France v Scotland: Duncan Taylor back after two injury-hit years

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Taylor's last appearance for Scotland was against Fiji in summer 2017
Taylor's last appearance for Scotland was against Fiji in summer 2017

The last time Duncan Taylor toured with Scotland he left his passport in the house, not exactly the best place for it when you're heading for Singapore, Sydney and Suva. Funnily enough, his driver's licence didn't quite cut it at check-in.

That was in the summer of 2017 - a routine win over Italy, a sensational win over Australia, a sensationally bad loss to Fiji. Up and down. The story of his Test career.

"If I'm selected for the World Cup then I'm turning up at the airport with my passport sellotaped to my chest," says the Saracen, who makes his long-awaited return to international rugby on Saturday against France in Nice with the number 12 on his back and a place in Gregor Townsend's World Cup squad on his mind.

It's been two years since he's been on this stage. Two years that must feel like a whole lot more given the health issues he's suffered in the meantime.

A fit Taylor is a precious commodity. A double European champion with his club, a player who can bring savvy at 12 and 13, on the wing and at full-back if needs be. Taylor might well have been a Lion in 2017 had injury not destroyed his chances. He brings experience and class. Townsend has longed for the day he returned.

'I'm more resilient than I thought'

In documenting Taylor's freakishly back luck - if he fell into a bucket of lollipops he'd come out sucking his thumb - we have to go back a while, to the Scotland tour of 2016 to Japan. He did his hamstring in Tokyo and it took a month to heal. In the first game of the next season, he did his ankle and was out for two months.

He came back too early, did his ankle again, got surgery again, missed two months again. On his return, he suffered bad concussion. That cost him six weeks. He got over that and the hamstring went once more. Another four weeks of rehab. Then his shoulder went - another month.

Then more concussion in January last year, more serious this time. Then a rupture of his anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments in September which could have been the end of him. He hasn't been seen in a competitive game since. And now he's back.

"I'm probably a little bit more resilient than I thought," he says of his recovery from so many low moments. "It's really tested me mentally. It's been a challenging time. Say the concussion, there was an unknown about when you're actually going to feel well again, when you're going to feel normal. You don't even know that you're going to play rugby again at that point."

'Headache and visual problems every day'

Duncan Taylor suffered a brain injury against Wasps in January of last year
Duncan Taylor suffered a brain injury against Wasps in January of last year

That brain injury came against Wasps in January last year. An elbow to the head and everything turned to mush. He has said before that he stayed on the pitch too long after that incident. He ran around like a headless chicken, unsure of what he was supposed to be doing.

It was his stubbornness that made him continue. Given all the injuries he had suffered previously, he was trying to kid himself into thinking that this wasn't serious. He was in denial. He vowed to keep playing until he dropped, which he duly did. Not clever. He knows that now.

"We were going to see specialists left, right and centre and were throwing the kitchen sink at it to try to sort it all out. I was waking up every day with a headache and visual problems. My vision was very cloudy. I couldn't concentrate on anything, couldn't watch TV, couldn't be on my phone for too long, couldn't read.

"Anything that you tried to do was just making the headaches worse. The only thing that would help was just switching off and sitting in dark rooms and going for sleeps. It went on and on. I was running out of answers. It took quite a while to get out of that.

"There was a lot of anxiety. You've never really been tested in that way before. I was thinking that maybe that was my rugby done and then you start panicking because you don't know what you're going to do after rugby. I don't have many qualifications or too much going on off the field. It's the unknown that makes you worry."

'I've lots to prove but it's exciting'

Townsend won't just be keeping his fingers crossed for Taylor as contorting his entire body into a human corkscrew in the hope that the player makes that plane to Japan. The coach makes little secret of his importance. If Taylor is fit and well then he starts.

The other spot is between Sam Johnson, Huw Jones, the fast-emerging Rory Hutchinson, Pete Horne and Chris Harris. Only four of that lot will make the 31-man squad. The competition in the midfield is severe and Nice is the first opportunity to see what that competition looks like in a real game.

"I'm confident that I'll be able to get straight back to where I was," says Taylor. "I was told by the surgeon that it could take up to a year before I feel fully normal in my knee again, so that opinion comes into mind. I've still got to prove that I'm at that point I was at before I got injured, but it's very exciting. The dream is to go to the World Cup."

That's not just Taylor's dream, it's Townsend's dream and it should be every Scotland fan's dream, too.

Taylor has been handed a Scotland recall after impressing in the training camp
Taylor has been handed a Scotland recall this Saturday after impressing in the training camp

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