DANNY Wilson has seen Rory Darge make remarkably rapid progress since he recruited the openside flanker from Edinburgh just under a year ago. But he believes that, despite such progress, it is still too early to expect a high-class polished performance every time from a player who only turned 22 last week, and earlier today warned that it would be unwise to heap too much pressure on the player.
However, at the same time, the Glasgow head coach is clearly delighted with the progress made by Darge, and believes he has the composure needed to succeed in the international game. That much seemed evident on Saturday, when Darge scored on his first start for Scotland against France, and put in an overall display that was a welcome cause for optimism amidst a pretty gloomy Six Nations defeat by France.
“I thought he was outstanding,” the coach said of his player’s performance in the 36-17 defeat by the French at BT Murrayfield. “I think we all knew what Rory was capable of doing at this level, then he stepped up in our European games and played extremely well.
“And now to play against a very, very strong side like France and be the presence he was at the breakdown, and the energy he played with . . . . I thought he was outstanding, and one for the future.
“At the same time, we’ve got to be careful that we don’t build too much pressure on the lad too early. He’s had a really good full debut, but it will take time for him to be able to do that week in, week out in very high-pressure situations. But for a first start I thought he was outstanding.
“He’s a very calm, collected type of character, not highly emotional but at the same time very motivated. He trains extremely well. You don’t ever come into training and feel that he’s not quite on top of his Monday or his Tuesday. He comes in with a really good mindset.
“I think he’s in a great place at the moment where he’s been able to take on the next challenge with not too much pressure on him, and I think it’s important we keep him going in that vein. He’s still a very young lad.
“He played the tail-end of last year for us out of the academy and the majority of this year. And now he’s stepping up to international rugby and he’s certainly showing what he’s capable of.”
Darge made his debut off the bench against Wales a fortnight before the France match, playing briefly alongside Hamish Watson, another specialist openside. Both men were due to play together from the start against the French only for Watson to pull out with Covid.
Presuming the Edinburgh player recovers full fitness in time, Scotland coach Gregor Townsend seems sure to name both in his 15 for either the game against Italy or the one against Ireland. Playing two 7s can come at a price – the loss of height in the lineout being the most obvious drawback of the ploy – but Wilson is sure it can work to Scotland’s advantage, provided that the pair are both allowed to play in a traditional openside role rather than Darge being expected to attempt an imitation of a genuine blindside.
“For me, it would be two sevens,” he continued. “Rory’s not a six, but then nor is Hamish. They’re both sevens, so you go into the game playing with the mindset that you’ve got two sevens, with one of them wearing No 6 on their back.
“There will be certain roles that one of them will have to fulfil as a six – there are differences at the set piece. But in general play you’ll have two huge presences at the breakdown and two guys who have got great footwork and the ability to carry as well.
“So I don’t think you’ll lose a huge amount and it’s just around the set-piece that having two sevens can be a little bit more niggly in terms of getting roles right. But it will be very exciting to see both of them in the back row.”
Glasgow are expected to be without Darge when they face Scarlets in Llanelli on Saturday, but should have several other members of the national squad released back to them as they bid to extend their winning run in the URC to six matches. The five-match streak stretches all the way back to early December, and has been interrupted by a couple of losses in the Champions Cup. Nonetheless, it is an impressive run of form which Wilson ascribes, at least in part, to an improved defence.
“Really pleased to go five on the bounce and be third at this stage and to win games during the Six Nations when we’re not supposed to be playing in this period,” he added. “It’s meant differences in personnel, but it’s been the same for the teams we’ve played.
“To go away and beat Connacht was a massive one and then back it up against another Irish province in Munster and then beat Treviso here in a niggly game in tricky conditions. We didn’t play as well in attack, but the defensive display was excellent.
“In two games, we’ve given away seven penalties against Munster, three against Treviso and that helps our defence massively. At times in the past we’ve been a little bit ill disciplined but we’ve improved that. Also, we’ve conceded only 11 points against Munster and three against Treviso.
“These are games in which our defence has really fired and our discipline has been good and it has allowed us to win games in which we haven’t scored as many points. We need to be able to do that as well as go to places and score four tries and beat a team four tries to three. I think our defensive record in the last two games has been really good.”
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