It’s been a while but Welsh fans could be forgiven for imagining on Saturday that one of their heroes has rolled back the years… only this time Shane Williams will be sporting navy blue and speaking with a Hawick accent. Darcy Graham owes the Welsh veteran something for paving the way.
Williams’ last-ever taste of Test rugby was at the Principality Stadium way back in 2011 when Wales beat Australia 24-18 with the final try coming from the little maestro himself. That try was his 60th in 91 Tests, hugely impressive figures for anyone, never mind someone who at 5ft 7in was widely considered too small for the game.
One week after Wasps winger Christian Wade (5ft 8in) announced he was quitting the game altogether after earning just one England cap, Graham, pictured, is among Scotland’s substitutes on Saturday.
He is about the same height as Wade and Williams but, according to the Scottish Rugby website, the Scot weighs even less than the Welshman (about 11st 10lbs). His place on Saturday’s bench is a token of faith in a player who has made just three starts in the Guinness Pro14, the last of which ended in that disastrous four tries to one defeat by Zebre, when he was probably the only Edinburgh player to cover his backside.
Gregor Townsend made the valid point that while half of defenders will have their knees knocking at the thought of facing a Lomu-esque 125kg winger, the other half will be far more worried by “an 80kg guy who can step you” and not just because the new tackle laws penalise anyone who goes near the neck.
“Shane Williams was one of the best wingers ever, he was small and hard to read,” said Townsend. “If you are that profile [small] you’ve got to be dynamic and aggressive and work hard. Darcy broke nine tackles last weekend, far more than any other Edinburgh player. He can do it on the bigger stage and has shown that in the Champions Cup.”
Graham’s selection rests not upon his two league appearances this season after injury caused a late start, but on those Heineken matches. The little man was excellent against Montpellier in France after a little luck.
In that opening game, Graham was scheduled to go up against Montpellier’s 130kg winger Nemani Nadolo. Instead the Fijian was injured and in his place Vern Cotter went to the opposite extreme with Frenchman Gabriel N’Gandebe who, at 74kg, may be the slightest professional player in Europe.
Graham took full advantage of the “mismatch” and carted into the Frenchman with a vengeance. What’s more he carried the aggression on against Toulon when he kept tabs on former All Black Julian Savea no less.
But his best work is done with the ball in hand and he created Stuart McInally’s second-half score which put the match to bed, picking a canny line up the middle of the field and showing unexpected strength in the contact zone.
Like Williams, the Scot is surprisingly good in the air, getting into position early and then getting off the ground. He can’t quite match the Welshman’s mesmeric step in open play but Graham is still learning his trade and he does have the same blistering speed off the mark, which is what makes both men so dangerous.
There is danger everywhere in selection. There is danger in selecting someone so raw and there is danger involved when not selecting someone with so much talent and one who the opposition know little about.
Perhaps Graham is there for the experience, some have suggested, more to soak up the atmosphere on the big stage rather than actually perform on it?
Townsend rejects the idea out of hand. “No. We select the 23 players we think will help us win the game.
“His rugby ability makes him hard to tackle, skilful in the air is good but it’s more his approach in the past few games where he’s taken it to the opposition, been aggressive in defence, won a couple of turnovers and looked to get on ball.
“That’s the mindset we need when we go to these challenging places like Cardiff this weekend. If he gets the opportunity to play we’ll be looking to him to help us win.”