In the next instalment of our ‘Under the Spotlight’ series, we take a closer look at the recent exploits of prominent Edinburgh forward Ben Toolis, and the promising performances of Chris Dean. By Erin McRitchie
Ben Toolis is one of Edinburgh Rugby’s most consistent players in terms of the performances he produces on the field. With 76 Edinburgh caps to his name, the 25-year-old is a skilled lock, primarily found at the loosehead position.
Born in Brisbane, Australia, Toolis joined the capital club in 2013 on an academy contract, alongside his twin brother Alex. Both brothers were awarded full professional contracts the following year, becoming the first set of twins to play for the club in its professional era. Whilst Alex would eventually leave the club in 2016, Ben has been a constant feature in the Edinburgh scrum in the past couple of seasons.
Toolis, or BBT as he is sometimes referred to by fans (‘Big Ben Toolis’), is a powerful lock who can poach an opposition line-out, as much as he can be a secure jumper or lifter. He is a steady presence in the scrum, we rarely see his stance under pressure, and he is resolute in his ball carrying.
Since the introduction of new head coach Richard Cockerill, Toolis seems to have become a firm favourite for the number 4 position. Whilst Cockerill’s intentions of building a strong and hungry team have always been clear, Toolis has not faltered and appears to be thriving in the new club culture that is slowly building around the club.
It comes of no surprise then that this hard-working lock has been rewarded with a place in Gregor Townsend’s Scotland autumn tests team. This series has already seen Toolis gain another international cap (this last weekend against Samoa), having represented Scotland in previous Six Nations campaigns and this year’s summer tour.
Ultimately, it seems as though we will be seeing the Edinburgh number 4 shirt filled by Ben Toolis for quite a while to come. And to have such a sturdy lock in the scrum of a developing team such as this one is no feat to be brushed off.
Chris Dean is an electric young centre who is sure to be a stalwart figure in the future of the capital outfit. At the tender age of just 23 years old, Dean was awarded his 50th Edinburgh cap in the game against Ospreys at Myreside on November 4th. Anyone else hear the words ‘future centurion’?
Signing with Edinburgh in the summer of 2014, Dean would eventually make his professional debut for the club against Leinster in the September of the following 2015/16 season. Even before signing for the club, Dean was honing his skills underneath his Scotland 7s contract, which saw him attached to the outfit from 2012 until his 2014 jump back to 15s. With his move back to 15s, Dean was also selected to represent Scotland at under-20s level.
Since his debut Dean has proven himself to be a creative and fast-paced centre who is just as capable in the breakdown as he is in running ball, as well as try scoring to top things off. It isn’t unusual to see him bursting up the touchline off-loading the ball to his back three partners (the likes of Burleigh or Kinghorn), or steaming through the middle of the pitch, the opposition defence scrambling to catch him. Just this season alone, against Benetton Treviso at home, he had fans convinced that a try hat-trick was on the cards (sadly, it didn’t come to fruition that night, however).
Dean has steadfastly put in consistent performances every time he has graced the pitch this season. With Cockerill ushering in his new era, it is young players like Dean who we hope to see thrive. But given his performances this season already, it isn’t hard to imagine a Cockerill team with Chris Dean as a permanent feature for seasons to come.
Since Richard Cockerill arrived it has been apparent that his Edinburgh team is one which, at the core, possesses youth and hunger for success. Ben Toolis and Chris Dean are two players who embody this attitude. What also plays to Cockerill’s favour with these specific players is that they are also firm fan favourites.
With all the changes that he has rung seeming to be coming to fruition, perhaps it is time to think of the future of Edinburgh Rugby with a positive outlook. After all, this season’s Scotland autumn test team includes 15 players from the capital club. Surely that is no coincidence?