Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor is confident that Gary Graham will be a fully committed addition to the squad despite the player saying earlier this year that he wanted to play for England in the Calcutta Cup and “shove it in Scotland’s face”.
The 26-year-old Stirling-born Newcastle flanker appears to have finally ended the saga surrounding his international allegiance after accepting a call by Gregor Townsend to join the Scotland autumn Tests squad to replace the injured Blade Thomson of Scarlets, who has concussion.
It was a different story at the turn of the year when Graham, who lived in Carlisle between the ages of three and 17, was called into the England extended Six Nations training squad.
In a jocular press interview with his father George, the 25-times capped former prop, the young Graham said: “I’d love to play against Scotland, make 1,000 tackles and shove it in their face — but it might have to wait until next year.”
Defence coach Taylor, who played with Graham Snr at Borders Reivers, admitted he wasn’t sure what kind of welcome the openside would receive after that.
“It is hard for me to gauge as I am not one of the players,” said the coach. “But the key thing is that he feels very Scottish. I was lucky enough to play with his dad and I don’t think you will find anybody more Scottish than his father.
“He has been been brought up a lot supporting Scotland and we are happy to have him.”
That sentiment wasn’t reflected in that February newspaper article, when Graham said that, after playing for Scotland Under-20s, he felt his “face didn’t fit” and that he had “a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it”.
He added then: “Gregor Townsend called me about playing for Scotland. I told him I’d be stupid not to want to play for England. England want to be No. 1 in the world and I’m not sure Scotland will ever be anywhere near. I’ve grown up here so, yeah, I feel more English than Scottish.”
When Townsend named his original 40-man squad for this autumn series he said there had been no shift in that position.
Taylor is delighted that has now changed.
“We have been looking at Gary for a long time so it was a great opportunity to bring him in,” said the defence coach. “He has been playing well and he spoke to Gregor the other day and we are happy to have him in.
“Gregor and Gary have been in contact over a long period of time. Just recently he contacted Gregor and had a conversion around how he would be keen to be eligible for Scotland if he was picked. That has gone well.
“I didn’t actually read [those quotes], people have been telling me about them. From what people tell me I think he was trying to wind up his dad, it was a little bit tongue in cheek and what you say in interviews, here among people, when you read it in the press it sometimes doesn’t quite come out that way.”
Having been called in it seems a racing certainty that Graham will now be capped either this week against South Africa or the following Saturday against Argentina to formally tie him to the land of his birth.
Taylor, a former flanker himself, believes Graham adds quality to the squad and sees no reason why he can’t force himself into the matchday 23 straight away.
“He is aggressive, abrasive and he is confrontational which is what you want in a back rower so these are his main attributes,” said Taylor.
“It’s for us [management] to understand whether it’s early or not, but you could have said the same about Sam Skinner [the Exeter lock who was man of the match on debut in Saturday’s 54-17 win over Fiji] and he did all right.
“From our point of view we’ll assess where we’re at. A lot of the back-rowers, particularly on the weekend did pretty well, but it’s like anything, you sit down, you work out who you have, what they’re going to bring and combinations, cohesion, all those type of things.
“So you can read into that as you would in terms of someone coming in, but everyone’s in the squad to be picked from.”