RWC Build-Up: Al For One, One For All

With rugby, as with all competitive sport, you see players have to deal with setbacks. Sometimes these setbacks can define a player’s career. Sometimes, just sometimes though, a player can define his career by using those setbacks as opportunities.

The key is setting goals and being realistic about what you can, and importantly, need to achieve.

So when Dundonian Alasdair Dickinson told me “The shoulder’s OK so far!” I couldn’t help but feel a little relief for him. Great. Now all he had to do was make the Scotland squad for the World Cup. Small steps.

“I’d had issues in the previous Autumn Tests and decided that maybe rehab was the best option. I got through that season fine, but in a few games I was starting to feel really weak and couldn’t train properly. I had an op in November of last year.

“I knew then that if I wanted to play in the World Cup I had to get an operation so I could get it done and dusted.”

It is decisions like this that show Dickinson is aware of his abilities, but more acutely so when given his circumstances. Many players would have sought advice from his club coaches or focussed on being the regular starter in the Aviva Premiership.

Dickinson, however, felt he needed to get back to playing for Scotland. “I am confident for the game against Italy. I’m just happy to get a run out. Chunk [Allan Jacobsen] set out his stall last week against Ireland but now it’s my opportunity to stake a claim for the World Cup.

“I know what I want to get out of the game. I don’t think I’ve done enough yet,” Al says with a steely determination. “Training’s training: you can impress in training, but the real test of how good you are is playing in the game. Every player has got to do their talking on the pitch.”  

What the loose-head prop impresses on me is a no nonsense attitude. He knows what is required of him and in International rugby you must always meet high standards.

In 2007 he was lucky enough to be called up after an injury to Jacobsen and made his first World Cup appearance against New Zealand in the fabled ‘B team’ game at Murrayfield. Now, though, the man recently snapped-up by Sale Sharks knows that while he dreams of being in New Zealand and still may be used as back-up, it is not the end of his career if he is not selected to tour.

“I’m a lot more experienced since 2007. The Premiership has more of an upfront battle and I learned the hard way, sometimes. I’ve improved a lot since then [2007],” he told me. However, when I earnestly asked him if that experience meant he was better equipped to handle any rejection from Andy Robinson he fixed me with an equally straightforward answer.

“My sole goal at the minute is to make the World Cup squad, but if I don’t then it is a Win/Win for me: I go down to Sale and start afresh there.

“The Premiership is a pretty relentless league and is pretty cut-throat. Steve Diamond knows I’m an out-and-out loose-head and he knows the way Sale have been struggling in the past couple of years. Everyone also knows who Andrew Sheridan is. I couldn’t be more opposite than Andrew Sheridan,” Dickinson beams. “I’m the option of something different and I’m looking forward to getting down to Sale, having only spent a few weeks there.”

Whatever happens, though, it seems like he is prepared.  

“It is not as if I’m cast to the wolves. All I can do is play at the weekend. Selection is out of my hands. It is almost a relief to be playing but we have a Test match first and foremost and we need to get the win. I have to play well, but we have to play well as a team.”

For Dickinson that is the goal: he just wants to be part of a team.

  • Here is the Italy team to face Scotland on Saturday:
15 Andrea Masi (Aironi)
 
14  Tommaso Benvenuti (Treviso),
13  Gonzalo Canale (Clermont-Auvergne)
12  Gonzalo Garcia (Treviso)
11  Mirco Bergamasco (Racing-Metro)
 
10  Luciano Orquera (Aironi)
9  Fabio Semenzato (Treviso)
 
1  Andrea Lo Cicero (Racing-Metro)
2  Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso)
3  Martin Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers)
4  Carlo Antonio Del Fava (Aironi)
5  Cornelius Van Zyl (Treviso)
6  Paul Derbyshire (Treviso)
8  Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais) CAPTAIN
7  Robert Barbieri (Treviso)

Replacements: Tommaso D’Apice (Aironi), Lorenzo Cittadini (Treviso), Marco Bortolami (Aironi), Alessandro Zanni (Treviso), Pablo Canavosio (Calvisano), Riccardo Bocchino (Cavalieri Prato), Matteo Pratichetti (Aironi)

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Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.