RICHARD COCKERILL made a point of singing Darcy Graham’s praises after Friday night’s comfortable, in the end – but not wholly convincing – victory over the Cheetahs at Murrayfield. It was the Hawick-raised winger’s first appearance for the capital outfit this season (only his second PRO14 start since joining the staff in the summer of 2017), and the head coach was clearly impressed by the 21-year-old’s energy and desire to make an impact every time he got his hands on the ball.
“Best player on the field tonight,” stated Cockerill in the post-match press huddle. “I thought he was outstanding. A great example for young Scottish players, and old Scottish players. He just works his socks off, carries the ball as hard as he can, tackles, and I think that is the first time we’ve won back a high ball we’ve kicked this season. I can’t speak highly enough of his tenacity and his work-rate and his effort and his attitude.
“If you want an example of the effort I want to see in training and in games, he gave that tonight. I thought he was brilliant.”
Which prompted two obvious questions.
Firstly, if you rate him so highly, then why has he had so little game time at Edinburgh?
“He’s been a little bit of a victim of the system where he played [Scotland] Under-20s last summer  so didn’t get a full pre-season, and then he played sevens this summer because we thought that was the right thing but he got injured which meant he missed another pre-season,” replied Cockerill.
“He’s missed two pre-seasons so he’s a little bit behind, but, as we saw tonight, you give him the opportunity, which he deserved, and he’s taken it. So, the best thing to do is pick him again if he plays like that.”
Which segues nicely into the second obvious question: has he played himself into the team to face Montpellier in the European Heineken Champions Cup this coming Saturday afternoon?
“Well, of the wingers on the field tonight playing for Edinburgh, who was the best?” was Cockerill’s response.
“Darcy versus [Nemani] Nadolo might be interesting,” he then added with a wince, which suggests that the coach has concerns about the compact Graham (5ft 10ins and tipping the scales at 13st 3lbs) going up against the Fijian powerhouse (6ft 4ins and 20st 7lbs).
Selecting Graham would certainly be a brave call, but another Hawick man who knows a bit about ability, pace and desire being more valuable commodities in rugby than sheer bulk believes that Edinburgh aren’t realistically going to win the Champions Cup, so leaving Graham home playing club rugby with Watsonians (who he has been drafted to this season and has scored two tries for in two appearances) would be a wasted opportunity.
“The big thing is that he needs to play,” says Jim Renwick, who represented Scotland 52 times between 1972 and 1984, and who toured South Africa with the Lions in 1980, before going on to have distinguished club coaching career. “I just don’t buy that you blood a player by giving him ten minutes one week then dropping him out the squad the next week.
“If he plays and he struggles then they can take him off,” Renwick adds.“Darcy isn’t going to be put off by one tough afternoon – that’s not his style”.
“He wants to be a good player, he wants to test himself, you can see that in the way he plays – if he gets put on his backside he gets right back up and has another go.”
Renwick has not been directly involved in Graham’s development but has kept an impressed eye on the youngster from a distance.
“A lot of people down here [in Hawick] think he was better than Stuart Hogg coming through. Now, that’s a big call. He’s not got Stuart’s balance, but what he does have is that explosiveness when he gets the ball and when he goes into contact,” says Renwick.
“He’s great to watch – he always has a go – he’s not content with just getting tackled and recycling the ball. He reminds me of Ian Chalmers (who was a prolific try-scorer in the Hawick team which swept all before them in the early 1970s) – a fireball of energy and the defender never knows what’s coming next.
“He’s not long on the ground either. If they get him down, he bounces right back to his feet and gets back in the game. If you think about it, that’s like having an extra man.
“The issue they’ll have with him is his size, but that shouldn’t stop him. If you aren’t big then you have to be special, and if you look at what Shane Williams has achieved in the modern game then there’s no reason why Darcy can’t make it.
“He’s a good handler, a good kicker, a great runner and he’s gutsy – in fact, that’s probably his weakness because he’s too brave at times and gets himself hurt or takes too much on – but he’ll learn.
“Robin Charters (who coached that great Hawick team Renwick played in alongside the legendary Derrick Grant) used to say that young players run before they think, and old players think before they run. I suppose every player is trying to find the balance between the two, and that will come for Darcy with the more games he plays.”
Watch Darcy Graham score a wonder try against Fiji at the Dubai Sevens in December 2017 –
Graham was a constant threat in attack on Friday night and scrambled over the line just before half-time for the second of Edinburgh’s four tries. But it won’t have escaped Cockerill’s notice that his opposite number, Rabz Maxwane, created the Cheetah’s first try with a 60-yard dash after ball was turned over while Graham was out of position looking to get involved in the middle of the park, or that the South African scored two quick-fire tries just after the break to haul his team back into the match.
“The big thing about defending as a winger is knowing when to stay out and when to come in and take the man inside,” says Renwick. “Sometimes it is about the men you have inside you – what they are doing and telling you. I’ve seen British and Irish Lions players get it wrong, so it’s not easy. It’s another thing that you only really learn by doing it in games. That’s why he needs to play.”
Demographics, genetics and finance mean that Scotland have to bring something different to the table if they are going to survive, let alone flourish, on the world stage.
Darcy Graham is something different.
Time to see what he can do.