Star schoolboy stand-off happy to play at full-back

Blair Kinghorn in action against Connacht. Picture: SNS

Blair Kinghorn in action against Connacht. Picture: SNS

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Blair Kinghorn came through the ranks as a highly rated stand-off only to find himself sporting the No.15 shirt for Edinburgh, so it is little wonder that he turned to Chris Paterson. The Gala man spent his entire career fielding the exact same question that Kinghorn did ahead of today’s crucial Pro12 match against the Dragons.

“I did quite a lot of work with Chris when I was at the [Under] 20s,” says the man who currently fills his boots at Edinburgh. “He helped me with my kicking quite a lot and is just a good guy and you could talk to him about anything, any of your worries.”

One of those worries may revolve around the problem of position. By dividing his time between 10 and 15, might Kinghorn fall between two stools?

“Wherever the coaches see me, I am happy to either play 10 or 15,” it is the only possible response from a player in his first year as a professional.

“At the moment Alan (Solomons) has found that it would be a good way for me to come into the team, so you come in at the back and observe the game and then maybe slowly move forward. But 10 and 15 are both interlinked, they are both really similar positions. So playing 15 helps me develop as a 10 and playing 10 would help me develop as a 15 because you know what you want to do, you know where the 15 is and vice versa. At the moment I am not too bothered about (where I am) playing just so long as I am getting picked, I am happy with that.”

Kinghorn has made remarkable progress for one who was playing schoolboy rugby a year ago. He scored one of the tries of the season, when Scotland’s Under-20s beat England on the opening weekend, showing a turn of speed up the right flank at odds with those long limbs.

“He’s an exceptionally good footballer and he’s got deceptive pace, I think you saw that with his try in the Under-20s game,” said Solomons. “He’s got a good boot, both out of hand and off the floor. It’s big as well, he kicks the ball a mile.

“He’s a very intelligent boy, he’s got a good temperament. Bear in mind this kid was at school last year, and probably came in earlier than I’d anticipated. He came in right at the beginning of the season when he played in that Connacht away match. He’s got a lot of starts for us in this latter part of the Six Nations, and with the (injury) situation we’re in at the moment.”

Kinghorn is making himself a crucial cog in an Edinburgh squad intent on achieving Champions Cup rugby next season, for which they will need a top six finish. Edinburgh occupied a play-off spot a couple of months back, but the club has won just one of their last five league matches and are currently sitting in seventh place with the Ospreys and the Blues hard on their heels, just one win adrift. “We need to win every game and everyone knows that,” says Kinghorn, “so the pressure has ramped up a lot. It feels like knockout football now because if you lose a game it sets you back a lot.”

After finishing a lowly eighth in the Pro12 for each of the past two seasons, Edinburgh are now under pressure to deliver Solomons’ stated goal of the Champions Cup, which may explain why he withdrew his players from the Scotland Under-20s squad.

Having won the match against England (for the first time ever at that age grade) Edinburgh pulled Kinghorn and his back row colleague Jamie Richie from the 20s.

The coach was within his rights, Bath recalled Adam Hastings one weekend, and the pair played several games for Edinburgh, but neither man turned out for the Under-20s thereafter, even on the final two weeks of Six Nations’ action when Edinburgh were idle.

Solomons argued that Edinburgh’s injury crisis meant they could not be spared but after years of bemoaning the fact that the Under-20s didn’t have professional players to call on, the moment Scotland unearth a good crop, two of the best are withdrawn from a squad with the potential to win their competition.

“I think it was difficult to leave the lads because obviously they wanted everyone to play since we had just done something so big in beating England,” says Kinghorn. “But Edinburgh said they needed me back and I jumped at that opportunity to come back and play for them.”

Kinghorn will be back in blue this summer for the Under-20s World Championships in Manchester, but he has league business to attend to first, starting this afternoon in Newport.

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