The only precedent for Scotland to drop a man of the match in an international dates back to 2001, when Gordon Ross scored 23 points in a 43-20 win over Tonga, and then didn’t see a Scotland shirt for a whole year.
Ross was dropped by Ian McGeechan for the following week’s game against Argentina with Gregor Townsend – naturally – taking his place. Scotland lost that game to the Pumas 25-16.
Maybe it’s irresistibly tempting fate for Townsend now as head coach to drop a man of the match, but, no doubt as Geech did 18 years ago, he has sound reasons for putting Kinghorn on the bench and recalling Sean Maitland.
The Saracens wing was Scotland’s most consistent back of 2018. He has six tries in his last eight tests, and while Kinghorn’s defence has improved immeasurably in the last 12 months and he was great on Saturday, the New Zealand-born wing has a more consistent record over a considerable number of years.
He, Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg have scored 41 tries between them in the six years since Maitland made his debut – their predecessors in the Scotland back three, Chris Paterson and Sean Lamont, managed just 36 tries between them in a total of 214 test matches lasting over a decade.
Scotland haven’t have an issue in the back three, in attack or defence, to engender any kind of an argument and Kinghorn has done well to make at least it a discussion. He’ll be a strong replacement when this game breaks up and, long-term, possibly a fixture in the team before too long.
The other selection decision, bringing back Jonny Gray for Ben Toolis, is equally debatable. The Edinburgh second rows have been consistent and complement each other, Gray has not had a great season by his standards, and he was outplayed by Toolis and Grant Gilchrist in both the 1872 Cup matches over Christmas.
But Gray offers any coach that picks him 20 tackles (usually, none missed) and 15 carries as well as his lineout presence. His absence in the second half of Glasgow’s European game with Saracens a few weeks back was probably crucial in that game.
One hopes the shoulder injury he’s been carrying most of the season does not hold him back.
Townsend has fallen back on experienced hands for this game, as he should. Despite their injury issues and defeat to England, Ireland remain a formidable outfit. They demand the most reliable the coach has at his disposal.