Edinburgh full-back Blair Kinghorn and his team-mate Magnus Bradbury are combining Pro14 duties with a university degree, writes Iain Morrison
Like any ambitious young player, Blair Kinghorn is an avid student of the game that gives him his living but it turns out that the star Scot to emerge from last season has also become a student of business management at Edinburgh’s Napier University.
It seems a long time since any player was able to get an academic qualification whilst pursuing a professional rugby career. Geoff Cross was a doctor, Euan Murray a qualified vet and Simon Taylor earned a law degree but all three have long since retired, a different generation and one with considerably less pressure upon them.
Somehow full-back Kinghorn and his Edinburgh breakaway buddy Magnus Bradbury have carved out enough time from Richard Cockerill’s notoriously tough training schedule to start a degree together, as the leggy full-back confirmed.
“I have just started uni, taking my mind off rugby when I am away from training and games. I am studying business management at Napier. I will just take it in small chunks and see how we go.
“I have been putting it off since school a little bit, so I just thought it was the right time. Magnus Bradbury has also started with me so we are looking forward to it.”
The pair are doing the same course and, while they have yet to start, “we will find out who copies whose notes!” quips Kinghorn.
Such was Kinghorn’s success last season that his coach, Cockerill, when asked if he was tempted to poach Stuart Hogg from Glasgow along with a scrum-half, replied in the negative since he already had the best full-back in the land!
On form alone he may have had a point but, with the autumn internationals looming large in the headlights, the question of who is Scotland’s best full-back is a moot one with Hogg sitting out the November Tests thanks to surgery on an ankle he injured two weeks back against Munster. Ruaridh Jackson might not necessarily concur, and Sean Maitland can put in a shift at 15 if needs be, but Kinghorn looks a shoo-in to fill that famous 15 shirt against Fiji, a rejuvenated South Africa following their win in New Zealand and Argentina, who are thriving under the management of Mario Ledesma and won’t be the same pushover they were in the summer.
Kinghorn has a rare turn of pace, which you’d probably expect for such a leggy athlete standing 6ft 5in tall, but he also accelerates remarkably quickly given those long levers, which you wouldn’t.
Just ask Nick Evans because the Edinburgh 15 rounded him in a Challenge Cup tie two years ago like the former All Black fly-half had put down roots.
Comparisons with Hogg are inevitable but ultimately not hugely revealing. Suffice to say that both men have the beating of a man one-on-one. Kinghorn proved as much so regularly against Munster in last season’s quarter-final at Thomond Park that his stats that day were off the chart, with one Irish pundit imagining the damage he could do in the 13 channel. The 157 metres that he carried was only matched by the opposition if you total the top six Munstermen with ball in hand together, including the illustrious Keith Earls and Simon Zebo.
In an Edinburgh team who dominate possession but find tries hard to come by, Kinghorn’s is one of the few blades with a cutting edge in Cockerill’s tool drawer. After a difficult start to the season Edinburgh face a Benetton side next weekend who continue to improve, as the young full-back acknowledges after sitting out yesterday’s trip to Dublin.
“I think everyone has upped their game in the whole Pro14,” says Kinghorn. “Benetton and Zebre have both got significantly better, I think all the teams have got significantly better and there are no easy fixtures. Anyone can beat anyone and you have to be on your game the whole time.”
When he is not studying his business books Kinghorn likes watching golf on TV, while admitting he isn’t much cop on the actual course, admires the NFL, where he supports the New York Giants, and is something of a Hearts fan, which is only to be expected from someone who briefly appeared as a junior on their books.
“I was quite a big Hearts fan,” he says, “I still follow them, but not so closely now and obviously they have had a good start. I need to try and get back down to a couple of games. I think a couple of the boys have season tickets.”
But for now the focus is on three things, rugby, rugby and rugby. Kinghorn has already proved himself flexible, shifting from fly-half to full-back to wing... so where next?
“Wherever the coach needs me,” is his obvious if honest response. “I wouldn’t tell Cockers where to pick me! Just wherever he sees fit, I trust the coaches.
“I like playing full-back at Edinburgh and I have to work hard to keep the starting jersey.
“I have played on the wing for Scotland, back three positions are pretty inter-linked. I got caught out a couple of times on the summer tour with knowing where to be, but full-back and wing are fairly interchangeable.”
So they are but Kinghorn must be itching for a chance to show what he can do in his preferred full-back shirt at international level come November. The rest of us are itching to see.