James Lang comes out of left field on Scotland tour

Centre James Lang is itching for another taste of international rugby when Scotland take on Argentina. Picture: Fotosport/David Gibson
Centre James Lang is itching for another taste of international rugby when Scotland take on Argentina. Picture: Fotosport/David Gibson
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There’s always one. Whenever a squad announced is for a summer tour, be it a national side or the British and Irish Lions, one of the names comes out of nowhere, and on this Scotland tour that name is James Lang.

Having played just a handful of games for Harlequins, the centre may have slipped under the radar as far as most 
observers of Scottish-qualified players were concerned, but as a former Scotland Under-18s cap he was always known to Gregor Townsend.

Having featured at club level at 10, 12 and 15, Lang might be regarded as a utility back, but, on this tour at least, the head coach has had a very precise role in mind for the 23-year-old right from the outset: inside centre, with one or possibly two outings from the three games to show how well he can operate in tandem with a couple of different stand-offs.

Lang duly made his debut in the No 12 jersey against Canada, playing the first half and a bit before taking a knock and giving way to Adam Hastings. Having got over that, he is in the running for a place in 
Saturday’s game against Argentina, with much depending on whether Townsend opts to play Peter Horne at 10.

Like Lang, Horne is best used one position out from the stand-off, but with Ruaridh Jackson having gone home and Hastings having played against the USA as well as Canada, the Glasgow player appears to be the favourite to play at 10 against the Pumas.

The absence of Duncan Taylor, released at the weekend after failing to recover from a back strain in time, should also boost Lang’s hopes, and needless to say he is itching for another taste of international rugby to round off a tour which began with a surprise phone call from Townsend himself.

“I got a phone call from 
Gregor around March,” Lang recalled yesterday. “I was on holiday in Morocco and it was quite a surprise. He said they were looking at me and were liking what they were seeing. He said to keep up the good work and there could be an opportunity.

“I was getting quite a bit of game time with Quins, but more off the bench. I wasn’t really expecting to be selected but it was a nice surprise.

“Gregor spoke to me about my position. I’ve started all three, 10, 12, and 15, this year for Quins, but I think I’m here predominantly as a ball-playing 12, which is where I think I can really enhance my career, and I’m hopefully doing so.

“When they told me I was starting [against Canada], I was thrilled, excited – couldn’t really wait to get out there and play. And then on the day, 
Stuart Hogg presented me with my top in the changing room, and that was 
pretty class: obviously I’ve got loads of respect for him – he’s a world-class player.

“Singing the anthems was very special. My parents flew out as well to Edmonton and were in the crowd, so it was wicked to share that moment with them as well.”

Despite the surname, Lang’s father James is from Wales, while the player himself was born within a few miles of Twickenham. He owes his Scottish qualification to his mother’s father, who is from Hamilton, while his mother can probably claim the credit for his sporting prowess too, having played football for England, albeit before James was old enough to take it all in.

“I’ll not guess the date because it might annoy her,” he said. “She was a right-mid – another midfielder.

“My parents are very happy for me and Scotland was definitely the right call. Playing with the under-18s gave me that shot and the way Gregor wants to play the game, that style, suits me very, very well.”

What would suit him even better is the chance to play 12 more frequently for Harlequins. Opportunities have been limited so far, and Lang is aware that, with regular first-team rugby being vital if his international career is to flourish, he may eventually have to move on.

For the time being, however, with a new coach coming to the Twickenham Stoop, he is keen to stay put and fight his corner.

“At the minute I’m very happy at Quins. We’ve got a new head coach coming in, Paul Gustard, and I’ve heard very, very good things about him. I’m looking forward to going back and it’s a clean slate for everyone.

“I’m looking forward to putting my hand up, training well and hopefully playing. Playing week in, week out is what you have to do to keep match fit, so hopefully I’ll get the opportunity at Quins.”