DARCY GRAHAM’S contribution to Edinburgh’s only try during their 23-14 defeat to Bordeaux-Begles on Saturday afternoon was as good as it gets in terms of individualist rugby ability.
The Hawick born and raised winger opened up his full box of tricks to bamboozle four opposition players on a six-pence, then when he was eventually brought down he had the presence of mind to briefly let go of the ball as he bounced off the deck like a jackrabbit, and then he finished it all off by conjuring an exquisitely timed offload out of contact just nanoseconds before being bundled into touch. There was pace, power, agility, instinct, desire, selflessness and so much more to admire. It was sensational – electrifying – undefendable – stuff.
But Damien Hoyland’s finish should not be lost in the shadow of what went immediately before. He had to check himself to collect Graham’s pass, then rolled out of two tackles on his way to touching down. It is worth noting that the 26-year-old had popped up on the wrong wing to finish off the move – it wasn’t the only time in the game that he had gone looking for work.
Hoyland had 10 carries during the course of the match (more than any other Edinburgh player apart from Graham who had 11) and made 48 metres (which was more than any other Edinburgh player bar none).
Duhan van der Merwe, the man Hoyland replaced in the Edinburgh side this weekend, has a lot of attributes in terms of his pace, power and explosiveness with ball in hand, but it is hard to imagine the South African-born, and now Scottish-qualified, wide-man having the same wherewithal to get in position to finish off Graham’s outstanding build-up work.
“You’ve always got to stay alert when you’ve got someone like Darcy on the ball,” said Hoyland afterwards. “I don’t know how he managed it, but you always expect it because if anyone can pull something like that off then it is Darcy. I’ll get him a beer very soon, I’m sure.”
While the final result was not to Hoyland’s liking, he was fairly happy on a personal level with how the match had gone. Opportunities have been few and far between in recent seasons, with Graham, van der Merwe and Blair Kinghorn firmly established as the first choice back-three, but Hoyland has not given up on recapturing his place in the side, and rediscovering the sort of form which earned him four caps for Scotland between 2015 and 2017.
“I’m pretty happy with how I played,” he acknowledged. “I have been training really hard and waiting for this opportunity, and I’m really glad I got it here in such a big game.
“It is now about continuing to push the other guys – Duhan, Darcy and Blair – who are bloody good players, but Cockers has made it clear that if someone takes their opportunity then they will keep their place. It is all about the competition because that is what keeps pushing all of our standards up.
“It is not just those three. You also have Eroni Sau, Jamie Farndale and Jack Blain, who are all bloody good players, but we all know that the door is always open if you train well and take your chance when you get to play. That’s how professional sport works.
“I definitely feel you get better with regular game-time, but this competition [for selection] has given me a lot of things to work on,” he continued. “For example, I can cover full-back fairly competently now which maybe wasn’t something I could have done a couple of years ago.
“Now it is about getting as much game time as I can to start putting the things that I’ve worked on in training out on the field.
“My philosophy is to take things day-by-day, so now my focus is to try and recover and be in the best condition I can be going into next week. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t desperate to play our next game. I just have to be the best I can be and take it from there.”
Hoyland missed a lot of rugby due to foot and knee problems during head coach Richard Cockerill’s first two seasons at the club, but has been more or less injury-free throughout 2019-20.
“My body is feeling good now and I’m ready to go whenever the next opportunity comes. I wasn’t in my best form [when Cockerill first arrived] and then I had those injuries, but because of that I definitely feel I learnt a lot and think I am a better player now.”
The season may have come to a frustrating end for Edinburgh but the good news for Hoyland and his team-mates is that they have only a fortnight to wait before they get a chance to go again. Having just spent five months in lockdown there is not the usual requirement to rest weary bodies and mend injuries which have been managed throughout the season, and Hoyland says there will be no problems in adjusting focus away from the end of 2019-20 and towards the start of 2020-21 despite the short turnaround.
“We’re definitely ready,” he stated. “The boys are fit. We’ve trained really hard and there’s not been that much rugby played, so we’ll take a few days off now, and given the last couple of results we are desperate to get back to winning ways. We just want to right some wrongs and show everybody how good a team we can be.”
“The thing we can take from this [defeat to Bordeaux], and we took it from two weeks ago [against Ulster], is that we are on the up. From these two games, there are a lot of things we are going to be better at. Going into next season we will be gunning for it, and we know what works.”