Scotland have one of the best – certainly the most interesting – 10s in international rugby in Finn Russell.
They have a quality back-up in Adam Hastings who perhaps hasn’t quite realised his full and considerable potential yet.
This would normally be quite enough to be going on with. But after last year’s Autumn Nations Cup when both were injured in the same match, Gregor Townsend seems to think 10 is the new 3.
Former Scotland coach Vern Cotter always said that you could never have enough tight-head props. This is accepted coaching wisdom. Townsend, true to form, seems to think he needs as many 10s.
First Hogg, now Kinghorn
Not content with playing Stuart Hogg there against Italy in the Six Nations, Gregor has pulled another switcheroonie with Blair Kinghorn, who will start there against Tonga on Saturday. Off the back of only three games there even relatively recently.
The genesis of this switch will probably not be revealed. When I asked Gregor this week whether he’d been behind it, he deftly switched the praise to his erstwhile assistant Mike Blair, now head coach at Edinburgh.
“I think Mike has been a big driver of it,” he said. “Mike had obviously seen things at training and previous games. I think Blair maybe started one game (last season) against the Dragons.
“They thought he could do a good job there and that has carried on through the summer. Mike was the head coach when I was away in the summer and (Kinghorn) was going to start against England A and get opportunities in the summer to play there.”
He’s got a point
— United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) October 23, 2021
I’m probably getting much too suspicious here (not even probably) but the timeline doesn’t quite stack up. I think Townsend himself has been the driver of this. But he’s certainly not without a point.
Kinghorn was a 10 in schools rugby. As he grew into a 6ft 4in, 107kg (that’s 17 and three quarter stones) specimen with pace to burn you’d have thought this was a potentially devastating combo at the pivotal position.
Alan Solomons, Kinghorn’s first pro coach at Edinburgh, didn’t think so. Thus Blair ended up at 15 a lot and the wing often. Richard Cockerill, Solomons’ successor, seemed similarly minded and there Kinghorn stayed.
He has won 26 caps in those roles. But there’s a cab queue at the back three that’s getting ever longer.
Stuart Hogg isn’t going anywhere. Duhan van der Merwe scores for fun. Darcy, Rufus and Kyle Steyn have convinced Townsend not to call up Sean Maitland, Scotland’s most consistent scoring wing pre-Duhan and the best defender by far, this autumn.
The options a year ago
Perhaps Townsend realised something in the otherwise forgettable Autumn Nations Cup a year ago. With Russell and Hastings out, Scotland didn’t really go forward – literally or figuratively – with Duncan Weir and Jaco van der Walt at 10. They needed something else.
Hoggy was the first option. The Italy experiment went well – record Six Nations score, no less. But it only proved to me that the captain is a great natural footballer who is best as a 15.
The same may happen with Kinghorn. Kicking and defending at 10 are little issues that will have to be worked out on the hoof.
But from what I’ve seen his distribution is excellent – wasted at 15, to be honest. And he’s going to be quick and physically forceful into gaps against opposition 10s and 12s not quite his size.
This is an experiment well worth trying, no matter whose idea it was.
Schoeman the committed ‘project player’
— Pierre Schoeman (@pierraSCHOEMIES) October 27, 2021
Pierre Schoeman is actually the only recent “project player” – maybe since WP Nel – who we were always certain would end up in a Scotland shirt.
Jaco van der Walt and Duhan van der Merwe did their residencies. But van der Walt was always a stretch to be a regular Scotland player – still is – and Duhan was a surprise.
Few thought he’d develop into what he is now. French super club Montpellier – where he was before Edinburgh – certainly didn’t think so.
But it was always clear that Schoeman would do his residency and probably play for Scotland. Only it was supposed to be five years by virtue of World Rugby’s rule change.
For Covid reasons that were not entirely unconnected to Gus Pichot’s ousting from the World Rugby hierarchy – he being the man who insisted on five years’ residency instead of three – the rule changed back.
Schoeman was always prepared to wait however long it took. I don’t think we can underestimate his desire to play rugby for his adopted country.
Behind Madagascar’s player base
This is what I generally think about “project players” and “imports”. If their commitment is certain, then why not?
As we never tire of pointing out here, Scotland is 13th on the list of countries’ registered senior men’s players. Behind Malaysia and Madagascar, among others.
Unlike some ex-players – who were perfectly happy to have “imports” in their teams when the regulations were wild west standard – and some curious others, I have no issue with topping up the Scottish player pool in whatever ways the laws allow.
Other countries don’t seem to have a sniff of an issue about this. Australia, our visitors next week, even England with the biggest player base in the game, have no qualms.
We lost three tests to Covid in the summer. They could have ticked off 10 new names at least in those. Sione Tuipulotu, Rufus McLean (born in Boston), and Marshall Sykes (Woodbridge in Suffolk) can be “marked” this weekend.
I see no evidence whatsoever that talented Scots are being denied their chances due to this. The more, the merrier.