Scotland's Darcy Graham speaks on position switch - two-and-a-half year gap, route taken when with 18s and Tonga's big boys

It’s over two and a half years since Darcy Graham last played at full-back but the Edinburgh winger is ready to embrace the unaccustomed role when Scotland take on Tonga on Saturday.

Darcy Graham during Scotland training at the Oriam. He has been picked at full-back to face Tonga. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Darcy Graham during Scotland training at the Oriam. He has been picked at full-back to face Tonga. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

With Stuart Hogg unavailable due to club duties and Blair Kinghorn pitched in at fly-half, Gregor Townsend has opted for Graham at 15 in the Autumn Nations Series opener at BT Murrayfield.

It’s a position he played in during his youth days before eventually settling on the wing when he turned pro. There has been the odd game since when he has filled in at 15 but his last outing as a starting full-back was in Edinburgh’s 17-13 defeat by Munster in the Champions Cup quarter-final at Murrayfield in March 2019.

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“Gregor asked me how I felt about playing it and I was very open to a new challenge,” said Graham, who will win his 20th cap. “It’s not something I’ve done in a long time, so I’m very much looking forward to it.

Darcy Graham's last outing at full-back came for Edinburgh in the Champions Cup quarter-final against Munster in March 2019. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

“There is a wee bit of added pressure, I guess. Especially with Blair playing at 10 when he’s usually at 15. There’s a fair bit of movement in that back line. But I never stay on my wing anyway, so nothing changes much for me. I’ll just do as I do, go looking for ball.”

Graham knows he can call on Hogg for advice but the 24-year-old feels fairly confident about the task ahead.

“He said I could come and grab him and he’s always there on the other end of the phone, so I know I’ve got that,” said Graham of his fellow Hawick man. “But I’ve played it before and I know what I’m doing so I’ll just kind of figure things out on my own. But he’ll always be there for me.

“Blair’s been really helpful as well. Obviously he’s the Edinburgh 15 and has been moved to 10 so we’re helping each other along the way.”

The inclusion of Rufus McLean in the Scotland team has been welcomed by Darcy Graham. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS

Graham doesn’t see his lack of game-time at full-back as a significant disadvantage.

“The last time I can remember was playing for Edinburgh against Munster at Murrayfield in the Champions Cup quarter-final,” he said.

“I think a few people tried to push me down that way, especially at under-18s. They just wanted me to get my hands on the ball, so that’s where I found myself. But coming up into the pro ranks I’ve found myself on the wing.

“I’ve really established myself as a winger, but I think it’s a good option to be able to play both. If a 15 gets injured I can fill in there quite comfortably and be happy to play there. It’s a good option to have.”

Darcy Graham in try-scoring form on the wing for Edinburgh against the Stormers in the United Rugby Championship this season. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

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Townsend shifted him to full-back because he wanted to accommodate Rufus McLean and Kyle Steyn on the wings. The Glasgow pair are inexperienced at international level, with McLean in line for his debut and Steyn set for his second cap after winning his first as a replacement against France in the 2020 Six Nations.

It leaves Graham as the senior partner in the back three and it’s a role he says he will relish.

“I want to take more responsibility. I’m not going to be telling boys what to do, I’ll just try to be a leader from what I do on the pitch. Help boys if they want to speak to me, like young Rufus, I’m always here for him. I’ll help anyone along the way.”

The back three, who all have speed to burn, are not the biggest but Graham is confident Scotland can deal with the power game he expects from the Tongans.

“We know Tonga are big boys and physical so our plan is move them about and keep the ball in play and run them about the pitch a bit, but it all depends on the weather,” he said.

“If it’s raining our game plan might change a wee bit but as it is we’re looking to move them about and play a bit of rugby.

“We’ve worked really hard on our frontline focus, just being really physical and matching what they bring. They’re going to run hard. We just need to match that on game day.”

McLean’s inclusion in the Scotland team for the first time is one that excites Graham who describes the Warriors winger as “the wee whippersnapper”.

“He’s unbelievable,” said the Edinburgh man. “He’s playing really well for Glasgow and he deserves his opportunity.

“I’m really excited to play with him – I’ve not played with him before. I’ve played with Kyle for the sevens, so I know how he plays and I kind of know what he wants and that, so it’s going to be nice to play with him again.”

Graham has spoken before about how much he hated playing at empty stadiums last season as the country emerged from lockdown and Saturday will mark the return of fans to a Scotland home game for the first time in over 20 months. And among the spectators at Murrayfield on Saturday will be 11 of the Graham family, including his gran.

“That’s the first time she’s watched me since under-18 level so it’ll be nice to have her in the stand,” he said. “It’s really exciting to have the family back, it means so much to me to have them in the crowd. It’s very special and they love coming to watch us. They deserve it as much as I do. My mum and dad have travelled all over the world and I wouldn’t be here without them.”

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