Darcy Graham backed to rise to the challenge of facing Wales’ George North

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has backed Darcy Graham to rise to the challenge of facing one of the giants of world rugby tomorrow when Wales come calling in the Guinness Six Nations.

Tommy Seymour, left, and Darcy Graham share a handshake during training at Oriam. Picture: SNS/SRU
Tommy Seymour, left, and Darcy Graham share a handshake during training at Oriam. Picture: SNS/SRU

The 5ft 9in Borderer will earn his third cap and first start in a Scotland jersey and in Lions star George North he will be under no illusions how tough his proper introduction to the big time will be.

Graham made his Scotland debut in the November Test defeat by the Welsh in Cardiff and came off the bench in the 27-10 loss to France in Paris a couple of weeks ago but tomorrow will run out in the dark blue jersey for the first time at the BT Murrayfield home where he plies his trade with Edinburgh.

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The 21-year-old from Hawick is enjoying a breakthrough season but now faces the biggest challenge of his fledgling pro career as he faces off with North who, at just 26, has amassed a remarkable 36 tries in 81 caps for Wales and a further three in three for the Lions.

The Welsh are famed for their aerial game and will no doubt view Graham as an obvious target but the youngster has punched above his size in that department this season and Townsend has every faith in the player who steps in following Sean Maitland’s foot injury playing for Saracens at the weekend.

“Darcy has come on in both of his games from the bench, he’s had the opportunity to play Wales away and France away and took that game to the opposition by making breaks in both those games,” said Townsend.

“He’s been in excellent form for his club. He gives you energy,
he gets stuck in defensively.
He may not be as tall as George North but he gets off the ground and wins ball in air.

“He’s gone up against some very big wingers this year and done really well, and he’s a dangerous attacker. We love his attitude, we love his ability, and it’s great he’s getting a chance to start for Scotland.”

Graham did bring some energy when Townsend unleashed six subs in one go during that woeful showing in Paris but the game was too far gone and the coach admitted it had been a soul-searching fortnight for the management and players.

“It was more prolonged because we had two weeks. It was tougher having to watch it for another few times and go over the reasons we felt we didn’t put in the performance we strived for,” said Townsend.

“It gives us time to reflect and change things around training wise, look at each position in the team, and whether a change will help us win. It is also a good process to go through as a team.

“We are not going to win every game. It is disappointing and hurts a lot when you lose playing for your country. These learning opportunities will make us stronger. As long as we put that into our performance at the weekend.”

Townsend said there were no easy answers why the Scots failed to get going in the French capital – at the start of the game and, particularly, straight after half-time.

“It is sport. You are playing against an international team that had their backs to the wall [following defeats by Wales and England], that brought a lot of emotion and energy. We allowed them to do that on a couple of occasions,” said the coach.

Townsend is fully aware that a Welsh side aiming for a 13th successive Test win and a potential Grand Slam decider against Ireland to come on the closing weekend will start as heavy favourites

“The Welsh players and supporters and neutrals will believe Wales are the better team and will win. We will have to just wait and see on Saturday afternoon.

“We realise we have not shown a true picture of what we are capable of. We have come up against some excellent teams in the past, teams that have been on good winning records and risen to the occasion and played at our best. We know that is what we have to do to win.”

As Finn Russell returns from his concussion issue alongside scrum-half Ali Price in place of skipper Greig Laidlaw, Townsend has gone with a Glasgow centre pairing of Peter Horne and Nick Grigg.

Sam Johnson, who was impressive against Italy and Ireland, drops out of the squad completely and the coach admitted that was a tough call.

“That was a long discussion,” said Townsend. “It’s tough on Sam. He didn’t have his best game against France, but that’s understandable. A player just starting his international career and in a new environment and the team not playing as well too.

“We just feel that Peter is the right player for this game. He did a lot of good things when he moved [from stand-off] to 12. He’s played very well for Scotland in the past.”