SEVERAL weeks on from being named as Scotland’s co-captains, Rory Darge and Finn Russell are ready to lead the team under enemy fire for the first time this afternoon against France. The Glasgow openside has been skipper once before, against Italy in a World Cup warm-up game last year, but was missing from last week’s win in Wales as he completed his recovery from a knee injury, so Russell took charge on his own.
But now Darge is back as Scotland bid to win their first two matches in a Championship for only the second time since Five Nations became Six back in 2000. And, while accepting that the partnership has yet to be put to the test, he is convinced that he will work well with the Bath stand-off.
“I think I’m really lucky to be doing it with Finn,” he said yesterday (Friday) after the Scotland captain’s run at Murrayfield. “He’s a guy who’s really level-headed.
“We’re quite different in the way we play, and I think that’s a good balance. It’s not just different players, but the different way we approach the game, and hopefully that will work well in the way that we train and what we expect.
“We’ll see, but I think it will work well.”
Referees are known to prefer teams to have a single nominated spokesperson with whom they can deal, but Darge believes it could be to the benefit of the match official to deal with both him and Russell as appropriate. “I think it will happen naturally,” he continued.
“There are certain aspects that it will make sense for me to speak to the referee about, and also who’s in the vicinity – if he’s at a scrum he’s not going to run over to Finn and ask him about that. I think it will happen more naturally than people might think.”
That game against Italy in July came after Darge had missed the whole of last year’s Six Nations through injury. It looked like he would be ruled out of all of this year’s tournament too when he injured a knee while playing against Edinburgh on 30 December, and the Glasgow back-room staff were initially concerned that he could be sidelined for six to nine months. However, scans then revealed that the damage was not as bad as first thought, and he subsequently went on to make such a speedy recovery that both he and head coach Gregor Townsend decided he could have played last week, when he travelled to Cardiff with the squad.
“It was a weird one,” he said of that injury. “(At first) I was worried. But pretty soon after I was like, ‘This doesn’t actually feel too bad’.
“Then you wait for the scan and you’re thinking, ‘It’s not too bad, it’s not too bad’. But there are always doubts, so I was delighted when I got the scan back.
“I’ve done that ligament before and the last time I did it a bit worse than this time. So it’s not something I’m carrying a concern into the game about.
“Last week I hadn’t done much training, but I warmed up for the game and did the captain’s run. I felt like I ticked all the boxes, but it would have been a pretty quick turnaround.
“I’ve only been out for five weeks so I feel pretty fresh. Physically, mentally, I’m all really good.”
The pressure is on the French after their home defeat by Ireland last Friday, and their recent record in Edinburgh is not good – just two wins from their last seven visits. Nonetheless, Darge knows that on their day the French are still one of the best teams in the world. So he and Russell will have to make sure that their own team are on top of their game.
“I think we’ll see a reaction after last week and I think they’ll use their power game with lots of physicality and emotion,” he added. “We can’t worry too much about that: we just have to concentrate on our physicality, our emotion and getting that right.
“I enjoy these games – you know what physical challenge is coming, so you get up for it mentally and emotionally. Maybe that does bring out the best in us.
“It’s easy saying that. We have to rock up with the right mindset.”