The 31-year-old from Stirling is set to win his 50th cap in the Six Nations match against Wales in Cardiff this weekend, a fitting moment for a lock who has never let his country down.
Gilchrist has had to battle adversity since his debut for Scotland way back in 2013 – he missed a World Cup two years later due to a groin injury which has provided troublesome throughout his career – but, as a co-captain for his club Edinburgh Rugby and Clearly valued by current Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, it would be a surprise if he was to lose his place in the pack for the Welsh encounter despite the competition at second row.
“Obviously I’m waiting to see if I’m selected and, if I am, it’s going to mean the world to me,” Gilchrist said on the prospect of racking up his half-century against Wales. “It would be a hugely proud day and something I’ve worked really hard for and I know it would mean so much to my family.
“But it will certainly mean a hell of a lot more if we go down to Wales and get the win and that’ll be my focus if I’m selected.”
Gilchrist’s Scotland debut came in a 23-16 defeat away at France nine years ago and he can remember it so clearly.
“You don’t forget your first cap – I remember it quite vividly – 9pm kick-off, a rainy night in Paris,” he recalled.
“I was as nervous as I’ve ever been for a game of rugby. It was an amazing experience and although we didn’t come out on the right side of the result, it was a close game, a huge battle and as an introduction to Test rugby, it let me know what it was all about.
“I absolutely loved it and I have strived in every campaign to get myself on the pitch as much as possible. There have been ups and downs over the last nine years but I have always fought – with some great locks and some great competition over the years. I am really proud every time I get the chance to play and I am champing at the bit because I absolutely love it.”
Injuries have not been kind to Gilchrist. He has missed World Cups, Six Nations campaigns and big Test matches because of them, yet he has never given up and always fought back.
“I look back now and take nothing for granted,” continued Gilchrist. “It is always out with your control so you never get too high or low. You just savor every chance you get to play and I make sure I do. I am loving my rugby at the minute, I have been for a long time. I make sure every time I play I leave everything out there and I enjoy it, because when I enjoy it I tend to play a lot better as well. It comes with experience but everyone in their career will have highs and lows. When you look back you realized you learned a lot in those times and it was actually probably good for you in the long run.”
Cap No 49 will also live long in the memory for Gilchrist, given it was last weekend’s triumph over England to claim the Calcutta Cup. He was part of a forward line that held firm under intense pressure at the end, with four reset scrums as the English pushed for a penalty. He had some of his family watching him in the stands, just to make it even more special.
“I have scrummed a lot behind those three guys at the front [Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally and WP Nel) and I had total belief we weren’t going to concede a penalty,” admitted Gilchrist. “I know WP, Rambo and Schoemy really well and felt they weren’t going to score but they could have played it away from the scrum and left us needing to defend for our lives.
“Fortunately Darcy [Graham] got a great turnover and we got the result. At pressure moments you just have to really concentrate on the scrum first. If that goes wrong, they could have taken the draw or put us into the corner and it would have been hard work from there.
“Sometimes you can feel you are going forward and still be on the wrong side of the ref’s decision. You don’t always know for sure. The crowd is a bit of a giveaway – they were outstanding in that last passage of play. Were just thinking about sticking to our process and making sure we could do everything we could to get that ball back.
“Having my two boys there with my wife in the crowd… unfortunately my mum and dad couldn’t be there because they had Covid so they were gutted to miss out. My wife was there on her own Ella looking after the kids – she is an absolute superstar. They are both under two so it is bedlam at times but she got them both there and it means the world to me to play in front of them. I don’t think I need any more motivation but to play in front of them and make them proud matters a lot to me.”
Amidst all the sentiment though, Gilchrist knows there is so much more work to do. “We have to turn around pretty quickly and turn our focus on to this week,” he added. “We obviously enjoy our victories and Saturday was a special occasion with a special atmosphere at Murrayfield but we’ve got aspirations in this tournament and that requires us to get on to Wales straight away.”
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