WHEN you have just made your comeback after five months out through injury, you might feel that the season is coming to an end at precisely the wrong time. 

Then again, when you have not had a proper pre-season for five years what with World Cups and summer tours, a decent break may be exactly what you need right now.

That, at least, is the dilemma facing Ben Toolis. The Edinburgh lock returned to action in Saturday night’s narrow defeat by Ulster, having been sidelined since the turn of the year with toe damage. Normally the 29-year-old might be looking forward to another Rainbow Cup outing on against Scarlets on Sunday then heading off on tour with Scotland. Instead, after discussions with head coach Gregor Townsend and interim head Mike Blair, it has been agreed that he should stay at home. 

“I spoke to Gregor and I caught up with Mike last week at training,” Toolis explained yesterday. “They were quite keen to include me in some shape or form, but considering I’d been injured, we all decided just to leave it and get a pre-season in.

“Hopefully, everything will go well and it’ll put me in a good position for the autumn. We’ll wait and see, but at this stage it’s more about getting back playing for Edinburgh.

“I haven’t had a pre-season for five years, so it won’t be the worst thing considering I’ve been out for so long. It’s something I need, so I’ll try to use it to my advantage.

“When you’re out for a while you get a bit of a mental break, because rugby can be quite draining on the mind. So it can be good to have a bit of a step away from it to refresh, and be keen to go again. That’s the mindset I’m in - I’m really keen to play, and hopefully that will bring out the best in me and I can hopefully push for a spot.”

As a maddeningly inconsistent season for Edinburgh approaches its end, it is hard to know who has found things more frustrating - those who were playing and thus were in a position to influence what was going on, or those who were injured and so could do nothing at all about it. Toolis agrees it has been a difficult campaign, but believes there have also been encouraging signs. 

“It’s been a frustrating season. Covid has interrupted it, but at the same time other teams have coped with it well and done well, so I don’t want to make excuses for it. There were a lot of games we fell on the wrong side, a lot of games we lost within three, five
points, so the season could have been completely different in terms of where we finished in the table. 

“We’ve shown glimpses of the way we can play - it’s just keeping that consistency there. That’s what we’re going to aim to do next season. Hopefully we can get the fans back into the new stadium, which will be a great experience for us and for them. Something new which will motivate us.

“At the moment it’s frustrating, but it’s been good at the same time. We’ve had young guys coming in and getting an opportunity to show what they’re about. It’s all been really positive for Edinburgh Rugby in the future.” 

Of course, what has been most positive for Toolis himself is getting the chance to play again before things do draw to a close, and thus dispel any nagging doubts about his fitness. “It was great to be back on the pitch. Five months - initially I was told it was
only going to be a four- to six-week injury to my toe, but it was much longer than that.

“It was quite important for me to try and get a game or two in before the end of the season, just to go into the off-season as an uninjured player. [Otherwise it would hae been] ‘You might have been fit, but you still didn’t tick that box of playing and being fully
fit . . . . ’ Just to get that confidence, specially with my toe, that it feels pretty good.”