Scotland coach Gregor Townsend praised the recent form of Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham which has taken the 21-year-old to the brink of a first cap after being named on the bench for Saturday’s Doddie Weir Cup Test match against Wales in Cardiff.
Graham has propelled himself from outside the squad for the series, which will roll into home matches against Fiji, South Africa and Argentina, to the matchday 23 for Saturday’s November opener.
“He has shown great form over the last three or four games,” said Townsend of the Hawick youngster, who had been invited to train with the initial official 40-man pool.
“Darcy had played the week before [we announced the squad] against Montpellier [in the Heineken Champions Cup] and we were impressed so we said to him that depending on what happens over the next three or four weeks and how you play, you could easily come into the mix for one of these games.”
Autumn is usually a time for home comforts for northern hemisphere nations but Scotland find themselves in the strange position of starting their November back on the road, something which has not exactly been paved with gold over the years.
Townsend again rejected the notion that Scotland have an “away problem” as he returns to Wales and the scene of his worst 80 minutes in the job since taking over from Vern Cotter in June 2017.
There have also been away defeats in Ireland, Fiji and the United States.
“I don’t believe it’s a problem with being on the road. We’ve won in Sydney and won in Resistencia [Argentina],” said Townsend. “The issue is underperformance when we’ve gone in as favourites, more often away from home.
“I don’t believe there is an away game approach and home game approach in which our performance differs. But I do believe there is a performance change when we’re favourites. That’s something we will look to address.
“We’re not the favourites this week so it’s more about the challenge of taking on the number three team in the world. But it is something in the back of my mind that we must be better.”
Despite not winning in Cardiff since 2002, Townsend’s side went into February’s Six Nations opener there as many people’s favourites off the back of a fine 2017 under both Cotter and the new coach.
Infamously, the wheels came off badly that afternoon as the Scots slumped to a chastening 34-7 loss and Townsend accepted memories of that afternoon will form some part of the preparation without being front and centre.
“It’s on the backburner,” he said. “Because there is so much information and work we need to do for the first game.
“Now we’re into training and then at the team run I would think it will become a factor. We don’t want to go through that again. We don’t want to come off the field and feel we have underperformed with a bad defeat. The players feel that more than coaches so I’m sure it will get talked about as we approach the game.”
With Townsend restricted to his home-based players for this additional Test, there were no real surprises in the selection, although the coach admitted there were tight calls over Ben Toolis starting at lock ahead of Edinburgh team-mate Grant Gilchrist and Jamie Ritchie’s blindside nod ahead of Glasgow’s Matt Fagerson.
Saturday will be another big afternoon for Adam Hastings in the dark blue No. 10 jersey Townsend filled with such distinction for many years. The coach is confident the 22-year-old, who got his first three caps in the summer, will thrive in another big-match occasion and continue his progress to be a genuine challenger to Racing 92 superstar Finn Russell.
“Adam is playing really well for Glasgow, he has played Champions Cup games,” said Townsend. “That was a big test for him, Saracens, and I thought he played really well. A week later in Cardiff, he was really proactive in how he played and took on the Cardiff [Blues] defence – in a bonus-point victory the stand off is going to be a huge part of that.
“His experience in Argentina and how he played has got to be in his muscle memory and realising that the next time he gets to play an international level he can do similar things and they will work out okay. This is a big challenge this week; it is Wales, it is away, they are huge favourites I would imagine, but if he plays really well that does make it a much more competitive position.”
Scotland: Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh); Tommy Seymour (Glasgow), Huw Jones (Glasgow), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow), Lee Jones (Glasgow); Adam Hastings (Glasgow), Ali Price (Glasgow); Allan Dell (Edinburgh), Stuart McInally (c) (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Glasgow), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow). Substitutes: Fraser Brown (Glasgow); Alex Allan (Glasgow); Simon Berghan (Edinburgh); Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh); Matt Fagerson (Glasgow); George Horne (Glasgow); Pete Horne (Glasgow); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh).