Fraser McKenzie backing Blair Kinghorn to shine

Edinburgh lock Fraser McKenzie has tipped his young team-mate Blair Kinghorn to make an impact against Connacht tonight. Picture: SNS

Edinburgh lock Fraser McKenzie has tipped his young team-mate Blair Kinghorn to make an impact against Connacht tonight. Picture: SNS

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Edinburgh lock Fraser McKenzie has heaped praise on 18-year-old Blair Kinghorn, who will make his first professional start against Connacht in Galway this evening.

Coach Alan Solomons has selected the Scotland Under-20 stand-off to play at full-back in Ireland and McKenzie has no doubts that the youngster is a star in the making.

“Blair is straight out of school, but he is one skilful player and I think a lot of hopes will be pinned on him in the future with Edinburgh and Scotland,” said the 27-year-old second row.

“He has to learn his trade and really develop and I think he is in the right place to do that. We will look after him now that he gets his chance and on the confidence scale of things he is up there. He has great belief in his own ability.

“He has got all the tools and he is a good, down-to-earth boy.”

The former Edinburgh Academy pupil came off the bench for his pro debut in last weekend’s 19-11 loss to Zebre in Italy and 
has done enough to convinve Solomons that he deserves a place in the starting team.

While at school, football was Kinghorn’s main interest and he was involved with the Hearts academy but rugby came more into focus from under-16 level onwards and the teenager has gone on to represent Scotland through the age grades and was involved in the Under-20 World Cup earlier in the year.

Young centre Chris Dean returns from injury at outside centre this evening as Edinburgh look to get back to winning ways after losing their unbeaten start to the season in Parma. Dean is partnered by Sam Beard who comes back into the mix at 12.

Phil Burleigh retains his spot at stand-off with Scotland scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne moving up from the bench to start in the No 9 jersey.

In the pack, captain Mike Coman leads the team on the blindside, Roddy Grant returns at openside and Nasi Manu keeps his No 8 berth from last week.

McKenzie is well aware that this evening’s match will be a formidable test against the high-flying Irish province. “It is one of the toughest places to go,” said the 27-year-old. “A lot of people underestimate how good they are, they have come on massively. They are a big, physical side and they have a great backline now, so no weaknesses.

“There are no easy games in this league and Connacht is one of the tougher ones so I think the boys have to be at it from the first minute – and we are focused.”

McKenzie said it was up to the pack to set the tempo at the Sportsground and added: “As a forward pack we need to get our dominance and our go forward back and really try and get on top at scrum time.

“We definitely have it in us [to dominate up front] and I think teams know that now and prepare for it. We did have a bad day at the office last week and we want to put it right.

“We have a really good set of forwards now, you know if you aren’t performing then you will lose your place – certainly with the Scotland boys coming back next week.”

The Dunfermline man knows that the return of the internationalists will create a whole new dynamic in the weeks ahead and said: “I think that is healthy for our team and that is not just saying because you are a Scotland guy that you are going to get your place back.

“If you are going to do well you need to have a squad that can compete in the league and in Europe. Squad rotation is a massive thing, no player is going to play 16 weeks in a row.

“If you perform badly you know there are two guys waiting behind you for your spot, that is healthy.”

Connacht only had two players away with Ireland at the World Cup and prop Nathan White returns to the bench this evening. Centre Robbie Henshaw, however, is injured and misses out.

Coach Pat Lam said: “Obviously Nathan returning is a big boost for us. After a busy few games in the World Cup, Robbie is not far off and we should see him next week against Treviso.”

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