Scotland forwards coach Dan McFarland has full confidence that debutant Darryl Marfo will rise to the occasion when he scrums down against Samoa at BT Murrayfield this afternoon.
When the 27-year-old arrived at Edinburgh from Bath this summer he was viewed as the club’s fourth-choice loosehead but injuries to the likes of Al Dickinson, Allan Dell and Glasgow’s Gordon Reid has propelled him into the Scotland No.1 jersey.
“Yeah, well, Darryl is first choice loosehead [now] and well deserved,” said McFarland. The uncapped Glasgow duo of prop Jamie Bhatti and hooker George Turner join Zander Fagerson as the front-row cover on the bench but McFarland is unconcerned.
“[Injuries] are never a problem, it’s always a challenge. I’d like to see it as an opportunity,” he said. “Every team has injuries. We’ll go out with the guys that we have. The one thing you do get when there are injuries is a set of bright eyes who wants to take their opportunity.”
Edinburgh tighthead WP Nel will have a big role to play today as he builds back from the neck problems that wrecked last season and his Lions prospects. “WP has been brilliant,” said the former Connacht and Glasgow pack chief. “One is his passion about playing for the Scotland jersey.
“He is quite an understated man but he is front foot with his advice for young players. That does not matter whether it is Jamie he is scrumming against or Zander who is competing for his place. It doesn’t matter.”
With Scotland looking to play a fast brand of rugby, Edinburgh openside Hamish Watson has a vital linking role to play.
“His contact work stands out. If you want to play a high tempo game you are reliant on your ability to recycle ball,” said McFarland. “Hamish was outstanding for us on the summer tour and a big part of the reason why we produced fast ball in those games. He is dynamic and can bounce people off like a pinball and they are surprised by his power.”
The Gregor Townsend era may be well under way with a splendid win over Australia in Sydney already in the credit ledger but there is a feeling that it truly begins today in the first of an autumn Test series which will move on to tussles with the All Blacks and Wallabies.
It will be Townsend’s fourth match in charge but his first time as head coach of his country in the stadium he so often lit up during a decade-long Test career which cemented his reputation as one of Scotland’s greatest ever flair players.
The near full house that pitches up today for the visit of the enigmatic and unpredictable Pacific islanders will be hoping for the kind of thrills Townsend regularly dispensed as a player and during his successful stint leading the Glasgow Warriors, who provide nine of the home starting XV.
Word has filtered out that Townsend’s grand aim for his tenure is to make Scotland the international team who play the fastest-tempo rugby in the world heading towards the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Of course, you can’t play at any kind of tempo, fast or otherwise, without the ball and there will have to be abrasiveness to facilitate the alacrity against the always physical Samoans.
That is a job tailor-made for Warriors skipper and No.8 Ryan Wilson who, along with Stuart Hogg, will be John Barclay’s dual vice-captains this afternoon.
“To play quick rugby, you’ve got to be brutal and aggressive. The contact area is what makes you play quick rugby,” said the man who will win his 31st cap.
“If you’re not brutal and aggressive at the contact area, you aren’t going to get quick ball. With players like [Glasgow scrum-halves] Ali Price and Henry Pyrgos behind those rucks, looking to play, we want to get that quick ball.
“We can get better at that. But there are plenty of players in this group who have that edge to them. We’ll be looking for that tomorrow.”
Scotland: 15, Stuart Hogg; 14, Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12, Alex Dunbar, 11, Lee Jones; 10, Finn Russell, 9, Ali Price; 1, Darryl Marfo, 2, Stuart McInally, 3, Willem Nel, 4, Ben Toolis, 5, Jonny Gray, 6, John Barclay (c), 7, Hamish Watson, 8, Ryan Wilson. Subs: 16, George Turner, 17, Jamie Bhatti, 18, Zander Fagerson, 19, Tim Swinson, 20, Cornell Du Preez, 21, Henry Pyrgos, 22, Peter Horne, 23, Chris Harris