ASK any forward what is the biggest difference coming from Southern Hemisphere rugby to play in Europe and the answer is likely to be the scrum – and Coventry hooker Scott Tolmie is no exception.
Born in Kent but having played all his rugby in Australia, the 23-year-old admits that ‘scrum time’ was a bit of a culture shock when he moved back to join London Irish in 2013 but something he has now grown to appreciate and enjoy.
“The difference is huge,” said Tolmie, who moved to Cov in the summer after two seasons at Moseley and, following a pre-season hat-trick against Bury St Edmunds, scored two tries in the win over Macclesfield at Butts Park Arena two weeks ago.
“Especially in Australia, the scrum is seen as a restart, get the ball in and out as quickly as possible, whereas here it’s a massive contest, a weapon and a way of getting penalties.
“I like to get my hands on the ball, but the hard work has to be done first and I’ve learnt to like it – I wouldn’t say I liked it when I first came back, but you can’t play in the forward pack, and especially in the front row, and not enjoy that side of things.
“If you don’t enjoy it, you’re probably not going to be doing your best, and if you’re not doing your best job, you’re not likely to be picked.
“And it’s nice this year to be in a pack that is going forward and a bit dominant as opposed to always going backwards and struggling to get front foot ball.
“A plus side as well is at least you know you’re always going to be in the game and not standing out on the wing getting cold and hoping that the ball might come. You’re constantly involved.
“It’s always nice to get over the line, especially with a driving maul. But I’m just fortunate to be the guy at the back who gets to put the ball down, all the hard work comes up front to keep that going and, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who scores the tries.”
Tolmie moved to Perth with his family when he was ten, having grown up playing football.
“Dad was massively into football, but he didn’t really care what we played as long as it was a team sport and when we moved to Australia I basically just wanted to give a new sport a go.
“Our local club, Associates, were holding a trial day so my brother and I went down, dad quite liked the area and the rugby club as he could have a few beers watching us train, and I never looked back really.
“I played representative rugby for Western Australia through 14s to 18s, made the Australian schoolboys under-18s and played against England and New Zealand, and played for Western Force A a couple of times.
“I went to the 2013 Lions tour Test matches in Melbourne and Sydney, met my agent in Sydney, and he managed to get me a month’s trial at London Irish that turned into an Academy contract. From there I went on to two years at Moseley, and now I‘m here. It’s all gone pretty quickly.”
It was while at London Irish and playing for the club’s amateur Wild Geese side in National League Two South that Tolmie first came on the radar of Rowland Winter, then director of rugby at Cambridge, scoring 20 tries in the season and winning a place in the Rugby Paper dream team.
“I had a pretty good year. Coming from the Southern Hemisphere it was nice to experience a bit of different rugby and my game probably stood out a little bit more in that first year. I was also learning with the first team at Irish.
“Moseley was a couple of steps up and, again, good experience although they were two pretty tough years. It was just about surviving in the first season and then they ended up going down last year, but I developed my game a bit more.
“Rowland texted me at the beginning of the year asking to meet for a chat, I had no idea who he was, and with my agent we thought there was no harm in that.
“I was really impressed with what he had to say and the way that he not only wanted to build the side but also the way that the club wanted to go forward as well which is something I didn’t see happening at Moseley.
“Also, I didn’t play that much at Moseley, I was coming off the bench more often than not, so even if at that time it was a step down I wanted to come here because, ultimately, you won’t improve unless you play. I signed the deal without too much hesitation.”
Tolmie has ambitions to take his career to the highest level, but for now is thoroughly enjoying his time at Butts Park with the aim of helping Cov move forward as much as he can.
“Ultimately, I’d love to play international rugby, that’s obviously the biggest aim, but at the moment I’m just taking each year as it comes and hopefully to get back up to the Championship with Cov and then kick on from there,” he said. “I’m only 23, so I’d like to think that I’ve got a bit of time.
“I’d love to back to Oz and play Super Rugby, but I think that probably won’t happen for a few years.
“I’m content and happy playing rugby over here, and I’m really enjoying my time at Coventry. It’s a good bunch of lads, the supporters do a great job and really help us to get through games, and there is a good feel about the club.”
Cov take on National One leaders Hartpury College on Saturday, a game which Tolmie believes offers an ideal opportunity to put things right after last weekend’s defeat at Blackheath.
“We were really disappointed, we didn’t put in a performance at all,” he said. “But we’re lucky because it’s one week and you get to move forward to the next game.
“This is a massive week for us, but I think everyone is quietly looking forward to it, and there’s no better way to bounce back than by beating the leaders at home.”