EDINBURGH head coach Mike Blair says he is confident that Blair Kinghorn can become a “world class” No 10 – and also believes that he could do a very good job at outside centre if called upon.
Having played almost all of his senior rugby on either the wing or at full-back up until the tail-end of last season, Kinghorn is now in the process of switching back to stand-off, which was his primary position coming through the age-grade ranks.
While the jury remains out in the court of public opinion as to whether he has the skillset and the temperament to successfully fulfil that key role at the highest level, his club coach’s verdict is unequivocal – and Blair insists that he will give the 25-year-old as much game time in that designated receiver role as he can mange to help with the transition.
“I believe that Blair is a potential world class 10 but I also believe it is going to take him a little bit of time to get there,” said the former Scotland scrum-half. “[However] as he is getting there, he can excel in his performances so he can be a very, very good 10 as he goes through this transition.
“But I do believe there is a world class ten in him. We’ve just got to give him time, back him, let him grow in that position and let him really grasp that opportunity. It is up to him to do that as he will get the opportunities.
“It is funny, it goes back a couple of seasons probably, not much before that,” the former Scotland assistant coach replied when asked about the thought process behind the move. “I didn’t know a huge amount about him as a 10 other than he played it [when he was younger] and I remember he scored a try against England Under-18s down in Newcastle where he chipped and regathered for a brilliant solo effort.
“But it was more the conversations we had with the Scotland stuff, the way he was so comfortable with his hand-catch and his handling, and how creative he was as well.
“Obviously, his speed and his other skills lean towards that back three type position, but we were kind of talking about how he could do a job at 10, and he would also be a bloody good at 13 because of the skills he has got and the high edge defence that he does so well. I know Steve Tandy is a huge fan of Blair’s defence on the edges and as a 13 you get those opportunities to do that.
“So, the general consensus is that he is a bloody good player and we want him involved, and we want to have a good look at him as a 10 here because we believe that is where he can be most effective, to get his hands on the ball most often which is best for the team.”
Blair also rejected the suggestion that Kinghorn’s switch in position is an experiment. “I see where you are coming from in that his first three or four seasons of professional rugby were as a back three, but he did have a bit in the bank as a 10,” he said.
“He’s really excited by it. He feels it’s a really good challenge and he knows that I’m going to back him and give him opportunities to develop.
“As I said before, it is up to him now to really grasp that because as a 10 you have to drive standards in training, you have to drive standards off the pitch, you have to know everyone’s role, you have to talk them through it as well – so it is not just what happens on the pitch, there’s a big aspect of that role is being selfless in driving the team.”
While nine Edinburgh players have been retained by Scotland this week, Kinghorn has been released to play at stand-off against Connacht in tomorrow [Friday] night’s United Rugby Championship clash against Connacht at the DAM Health Stadium. Blair revealed that he has not been given instructions on how much game-time the player should get but indicated that this does not necessarily mean he is out of contention for next weekend’s Six Nations clash against Italy in Rome.
“With these things it is very much specific to the different players,” he reasoned. “How much game time did they get [the previous week]? How important is it for them to get game time? How important the cover is in that position? The training numbers for Scotland during the week? All these different things, and everyone will be done on an individual basis.
“Blair started for us against Munster and is back with us again so that is good news for us, and it is great that he is going to get some time in the 10 jersey again.”
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Meanwhile, two academy prospects in 20-year-old second-row Jamie Campbell and 18-year-old back-row Rudi Brown are set for debuts off the bench, which is a consequence of the 10 back-five forwards being unavailable this week due to either international commitments or injury.
“Both are young guys with huge amounts of upside to them,” said Blair. ‘They’re maybe getting this opportunity slightly earlier than they might have guessed or planned but it shows the confidence that we have in them.
“This is a challenging period for the club but also a great one. It’s giving guys a platform to show what they can do. And if they step up in this period then that’s absolutely brilliant for the club going forward.
‘It’s been difficult with Covid for young players to get consistent game time but this is that challenge for them where they’ll get a chance off the bench to show what they can do and a flavour of where they need to be. They’ve trained a fair bit with us this season and they’ll be excited and ready to go.
“Rudi is a real talent who only turned 18 two or three months ago. He had a good cameo off the bench against the French in the Scotland Under-20s game last week. We just want him to go out and enjoy it as he’s got the raw materials.
“We don’t want them to overthink things but to enjoy it as if they’re playing for their schools or clubs and remember why they play the game.”