Blair Kinghorn has picked up rumblings from back home that Scotland is being treated as an afterthought at this World Cup, and that the two-week break between their opening game against South Africa and their second game against Tonga on Sunday has sapped the team’s enthusiasm.
The BBC Scotland Rugby Podcast heard from Kevin C. Brown, a supporter who “forgot we were still at the RWC.” To which another, Martin Welsh, responds, “Oh wait, we are at the World Cup?” Jonny Adamson, another, puts it thus way: “Our tournament feels all but over.”
Kinghorn is on the most recent podcast to insist that Scotland is only getting warmed up in France. “Our focus has never been higher, and the boys are raring to get out there,” he says. “I know it must be hard to have such a lengthy layoff, but I truly believe that this time away has strengthened our team. We’re going to rush the field with full might.
On Thursday, Kinghorn played quite well. If you look at his international history, you’ll discover that he’s been a success at multiple positions on the field, including fullback, right wing, left wing, and flyhalf.
He has a hat trick with the number 11 on his back and another with the number 10 in the Six Nations. Next month, in Paris, Kinghorn may earn his 50th cap in the World Cup’s Pool B finale against Ireland if he plays in all three remaining French games.
Ireland’s victory over South Africa sends a strong message.
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Once upon a time, he was a young prodigy in the Edinburgh system, a teenager whose size, speed, and abilities shined like a beacon. He was the club’s youngest ever centenarian when he played his 100th game for Edinburgh, when he was still a young man.
Even though he’s 26, it’s still tempting to think of him as a kid. Young enough, but Gregor Townsend’s group in France includes 11 players younger than him. What the heck happened?
“I’m still one of the youngest,” he says with a wry grin. You may say that I’m mature despite the fact that I’m not elderly.
Kinghorn, along with the rest of Scotland, was unable to get through the Bok defense in the opening game in Marseille. Everybody wants to go out and make things right, he says. We didn’t perform to our potential against South Africa, but now is the time to make amends and show the world what we’re made of.
It’s odd that Ireland will have played three games and we’ll have played just one. It feels strange to be on vacation for two weeks. Some good, some bad. “It’s been good in the sense that we can recover and connect with each other, even though you kind of just want to get out there and play and get on with it.”
The South African members of the team, led by Duhan van der Merwe (who was “the only one who was topless”) and WP Nel (who was “sweating away”), appeared to be having a massive BBQ as part of the bonding process.
The discussion surrounding the Springbok game is sure to have been heated. “For 70 minutes, we kept them try-less and then it was a 10-minute period where they scored two quick tries and then all of a sudden the frustrations that you’re feeling about things not going so well kind of creep a bit more,” Kinghorn says.
Even though we haven’t played our best rugby, we think we can pull out a victory by grinding out a score from some unknown source. The game has a lot going for it. We want to build on our strong defensive play and physical performance.
Their Sunday opponents tend to be much larger than them. Also still in existence, despite not being used last weekend, is a running game.
They have some great ball-carriers, some extremely elusive runners, and if they get their heads in the game, it will be tough to stop them, he concedes. Concentration for 80 minutes straight is a must.
It’s a tremendous boost to our morale. We’re representing our country at a World Cup. This is a tremendous honor. They have ambitions, and we have ambitions, and together we’ll deliver the kind of performance required for a decisive victory.
Kinghorn has had a nomadic Test career after spending years bouncing between positions in the backline, including first-choice wing, utility back, occasional starting fullback, the infamous Blair Switch Project, and his current position at 10.
Now that Stuart Hogg has retired, he can once again wear the number 15 shirt. The truth is that Kinghorn almost definitely would have started these games in France even if Hogg hadn’t left the stage. The standards of the Six Nations required it of him.
He explains, “I’m just happy getting a shot,” which he believes to be his greatest possible position. My return there is greatly anticipated. There, I can relax and be myself.
I can play stand-off if needed, but my best position on the team is fullback, where I can contribute the most. This is not something I want to give up or treat casually. It’s about getting better and keeping that jersey.”
Perhaps things would have turned out otherwise in an alternate reality. Kinghorn was an accomplished football player and ardent supporter of local club Heart of Midlothian. He makes fun of himself when he talks about his skill with the round ball, but rumor has it that he might have made it if he had persisted.
To paraphrase, he claims, “I don’t think I was actually that good at football.” Just a massive hunk of a defender who could move quickly and get a good header on the ball. So far, it seems like a solid choice to play rugby, but we’ll never know for sure.
Even while soaking in an ice bath the other day, he belted out the Hearts tune. “Catchy. Only Gilco [Grant Gilchrist] and I were there, and he cheers for the Rangers. It’s possible that Schoemy (Pierre Schoeman) is a Hearts supporter, too. I’ll need to elaborate on that.
They will want to stay in the country for a little longer because Sophia Antipolis, on the Cote d’Azur, is quite a distance between Tynecastle and Edinburgh. Getting off to a strong start and blowing out Tonga is a crucial first step that will give them confidence and fuel their campaign.
This is the real stuff, if South Africa was only a test. There is no cushion for failure.