Scotland winger Darcy Graham is confident he can handle the massive pressure now on his young shoulders after being given the job of scoring the tries needed to beat Samoa in Monday’s ‘do-or-die’ World Cup clash.
Japan‘s shock 19-12 victory over Ireland in Shizuoka has piled even more strain on the Scots, who can’t afford any more slip-ups if they expect to make it out of Pool A.
Graham has been brought in to inject some pace out wide as Gregor Townsend‘s side chase a bonus-point victory to keep alive their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages of the tournament.
Darcy Graham has been drafted in on the wing, replacing Scottish veteran Tommy Seymour
It is a lot of responsibility on a young man who is winning only his ninth cap. Yet, despite his diminutive stature at just 5ft 8in, he is confident his shoulders are broad enough to handle national expectations.
‘I know there will be a lot of people looking towards me, but I don’t feel any added pressure,’ said the 22-year-old from Hawick, who has scored five tries for Scotland in his fledgling career. ‘I will just go out and do my own thing.
‘I always try and bring energy and excitement – that’s what I am all about, I guess – and I will try to do that against Samoa. I want to get on the ball and do what I do. I want to run into space and run hard.
‘I know it’s do-or-die against Samoa, but I’m not worried. We have to play our best and, although there is a bit of pressure there, for me it’s more excitement.
Graham came on as a substitute late on in what was a difficult World Cup debut against Ireland
‘Some boys do get really nervous, but I’m usually pretty chilled, I’ve always been like that. I can take things in my stride.
‘I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m delighted to be starting and I’m just looking forward to getting stuck in.’
Graham came on early in the second half in the defeat against Ireland last weekend for Tommy Seymour, who drops out of the squad completely for the Samoan game after a poor showing.
The game had already gone by the time Graham got on and the Edinburgh man was frustrated he didn’t have the chance to impress.
‘It was tough coming on against Ireland as the conditions were tough, we were behind and it was a wet ball,’ said the winger.
‘You do what you can and I just wanted to get on the ball as quickly as possible and wanted to bring my energy off the bench.
‘Of course, it’s much different starting a game in a World Cup rather than coming on.
Graham celebrates scoring a try against Georgia in a World Cup warm-up match at Murrayfield
‘I know the Samoans are going to come at us hard but I’m looking forward to using my footwork. It’s almost letting them beat themselves in a way.
‘Their boys will come flying out the line and it doesn’t take much to shift from one foot on to the other and be clear in space. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing most.’
Graham will take confidence from starting alongside Stuart Hogg for the first time in a major tournament. There may be only a five-year age gap but he always looked up to the talismanic full-back who, like Graham, hails from Hawick and proudly played for the famous Mansfield Park club.
Graham, who won the Borders’ Sports Personality Of The Year Award earlier this week, will draw inspiration by thinking of his friends and family back in Hawick when he sets foot on the pitch in Kobe.
‘Hawick is a small town but it’s produced a lot of rugby players who have played for Scotland, so it’s a huge moment with me and Hoggy starting in the World Cup,’ said Graham.
‘I’ve watched him growing up, he’s been around forever and he is Hawick’s most capped player.
‘Hoggy has been a huge influence on me and we have a bit of craic and he’s always good for advice.
The pressure will be on Scotland’s star man Stuart Hogg to perform against Samoa on Monday
‘He will be huge for us on Monday. When the Samoans kick off, Hoggy has the pace to create a counter-attack opportunity – and that can make a big difference for us.’ Scotland head coach Townsend said he had total faith in Graham making a big difference against Samoa and going over for the tries needed to win the game.
‘Every time he’s played for us, he’s taken the game to the opposition,’ said Townsend. ‘Not all performances have been perfect and there are things he can work on, but he’s someone who goes at the opposition with the ball in hand.
‘There’s a real buzz when he gets on the ball – and it’s the same when Stuart Hogg gets on the ball, so it’s a great combination to have in the back three alongside Sean Maitland on the other wing.’
If Graham can continue the form he showed in the warm-up games, particularly in the last outing against Georgia at Murrayfield – when he scored and was a standout man-of-the-match – then that will go a long way to breathing new life into Scotland’s World Cup campaign.
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