Darcy Graham may not be the typical modern rugby player but Richard Cockerill believes that the young Edinburgh wing has a big future as he makes his debut tonight against London Irish in the European Challenge Cup.
The wing was recalled from Scotland sevens duty after he was a star in Dubai last week and plays tonight as Edinburgh seek to cement their excellent campaign so far, with two wins from their two away games so far played.
The bad news is that it’s confirmed Edinburgh and Scotland will be without WP Nel until well into the New Year due to the broken arm he suffered against Samoa in the Autumn Tests, but Cockerill is happy to see the competition coming through in the shape of Graham and young tight-head Murray McCallum.
“Losing WP, and we’re probably looking at 12 weeks, is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but Simon Berghan has played very well there this year, and we have Murray, Kevin Bryce, and the addition of Elliot Millar-Mills and Matt Shields to bolster that,” he said.
“Murray has improved his fitness this year, and we’ve got some really good potential in the people that we have at tight head, we just need to get the best out of them. Murray’s improving a lot, and the more time he gets hopefully the better he’ll become.”
As for Graham, Cockerill admitted he’s been hugely impressed by the speedy Borderer.
“He’s very tenacious, very quick, very brave. I just love his attitude,” said the head coach. “The plan was always to bring him back in when he was fit, and I thought South Africa was probably a little bit too early. But he was always going to play these couple of games, regardless of the sevens. That was just a good opportunity to get some game fitness into him.”
Graham doesn’t fit the new style of big, powerful wings, but Cockerill thinks his other attributes make up for a lack of size.
“The first thing he said to me was that he felt he wasn’t big enough and I said, `well, you’re quite good, and if you’re good you can play’,” said Cockerill.
“In the modern game big is beautiful and there’s a lot of big, powerful men about, but I think Darcy’s skillset and pace and attitude for a guy who is only around 80 kgs means there’s a place for him.
“Even when he’s up against big men he tackles hard and puts everything into it, and he’s very brave and doesn’t back away from any contest.
“He’s got real pace and tenacity and he’ll get better the more he plays, so I think there’s a big future for him.”
Irish come north with an arguably stronger side than Edinburgh beat handily in Reading back in October, including Scotland internationalists Gordon Reid and Greg Tonks.
“It’s certainly a mixed team and they’re rotating a fair bit, and after the two European games they go to Worcester in the Premiership which is obviously a very important game for them,” said Cockerill.
“There’s a lot of guys coming back from injury, so I’m sure they’re trying to get game time into their players. I think their priority will be Premiership survival, but we’ve still got a job to do.
“They’ll bring who they bring, they’ll play as hard as they can, but we need to make sure we get it right. We’ve been on good form, we’ve played some good rugby and we need to make sure we continue that.”
Edinburgh (vs London Irish, European Challenge Cup, Myreside, ko 7.35pm): Blair Kinghorn; Damien Hoyland, Chris Dean, Phil Burleigh, Darcy Graham; Jaco van der Walt, San Hidalgo-Clyne; Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally (capt), Murray McCallum; Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist; Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Viliame Mata. Replacements: Neil Cochrane, Rory Sutherland, Matt Shields, Lewis Carmichael, Jamie Ritchie, Sean Kennedy, Dougie Fife, Junior Rasolea.