Hastings has got the nod for this weekend’s game against Fiji at Murrayfield but Gregor Townsend remains a “massive believer” in Kinghorn and will take his time before deciding who should face the All Blacks a week on Sunday in the plum fixture of the autumn Tests. With Finn Russell still persona non grata, it is Hastings and Kinghorn who have the chance to stake their claim with the Rugby World Cup under a year away.
The pair were born in Edinburgh four months apart and have come through the ranks together but now find themselves in direct competition following Hastings’ recall and Kinghorn’s switch form back three to stand-off.
“They’re best mates,” said Townsend who has made six changes for the Fiji match. “So as soon as the squad got announced David Edge, our manager, got a message from them both five minutes apart. ‘Can I room with Blair?’ and then another saying ‘Can I room with Adam?’.
“It will have been an interesting week for them. When I spoke to Blair on Monday to tell him he wouldn’t be starting for this one I did say it will be interesting to see how the both of them get on. We don’t train on a Monday but they both grabbed Chris Paterson that day to go out and kick together. They’re going to drive each other as they get on very well with each other. I’m sure they’ll both want to be starting although Blair can cover a few other positions too.”
Kinghorn played the whole match at stand-off against Australia last weekend and scored a superb try but it ended on a sour note for the Edinburgh fly-half who missed a last-minute chance to win the match when he pulled his penalty wide.
Hastings was absent due to club duties but is back in the fold this weekend and very much flavour of the month again after a lengthy spell in the international wilderness. He was left out of the Scotland's initial Six Nations squad this year then missed the summer tour of Argentina due to injury. However, his form for Gloucester has impressed Townsend. Interestingly, the coach feels the Premiership club’s style of play is closer this season to Scotland’s and has afforded Hastings more opportunities to do what he does best.
“Physically he’s in a really good place and that has helped his defence,” said Townsend. “He’s always been competitive but he hasn’t defended that well. He’s stronger and applied himself on the defensive side more. Attack-wise he was OK to good last year, and partly why that has changed is that they have changed their gameplan. They go a lot through 10 now, last year they went through nine and 12. Adam didn’t get many touches. Now he has the confidence of being the attack leader at the club in his second season.
“We think we can get more out of Adam. His running game was a huge weapon at Glasgow, he’s now creative in putting others into holes and using his kicking game smartly. I’m encouraging him to run more too. It’s been a pleasing aspect to see how well he’s played this year. For him to be playing at his best this year is great. The way his team have played this year aligns a lot in attack with what we want to do with our team.”
Hastings will have Cameron Redpath outside him against Fiji on Saturday as the Bath centre makes his long-awaited return to international rugby after a serious neck injury. Redpath enjoyed a memorable Scotland debut in the Calcutta Cup away win over England in 2021 and will reprise his Twickenham centre partnership with Chris Harris this weekend in a pairing that will hopefully produce more ball for wingers Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham than in the game against the Aussies.
“Cam’s first cap was obviously very memorable, the fact that it was the first time we had won at Twickenham for so long,” said Townsend. “He played with confidence that day, he showed his ability on both sides of the ball as a very good runner and as a very creative player, but also he was really good post-tackle and won us a crucial jackal late on in the game.
“We really like his combination with Chris. They’ve only played once together but it went really well at Twickenham and I think they complement each other very well.”
Stuart Hogg is also back in what will be his first Scotland match since the captaincy was taken from him and given to Jamie Ritchie. The full-back no longer has an official title but has continued to make his voice heard. “He’s been the loudest at training, he sits in the front row of our meetings, and he’s contributing a lot this week,” said Townsend.
The inclusion of Hastings, Redpath, Harris and Hogg will freshen up the backline and there are also two changes in the pack, one of them enforced. Dave Cherry injured his hamstring in training and has been replaced at hooker by George Turner, with Ewan Ashman on the bench and Fraser Brown drafted into the squad as cover. Cherry could miss the remaining autumn Tests.
The other change is at lock where Richie Gray starts for the first time in over five years. “He has been excellent this year,” said Townsend. “And it just shows you that you can get better with age, both physically and as a rugby player. He set the quickest time he’s ever run this week in training.”
Murphy Walker, the young Glasgow prop, is in line to win in his first cap after being named on the bench.