GREGOR TOWNSEND says he has absolute faith in Darryl Marfo’s ability to step into international rugby after handing the 27-year-old loose-head prop his Scotland debut against Samoa on Saturday.
Marfo is the only uncapped player in the starting team named this afternoon for the clash against the Pacific Islanders, while Glasgow Warriors front-rowers George Turner and Jamie Bhatti, plus Newcastle Falcons utility-back Chris Harris, will get their first tastes of the international game off the bench.
Marfo’s selection follows a remarkable rise to prominence since joining Edinburgh during the summer. He made his pro debut for Harlequins as far back in 2012, but looked certain to be restricted to journeyman status during the next five years when only five of his 30 top flight appearances were as a starter.
He has benefitted during his short time in Scotland from injuries to Alasdair Dickinson, Rory Sutherland and Allan Dell, allowing him to quickly establish himself as a regular in the Edinburgh squad, and Townsend says he has seen enough in the player’s nine games so far for the capital outfit to be confident that the new man is up to the job.
“Probably not at the beginning of the season – we didn’t know much about him,” replied the coach, when asked if he had envisaged Marfo reaching this position when the player first arrived in the country.
“But we watched Edinburgh train, then he played in the first pre-season game, and we started to take more notice of him after that. The fact is, he’s got his opportunity at Edinburgh – part of that was injuries, but he’s also ahead of other players there, too – and he’s shown consistency. We believe he is getting better and better. We’ve seen that in the two weeks he’s spent with us. And we’ve seen that in recent games with Edinburgh – we’re very impressed with how he played against Leinster against two British and Irish Lions. He’s really fitted in well with everyone in the squad.”
Townsend added the starting Scotland team he has named to play against Samoa on Saturday was first identified two weeks ago, and has suggested that non-injury related changes will be kept to a minimum when New Zealand and Australia roll up at BT Murrayfield in the coming weeks.
“We’ve probably known this team for a couple of weeks now so we explained that to the players on day one of camp because we wanted to be sure that in the short period we have with the group that the team can train a lot together,” said Townsend.
“We’ve selected players on form, and we’ve also looked for cohesion within the group, so [we’ve got] a Glasgow backline and an Edinburgh front-row. The players know each other very well so that cuts down on the training time and allows the coaching to be focussed on the specific challenge of this game.”
“Our original plan was to not make too many changes to the team during this period because the two teams we are playing in addition to Samoa are top sides. That might change due to injury or form but we believe that it is important that the team which has trained together for this week get the opportunity to build on that performance next week.”
Townsend confirmed that blindside flanker John Barclay will captain the side, whilst naming number eight Ryan Wilson and full-back Stuart Hogg as vice-captains.
“It is something we did on tour – have two players nominated in that role to support the captain, and having one in the forwards and one in the backs gives us that balance,” he explained. “We have other leaders in the team as well. So, we’ll see Jonny Gray leading the line-out, Stuart McInally leading the scrum and Finn Russell leading the attack. The more leaders we get in the team – the more people who are confident about how we will win this game – the better it is for us.”
Samoa named their team on Wednesday and also have four debutants in their match-day squad, in the shape of starting tight-head prop Donald Brighouse, second-row Josh Tyrell, replacement scrum-half Mealani Matavao (the only Samoan based player in the squad), and replacement utility back AJ Alatimu.
Brighouse actually came to prominence and represented New Zealand Under-20 as a loose-head prop, meaning that Marfo will at least get to feel his way into the international game whilst locking horns against a relative novice.
The Samoans have a familiar name at number eight, with Jack Lam filling the slot which was once occupied by his uncle Pat (who had a spell as an assistant coach with Scotland back in 2003, and more recently led Connacht to the PRO12 championship in 2016 before moving to Bristol). TJ Ioane of Sale Sharks is at open-side flanker.
Scotland (v Manu Samoa at BT Murrayfield on Saturday 11th November at 2.30pm): S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, A Dunbar, L Jones; F Russell, A Price; D Marfo, S McInally, W Nel, B Toolis, J Gray, J Barclay, H Watson. R Wilson. Subs: G Hunter, J Bhatti, Z Fagerson, T Swinson, C Du Preez, H Pyrgos, P Horne, C Harris.
Samoa: A Tuala; P Perez, K Fonotia, R Lee-Lo, D Lemi; T Nanai Williams, P Cowley; J Lay; M Leiatau, D Brighouse, J Tyrell, C Vui©, P Fa’asalele, T Ioane, J Lam. Subs: M Matu’u, J Lay, H Sasagi, F Lemalu, O Treviranus, M Matavao, A Alatimu, A Leiua.