Darryl Marfo’s extraordinary rise in the space of a couple of months from fourth choice at Edinburgh to making his Scotland debut in front of a packed BT Murrayfield could be viewed as a fairytale story, but not to the man himself.
For the 27-year-old it was the very real reward for nine years of hard graft and keeping the faith that his moment would come through the trials of injury, redundancy and frustration. When the Edinburgh loosehead ran out in a Scotland shirt to face Samoa and line up for the national anthem he felt no need to pinch himself.
“I have to believe it because I just ran out in front of 60,000 people at Murrayfield on Saturday and that was a pretty real experience,” he said at Scotland’s training base yesterday. “Yes, I can believe it because it is happening.
“I can’t control other people’s perceptions of me. My career has not gone as I would like it to have gone, especially in the early years. Injuries; not getting as much game time as I would have liked; the emergence of other good young players at the clubs I was at...
“Injuries were not fortunate to me in the past. Now they are helping me a bit, though nobody likes to see their team-mates injured.”
The Londoner, who grew up in Pimlico and started his career at the Harlequins academy when he left school, arrived in Edinburgh on a one-year deal from Bath in the summer. With Al Dickinson out until the new year, Allan Dell suffering another setback and Rory Sutherland only returning from a long lay-off, together with an injury to Glasgow’s Gordon Reid, a path has opened up which now sees the prop relishing the prospect of facing world champions New Zealand this weekend.
However, it has not been a case of just cruising into the Test arena. Marfo has put in a string of impressive performances with Edinburgh, including against a Lions-loaded Leinster front row in September. On Saturday he looked the part with a solid scrumming shift, and some good turnover work and defence in the loose.
While he may be a new face to much of the Scottish rugby public, the player knows how much hard work has gone into realising this dream.
“I spent six seasons at Harlequins until I was 24,” he explained. “I then moved to London Welsh in the English Championship. I was there for a season-and-a-half until we went into liquidation around this time last year when I got my P45, which was not a great experience.
“Luckily for me, Bath had a few loosehead injuries and I got signed soon after that for them. After the London Welsh experience, I finished off the back end of the year at Bath.”
The struggle for first-team rugby continued and Marfo revealed it was him who initiated a move to Scotland.
“I heard through the grapevine Edinburgh were looking for looseheads and I put that towards my agent. I try and maximise my potential.
“I managed to get [Edinburgh managing director] Jonny Petrie’s email off someone and I said, ‘look mate, I hear you are looking for a loosehead. I know it is unusual in this day and age but I would like to put myself forward for it’. Along with the work of my agent, I signed.”
Although Marfo admitted that packing down against the All Blacks would have seemed “a bit of a stretch six months ago” he hinted that some of the coverage surrounding his rapid elevation to the Scotland team had rankled a little bit.
“In this day and age, with all the social media, it is hard to avoid everything that gets said about you. I’m not the kind to go looking for that,” he said. “Obviously, there are friends and family who mention things by text or phone calls.
“I have my own processes that I’ve put in place over the nine years I’ve been doing this to get the best out of myself. Those are the important things that I stick to. I care about the opinions of coaches and senior players. Those are the things I take more notice of. I can’t control what people say about me.”
With a mother from Ayr, Marfo’s eligibility is stronger than many in the squad and he said that his Scottish heritage had always been a big part of his life.
“Yes, massively. My mother [Cheryl] moved to London when she was 18 so all through my life since I was a child I’ve been very aware of my Scottish roots and my Scottish heritage,” he said. “As a kid and a teenager I came up here for weeks at a time – we’re talking summer holidays, Easter holidays, Christmas holidays, every half-term. We’d come up to Ayr, by the seaside. I spent a lot of time growing up in Scotland because all my mum’s side of the family are from here.
“I have great memories of growing up in a London council estate and coming to a seaside town. It was a really different experience and it was one that I loved as a kid; you’d get off the plane or the train and immediately you could smell that fresh Scottish air and you could drink the water out of the taps.
“With my grandparents and my aunties and uncles being up here it was a great place to come.”