and WP Nel and ahead of Murphy Walker – with a series of powerful performances off the bench in Scotland’s warm-up matches.

“I was born in England but moved to Wales when I was two with my mum and our family,” Sebastian explained. “My dad – Eddie – is from Edinburgh, and he stayed there when he and my mum separated.

“I signed an academy contract with Scarlets and was there for a couple of years but didn’t get offered a pro contract. Then Glasgow came in and I signed for them back in 2015 on a dual contract, but I didn’t actually play any pro rugby for them either.

“I spent most of that season with Ayr, which was enjoyable – I loved it – but I always knew there was more in me.

“The biggest driver for me in my rugby career has been my family. I’ve got four kids, so I wanted to push for places just for them and my partner to make them proud. 

“It’s been a roller-coaster with ups and downs. I had a season out, started every game for one season then propelled from there.

 “I just think you’ve got to take it week by week, train as hard as you can in every session and hopefully that’s enough by the time the weekend comes to win selection,” he added. “If not, you carry on going and try to do the best you can for the team.

“I was a bit overwhelmed when Gregor told me I was going to be starting tight-head this week.  We’ve all trained really hard and put our hands up for selection since the start of the camp, so I’m chuffed.”

Sebastian will move clubs after this World Cup from Scarlets to Edinburgh and believes that will help him push further up the Scotland pecking order.

“It’s just another step on the journey where I want to project on to the next level," he reasoned. “Edinburgh have a strong pack, so trying to play some expansive rugby within that pack will benefit me.”

Scotland scrum coach Pieter de Villiers added: ‘It is a well-deserved start. Javan has had a great preparation period and is very well-respected within the group. 
“In terms of the set-piece, I think he’s one of the best scrummaging tight-heads out there. You can ask any front-row player, they’ll always back Javan to pack down in a scrum. 
“Playing at Edinburgh next season, it’ll be good for him to develop alongside his international team-mates. It’ll be good to have him closer to home and to see him grow.”