Rory Sutherland admits he has thought about Lions but keeps focus on Edinburgh's Euro crunch
Prop’s year pre-lockdown saw him fastrack into Scotland team and spark talk of a place among Warren Gatland’s squad for South Africa next year and he now wants to keep momentum going against Bordeaux-Begles on Saturday
Rory Sutherland is a great example of how sport, and life in general, can change course very quickly.
The loosehead prop fought back from a potentially career-wrecking and fairly gruesome groin injury to battle his way back into the Edinburgh team, shone when given the chance and was quickly drafted into the Scotland squad, then the starting team and ended a Six Nations campaign put on hold by the pandemic being talked up seriously as a British and Irish Lions contender.
When asked if the prospect of a Lions spot in South Africa next year has crossed his mind, the 28-year-old from Hawick shows refreshing honesty rather than cautious coyness.
“Absolutely. It's nice to think about those kind of opportunities,” he said, before stressing that it has gone to his head in any way.
“Like I always say, my main focus is to play well for Edinburgh. If I can perform week in, week out then those kind of opportunities take care of themselves.
“I'm always grateful when those chances come along and I try to take them with both hands. I'll give my all and make sure I fulfil that opportunity.”
Sutherland appreciates the faith Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has shown in him and is grateful for the starting opportunities in the Challenge Cup pool stage against Wasps and Bordeaux, which he grasped with both hands against Test quality front rows and convinced Gregor Townsend to recall him to the Scotland fold after a four-year absence.
"When I first got selected for the national squad and went out to Spain [for pre-Six Nation camp] he [Cockerill] messaged me to say 'congratulations, well done and well deserved' after the performances against Wasps and Bordeaux and just told me to keep my head down and keep doing what I'm doing.
“He said it would be enough to get myself in the team and it was. I'm really grateful for the opportunity to play in those two [European] games. I hadn't played much rugby that season so to get those two starts and be able to put my game out there and be lucky enough to be selected for Scotland was awesome and I really enjoyed it."
After retaining the premier loosehead position in the 1872 Cup win over Glasgow and Pro14 semi-final loss to Ulster when rugby resumed last month, Sutherland looks set to get another chance to impress from the start when he returns to face Bordeaux-Begles in Saturday’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final in France.
As for that battle with Schoeman, Sutherland said: “We have talks between the front-row and Cockers during the week and he’ll tell us the strategy of who is going to start and who is on the bench, and it just depends on whatever Cockers feels is right for that game.
“It is always good to have somebody like Pierre there at the club. I feel like we push each other and we learn from each other.”
Sutherland said that lockdown and the suspension of rugby came at a bad time as he was building nicely for the climax to the Six Nations, Pro14 and looking ahead to Scotland’s tour of South Africa and New Zealand.
“Obviously, it was a bit gutting for me after getting a head of steam up, but it is the same for everyone,” said the prop, who now has seven Scotland caps. “I think it is all about how you personally trained and kept yourself conditioned during that time, which I found really tough. You don’t realise how lucky you are to train with people every day, until you have to do it all on your own.
“But I managed to keep my training up – had a good few running sessions, managed to get hold of a good amount of gym equipment and an exercise bike – and when I came back, I felt like I was in good condition.
“I’ve had three opportunities already to play so I feel good, I feel fit and I’m ready for the new season.”
Sutherland scored on his European debut in a Challenge Cup win over London Welsh six years ago as part of the Edinburgh squad who went on to lose to Gloucester in the final at Twickenham Stoop.
He hasn’t crossed the line in continental competition since and asked if he was overdue one, Sutherland smiled and replied: “Props are not supposed to score tries, come on!
“But you never know. I might be able to get a "meat pie" in there but my focus will be on scrummaging well, my lineout and making sure my tackles are on point. Everything else is a bonus."
That try clinched victory over the now liquidated London Welsh and Sutherland recalled: “Yes. I was actually very fortunate that game as I had a lot of family and friends there that day so it was a nice day to score a try. I think a lot of people left thinking I was a lot better than I really was.”
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