2020 gives Toolis time to reflect
2020 has been a challenging year for most and for professional rugby players, it's no different. For Ben Toolis, however, this year has offered the Scotland international lock the chance to reflect on the smaller things that he values most - writes James Parsons.
For most rugby stars, life can often be defined by the rugby schedule. Your training days, gym timetable and fixture list mapping out your every move on and off the field.
However, with rugby rightfully taking a backseat during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has made Toolis appreciate life away from the pitch, given the six month period without the sport earlier this year.
“With rugby the schedule is pretty intense, so spending time away from it with your family is pretty difficult,” said Toolis.
“It’s made me appreciate those other things in life, and maybe things you couldn’t do if you’re playing rugby as much.
“I actually quite enjoyed lockdown, I got into playing a bit of guitar! It was a chance to do things I wouldn’t usually do.
“From the rugby side of things, I struggled because I had a shoulder injury and had to wait to get surgery on it.
“Initially it was tough coming back with rehab and things like that, but it was really good to be back, I did miss it.”
Technology has meant staying in touch with family around the world has been easier, and for Toolis, who was born in Brisbane, it has meant being able to stay connected with his family.
“We’re a close family, so we’re in touch quite often. Thankfully we’ve managed to avoid doing Zoom quizzes though!
“My oldest brother has had a second kid, so it’s tough that I haven’t been able to see him.
“I haven’t actually been home for about three years, but my family still watches all of my games which is nice to hear, the support I get from them means a lot.
“I’ve still got family in Glasgow on my mum’s side, who I try to go and see when I can, but having family WhatsApp groups and things like that have been really good.”
Away from rugby, one of Toolis’ main interests is American sports, particularly American Football and Basketball.
In another life Toolis could have played both at a good level - thanks in part to his 6’8 frame - but if it was a choice, there would only be one winner.
“I’m a big NFL fan. I also really like the NBA and grew up watching it, but it’d definitely be NFL, it has a lot of similar aspects to rugby.
“If I was playing I’d probably be a tight end, they do a bit of everything, my height would probably help too.
“I really enjoy watching the NFL, I don’t have a team I particularly support because I haven’t really got any American connections.
“I should probably pick a team though, for now I’d go with the Green Bay Packers.”
Toolis isn’t the only NFL fan in the Edinburgh Rugby squad, with the team competing against each other in the Edinburgh Fantasy Football League.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Toolis currently tops the leaderboard.
“I’m winning at the moment, but I lost to Blair Kinghorn the other night, he’s doing well, so is Henry Pyrgos who’s a big NFL fan.
“Hamish isn’t doing too well, but there are quite a few Edinburgh players and former players doing it, Dave Denton and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne are in the league too, so it’s good fun.
“There’s a lot of strategy behind it, you have to keep tabs on who each team is playing against every week.
“Sometimes I pick players that aren’t quite as good if they’re playing against a weak team. You’re looking at the match-ups every week, it doesn’t always work though, which can be quite good craic.”
The friendly competition between the players is good for player morale and team spirit, but for Toolis one of the driving forces behind team culture has been recognising the milestones of his teammates - most recently Chris Dean and Stuart McInally hitting 100 and 150 caps respectively.
“It’s something we need to recognise, guys like Deano and Rambo are Edinburgh born and bred, so it’s a special moment for them.
“From a team culture point of view, it’s important to celebrate, it shows the effort that goes into the team.
“Having leaders like them are what drives the club forward, so it’s really nice to see them get those milestones.”
Toolis himself isn’t far off 150 caps, making 125 appearances since moving to Edinburgh in 2013 with his twin brother, Alex, and the Scotland Internationalist has his sights set on making that next landmark.
“It’s weird, it feels like I didn’t move to Edinburgh that long ago, but it’s nearly a decade now.
“When I think about it, I’ve played a lot of rugby. I didn’t think I’d be anywhere near to the amount of caps I’ve got, but I like to think I’ve got a few years in me. Hopefully I can get to that 150!”