DARCY Graham is convinced that Edinburgh are ready to claim a major scalp in European competition, and that Saturday’s home game against Toulon could be the ideal occasion to do that.
The winger shared the frustration of his team-mates after the 21-15 defeat by Montpellier in the opening round of Champions Cup pool games, believing that they could have come home from France with a win if they had been more confident from the start. That tentative start was understandable given it was Edinburgh’s first match in the tournament for five seasons, but now that debut is out of the way and the players know the standard needed to win, Graham is sure they can reach it.
“It brought a lot of belief into the squad,” the 21-year-old said of the Montpellier game. “We have to believe ourselves now. Going out there maybe we didn’t know what to expect in the scoreline or performance-wise, but it shows that we’re bloody good.
“We can go out there and perform and be in games. It’s just little details that maybe let us down, like a wee dropped ball or not clearing out a ruck quick enough and giving away turnover ball.
“We were gutted. We came off that pitch knowing that we’d let it slip by us. We should have won that game. There was a game there for the taking.
“But we’re learning. A year and a half ago, two years ago – we weren’t in that competition, but even if we did get there it could have been an absolute pumping. We left it out there and could have, should have won.
“Confidence is there. We just need to back ourselves, I think. We just let the game get away from us in the first 10-15 minutes. It was just that overwhelming experience, and it took us a wee bit longer than we’d like to settle the nerves.
“We needed to settle the nerves a lot quicker. We need to start the Toulon game well and fire in straight away and believe in ourselves, because we are good, and we can be in these games. We just switch off at times, but it’s definitely there.
“We’re just about there and we’re going to put one of these big teams away eventually. But it just needs to be sooner rather than later.”
Teams often need longer than a single game to get up to speed in a given tournament, but the general improvement that Edinburgh have made in all competitions since the start of last season suggests that they may not need to wait too long before pulling off a big result. Certainly, Graham sees the Toulon game as a real opportunity to do so.
“Oh, totally,” he continued. “We were going to Montpellier to put them away, we weren’t there to keep the scoreboard down.
“It’s going to be the same again this week against a similar team – big boys, physical, hard runners. It’s that physical edge we need to get over – start that game with that physical edge.”
As someone who weighed a mere 77kg when he joined Edinburgh in the summer of 2017, Graham, now seven kilos heavier, is not naturally associated with the most physically demanding types of games. But he has worked hard on his defence, is willing to throw himself into tackles with far bulkier opponents, and has learned to disregard the sceptics who say there is no place in modern rugby for someone as slightly built as himself.
“I want to prove a point that there is still room for these small boys in the game. Defence has been a huge part of my game I’ve been working on, trying to get more dominant in tackles, not just soaking them and being passive – wanting to get off the line and make tackles.
“Technique comes into it a lot as these big boys run flat out and it’s very hard to stop them, so you have a bit of heart and put your body in front of them. I’ve got no respect for my body: I just throw myself into it.”
Graham missed out on a direct confrontation with Montpellier’s giant winger Nemani Nadolo last weekend as the Fijian was ruled out by injury, but the compensation this weekend, if that is the right word, could be a crack at Julian Savea, the All Blacks winger who is one of the many world-class names in the Toulon squad.
“I was gutted [Nadolo] never played – I was wanting to prove myself there. I don’t really look too far into who I’m playing against: it’s just like, whoever’s there I’ll play them and I’ll tackle them and I’ll run at them.”
Graham’s immediate goal is to establish himself as a first choice in the Edinburgh team. Beyond that, there is the aim of becoming a full Scotland international.
“That’s two games under my belt, the full 80 minutes, and I want to keep building and show what I can do and push for the national squad. That’s kind of my end goal: the dream to play for Scotland.”
When Graham spoke on Monday he had heard nothing from national coach Gregor Townsend about the squad for the Autumn Tests which is due to be announced today (Wednesday). But if he can play his part in an Edinburgh team that keeps improving and starts to win those big games, a full cap to add to his Scotland Sevens honours is surely only a matter of time.