Scotland coach Gregor Townsend admits that Edinburgh loosehead prop Darryl Marfo was not on his radar at the start of the season, but has earned the unlikely Test debut he will experience at BT Murrayfield tomorrow for the opening autumn Test against Samoa.
An Edinburgh-dominated pack, including a Capital front row of Marfo, hooker Stuart McInally and WP Nel is joined by club-mates Ben Toolis at lock and openside Hamish Watson. Behind the scrum it is all Glasgow, with all seven backline slots filled by Warriors players.
Tomorrow will be an incredible moment for prop Marfo, the 27-year-old Londoner with a mother from Ayrshire, who arrived at Edinburgh in the summer from Bath considered fourth-choice loosehead.
Injuries have conspired to smooth his path to a Test debut and Townsend admitted it is not a selection he would have anticipated a few months ago, although past weeks have seen him emerge as the best option.
“Probably not at the beginning of the season – we didn’t know much about him,” said the coach. “We watched Edinburgh train, he started in the first pre-season game, and we started to take more notice of him after that.
“He’s got his opportunity at Edinburgh, and part of that is injuries, but also he’s played ahead of other players we were looking at. He’s shown consistency, and we believe he’s getting better and better. We’re very impressed with how he played against Leinster away – two Lions were in the Leinster front row that night.”
Glasgow’s 24-year-old loosehead Jamie Bhatti, who was working in a slaughterhouse just a couple of years ago, backs Marfo up from the bench.
When asked if the inexperienced pair face a challenge in adapting to the intensity of Test rugby, Townsend replied: “Same as for everyone else.
“They’ve been playing very well for Edinburgh and Glasgow, and they’ve fitted in really well with our game plan. They’ve earned their places in the squad.”
Glasgow full-back Stuart Hogg and flanker Ryan Wilson have been given a joint vice-captaincy role to support skipper John Barclay, who has recently returned to action after suffering lingering concussion-related issues.
“It’s something we did on tour,” continued Townsend. “We believe it’s good to nominate who is there really in that role to support the captain, and to have one in the forwards and one in the backs. It makes a good balance.
“We have other leaders in the team as well. So we see Jonny Gray leading the lineout, Stuart McInally leading the scrum and Finn Russell leading the attack. So the more leaders we can get in the team, the more people that are talking about how we win this game and what we need to do, the better it will be for us.”
Townsend has put his faith in a set of backs the coach knows so well having just left the Warriors at the end of last season to take the Scotland job.
“They’ve been in great form,” said Townsend of a backline which will see former Edinburgh wing Lee Jones earn his sixth cap and first at Murrayfield since the 2012 Six Nations. Edinburgh-born centre Huw Jones, who has just arrived from South Africa again teams up with fit-again Alex Dunbar in midfield.
A half-back pairing of stand-off Finn Russell and Ali Price is joined by a back three of full-back Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Lee Jones.
“Huw Jones has not played a game for Glasgow yet, but he’s been in excellent form for Western Province. We want these guys to get on the ball as much as possible.”