Blair Kinghorn sure he’ll wing it on first Scotland start

Blair Kinghorn came off the bench as Scotland beat England
Blair Kinghorn came off the bench as Scotland beat England
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There can be a temptation to dismiss wing three-quarters, to give them their Sunday name, as the galloping show ponies of rugby.

Blessed predominantly with raw speed they are the ones who scorch in for the glory salmon leap over the line after the forwards have sweated blood, the half-backs have picked the lock and the dashing centres have opened the door.

Of course, that is a simplistic view of the wing’s art and there have been plenty down the years with abundant skill and intelligence as well as the ability to run like the wind.

One of the all-time greats, David Campese, weaved his peerless magic from the flanks, although the great Wallaby viewed the entire pitch as a playground for his genius.

It is true, however, that those who display a great all-round game at a young age are often guided into the stand-off’s No.10 jersey, the playmaking equivalent to American football’s quarterback.

That is where Blair Kinghorn earned his spurs playing schoolboy rugby at Edinburgh Academy, his lightning speed augmented by a wider skill set that may not have been fully utilised out on the wing, the position in which he made his Scotland debut off the bench against England last week and gets his first start in Dublin on Saturday.

Upon turning professional with Edinburgh straight out of school, full-back was viewed as the better berth to bed him in at the higher level and that is where he has gone on to cement his reputation as one of Scotland’s most promising young talents.

This season, the 21-year-old has been topping Guinness Pro14 statistics tables in defenders beaten, breaks, metres made. From six months ago, when his club coach Richard Cockerill deemed him to be still too green for the Test arena, he has thrust himself into Gregor Townsend’s starting XV.

“I’ve moved there a few times during games but only ever started a couple [at wing],” said a delighted Kinghorn after his selection at wing, due to Tommy Seymour’s back injury, was confirmed.

His last start on the wing came in the 1872 Cup win over Glasgow at Scotstoun in the last game of the 2016-17 season.

“It’s just a bit different with your positioning in the back three,” he said. “It is quite similar to 15. It’s just making sure. We’ve worked hard all week and I’ve been working on all the positions. It’s just learning how as a team we want to play and how it all connects. Making sure we are all on the same page, chat and communication is massive. When there is a big crowd watching, it’s loud, so you need to make sure you are accurate.”

A regular lack of accuracy was Cockerill’s autumn reasoning that Kinghorn had work to do to prove he was an international player, with a habit of throwing in at least one howler every game to take some of the gloss off otherwise eye-catching displays which showcased his raw natural talent. Cockerill gradually amended that view as the season progressed and Kinghorn’s performances continued to impress with increasing maturity and game awareness.

A strapping 6ft 4in, if still a tad coltish in weight, the big-booted Kinghorn’s youthful sporting all-rounder status is further enhanced by the fact he was briefly in the Hearts football academy. “I was a sweeper/centre back. Hoof it long,” he said with a smile of an ability he has transferred impressively to the oval ball.

He believes the wider feelgood factor at the Capital pro team this term has helped his development.

“I feel my consistency has got better week to week,” he said. “That comes from playing and also working hard on your extra skills after training, whether that’s kicking, catching, passing.

“I feel like I’ve just been a bit more consistent in the last couple of months and looking at the little parts of my game I can improve.

“I feel a bit more confident. I feel like it comes with the team playing well.

“We’re getting in good positions, winning games, and with that comes confidence. It’s been building week to week with Edinburgh. Everyone’s confidence is high coming off the back of a lot of good victories.”

Scotland: 15. Stuart Hogg (Glasgow); 14. Blair Kinghorn, 13. Huw Jones, 12. Peter Horne, 11. Sean Maitland; 10. Finn Russell, 9. Greig Laidlaw; 1. Gordon Reid, 2. Stuart McInally, 3. Simon Berghan, 4. Grant Gilchrist, 5. Jonny Gray (Glasgow), 6. John Barclay (c), 8. Ryan Wilson, 7. Hamish Watson. Subs: Fraser Brown, Jamie Bhatti, WP Nel, Tim Swinson, David Denton, Ali Price, Nick Grigg, Lee Jones.