Edinburgh boss believes Darcy Graham can prove a small wonder
In the land of giants that is the modern game of rugby there can still be a place for someone smaller who has enough speed and skill in their armoury.
That was the view of Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill yesterday as he prepares to unleash Hawick pocket rocket Darcy Graham for his competitive professional debut against London Irish tonight.
The 20-year-old is named on the wing for the European Challenge Cup clash at Myreside and, despite being 5ft 7in and under 13 stone, Cockerill believes the youngster can fulfil the potential which has marked him out as one of the country’s big prospects.
“He’s not very big, and that’s the first thing he said to me, that he felt he wasn’t big enough and I said, ‘well you’re quite good’,” explained Cockerill.
“So if he’s good he can play. He’s very tenacious, he’s very brave, not scared of the contact part, very good under the high ball, very brave in the air, has no awareness of his own health when he goes up for balls in the air and he doesn’t back away from any contest.
“Even if he’s playing against big men he will tackle hard and he will put everything into his game. So there’s a lot to like about him and he can finish as we saw last weekend.”
That was a reference to Graham’s eight-try performance for Scotland at the Dubai Sevens, which proved that he was back at his best after an injury blighted start to the season.
Graham also scored a dazzling solo try to help Scotland Under-20s to their historic win over Australia at the 2016 junior World Cup in Manchester.
“He’s a good Scottish young player who’s come through the system, there’s a lot to like about him, so he’s getting the opportunity to prove himself and if he plays better than the others he can play no problem,” added the coach.
“In the modern game big is beautiful isn’t it? There’s a lot of big, powerful men about, but I think Darcy’s skillset and pace and attitude for a guy that’s 80 kilos, or just over 80 kilos, which is small in today’s rugby world, there’s a place for him, because he’s got such pace and tenacity and he’ll get better the more he plays, so I think there’s a big future for him.
“He’s got a fantastic attitude. He was really unfortunate to get injured in the early part of the season playing for Hawick.”
Jaco van der Walt makes his home debut at stand-off and will link up with last weekend’s hat-trick hero, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
Autumn Test stalwarts Darryl Marfo and Stuart McInally are back in the front row and more Scotland players return to beef up the pack with Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis in the second row.
Flanker Hamish Watson makes his first start for the club since featuring in the victory over Benetton in October and Magnus Bradbury is named at blindside.
Edinburgh are five points clear of second-placed London Irish going into the third round of Pool 4 fixtures and, with Russian minnows Krasny Yar in town next weekend, it is a fantastic opportunity to take a big stride towards the quarter-finals.
Irish have a few familiar faces in their ranks with Scotland international full-back Greig Tonks returning to face his former club and Mike Coman, the man who captained Edinburgh to the final of this competition in 2015, on the bench. Scrum-half Scott Steele has another head-to-head against his old Merchiston and Scotland Under-20 mate Hidalgo-Clyne, while Scotland and ex-Glasgow loosehead Gordon Reid also starts.
“I obviously I know a lot of their squad,” said former Leicester boss Cockerill. “It’s certainly a mixed team and they’re rotating a fair bit. After the two European games they go to Worcester in the Premiership which is a very important game for them.
“But they’re bringing guys back in. . . Gordon Reid, [Saia] Fainga’a, Manasa Saulo, a full international front-row, [Scott] Steele and Tommy Bell are a good half-back combination, so I think they’ve put out a slightly stronger side on paper that when we went away from home, but obviously guys like Gordon Reid, Fainga’a, [Manasa] Saulo haven’t played much this year. They’re coming back from injury, so I’m sure they’re trying to get game time into their players.
“I think their priority will be the Premiership for obvious reasons and survival there, but we’ve got a job to do.
“They’ll bring who they bring, they’ll play as hard as they can, but we need to make sure we get it right. We’ve been on good form, we’ve played some good rugby and we need to make sure we continue that.”
• STADE FRANCAIS achieved their first win of the competition when they beat Krasny Yar 39-24 in Paris last night. The result moved Stade into second place.
Edinburgh: 15. Blair Kinghorn; Damien Hoyland, Chris Dean, Phil Burleigh, Darcy Graham; Jaco van der Walt, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally (c), Murray McCallum, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Viliame Mata. Subs: Neil Cochrane, Rory Sutherland, Matt Shields, Lewis Carmichael, Jamie Ritchie, Sean Kennedy, Dougie Fife, Junior Rasolea.