Simon Taylor: Sinatra of Scottish rugby hopes his latest return is a happy one
Simon Taylor has had nearly as many major injuries as Jonny Wilkinson. But, Scotland's 'ultimate warrior' tells Simon Turnbull, he is on the comeback trail once again
Saturday 08 March 2008
Frank Hadden and his Scotland squad have just about finished their round of media interviews in the Hawthorn Suite, high up in the South Stand at Murrayfield, when Simon Taylor sneaks quietly into the back of the room and attempts to make straight for the adjacent dining area. Scotland's most-capped No 8 has been described by his national coach as "the ultimate warrior" and he looks the part, the trace of a shiner surrounding his right eye and cuts marking both forearms. It is from a less visible wound that he will be returning to the heat of international battle in the Calcutta Cup contest at Murrayfield today.
"The tendon that straightens it basically came off," Taylor says when asked about the thumb injury that kept him out of Scotland's first three Six Nations games, defeats against France, Wales and Ireland. "Just had to get it put back on. It wasn't anything dramatic. The difference between having a functioning thumb and not for the rest of your life, I suppose."
On sardonic form off the pitch, Taylor is up to scratch on the field too, according to Hadden, who has seen the two and a half club games his treasured back-row man has played in the last three weeks, either in person or via his laptop. It is not the first time that the two-times British and Irish Lion has been on the comeback trail. The terrain has become almost as familiar to him as it has to the Sinatra of the England team he faces today.
Taylor's tally of major injuries stands at nine, just three short of Jonny Wilkinson's Lancet-like litany. The Stirling-born player has 10 caps fewer than England's outside-half (58), but is the same age (28) and happens to boast the same number of international tries (six). His own catalogue of casualty started back in 2000 on the occasion of his second cap; he suffered a double fracture of the left hand in the opening stages of a Murrayfield meeting with the world champion Wallabies but played through the pain for 75 minutes. His list also includes three instances of damage to the knees that required surgery (the first on the Lions tour to Australia in 2001) plus the small matter of a severed toe tendon inflicted by a dropped dinner plate.
Taylor has been here many times before, then, although this time there is a slight difference. Having been a Stade Français player and resident Parisian since the end of the World Cup last autumn, he is returning to international duty as something of an outsider.
"Really enjoying it," he says on the subject of life in the French capital. "No huge surprises. Just ... it's good."
So what has been particularly good about Parisian life? Going to the art galleries, perhaps? "I don't go in for any of that shite," Taylor replies, tongue very much in cheek. "No ... of course, the rugby is the priority there; I live 100 metres from the club. After that, you're living in Paris. It's hard not to enjoy it."
Taylor has never enjoyed the media circus that surrounds the international game, preferring to disengage from the usual platitudinous exchanges and keep his thoughts to himself – or articulate them in the erudite column he pens for one national newspaper with an acidic wit. In the 2001 Lions tour guide he described his personality as "well hidden" and he likes to keep it that way, dropping little lines of misinformation into questionnaires, such as the passions in his life being wood carving and the films of Peter Cushing. It does happen to be true, though, that Taylor attended the same school as Ewan McGregor (Morrisons Academy in Crieff) and that he co-owns a bar in Edinburgh (99 Hanover Street) and a pub-cum-restaurant at Broughty Ferry (Bruach).
This time last year, when news of his move from Edinburgh to Stade Français was announced, the French daily sports paper L'Equipe sent a reporter to the Scottish capital to pen a definitive portrait of the ultimate Caledonian warrior. The headline on the interview was: L'Enigma. "I just like to keep myself to myself," Taylor has said on the subject of his aversion to the spotlight. "I just don't have much to say about rugby. I mean there's not much to it, is there? Fifteen guys running into each other. You can analyse it all you want to, but that's what it comes down to."
Taylor has, he confesses, been glad to escape the critical analysis of Scotland's stumbling Six Nations campaign thus far. "Yeah, it's fantastic to be away from it all," he says. "The negativity. The unrealistic expectations. The backlash against us when those expectations aren't fulfilled. It's just good to be away from it and not to have to see it every day. It feels good to come back from a sort of different angle I suppose."
Come 3.15pm today the vantage point for Taylor will be the rear end of the home pack, as part of a back row, with Alasdair Strokosch and Ally Hogg, looking to recreate the defensive heroics of two years ago, when Andy Robinson's England were shut out at Murrayfield to the tune of an 18-12 overture. Hadden has no doubt that his returning warrior will make his presence felt.
"I was trying to think the other day of when I'd ever seen Simon play a bad game," the Scotland coach said. "I think it was Ebbw Vale away in 2002. He's a guy who just never lets you down."
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