Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has been convinced in the past few months that young full-back Blair Kinghorn is now ready to play for Scotland.
With the Six Nations opener in Cardiff approaching fast on 3 February, and star man Stuart Hogg still to play since injuring his hip during the November Tests, Cockerill has revisited his opinion in the autumn that the youngster, who turns 21 next Thursday, was too raw to have his fragile, though undoubted, talent tested at the highest level of the game. After playing a key role in Edinburgh’s run of ten wins in 12 games, Kinghorn has done enough to alter his boss’s opinion.
“Blair has been our most improved player,” said Cockerill. “He has matured very well, played very well and done really well with ball in hand. He is not making that one horrific error every game that is costly. If it is costly for us can you imagine what it would be like at Test level?
“I think Blair is good enough to play Test rugby now because of the way he has matured in the last 12 weeks. If Hogg is not fit, my opinion is that he is ready to play full-back for Scotland for sure.
“He has the potential to play full-back and, if not, on the wing because he is young, very quick and creates opportunities. He will only get better the more he plays.”
While every Scotland fan is praying that Hogg can get back on the field soon and be firing on all cylinders for a crack at the Welsh, nerves are jangling as the Six Nations creep ever closer. Kinghorn didn’t make the national squad in the autumn but would be a good bet this time, even if Hogg is fit. Other leading contenders for the No 15 jersey would be Ruaridh Jackson or Sean Maitland, who could move in from the wing.
The more pressing concern for Scotland at present is in the front row and Cockerill revealed that loosehead Darryl Marfo, who stepped up so well during the autumn, was seeing a specialist for his back problem and he looks unlikely to feature for the opening rounds of the Six Nations.
“Darryl has not played since the autumn. His last game was Australia,” said the coach. “He has a slight disc issue in his back which is giving him some neurology down his legs. That’s settling slowly but it is not happening as quickly as we would have liked.”
Cockerill added that loosehead Rory Sutherland will feature in Friday’s European Challenge Cup crunch against Stade Francais at Myreside, where anything more than a point would secure a home quarter-final, Allan Dell should be back by late February and that he was “hoping” veteran Al Dickinson would play again after a long-term injury.
The former England hooker said that the current front-row crisis afflicting Scotland was more down to bad luck than a suggestion of a wider problem in the physical intensity of the modern game.
“It is bad luck to have multiple injuries in so many positions,” he said. “For WP [Nel] to break his arm, [Simon] Berghan to get suspended for foul play which is unheard of for him, and the other tighthead [Glasgow’s Zander Fagerson] dropping a bench on his foot… There has been some bad luck there with Dell, Dickinson, Marfo, Sutherland. That is a lot of props injured.”