FOUR tries on Saturday night moved Darcy Graham ahead of Duhan van der Merwe – who was rested for the procession against a Romania side who were dead on their feet having already suffered heavy defeats to Ireland and South Africa in their opening two games of this World Cup – in the race to become Scotland’s all-time leading try-scorer.
Graham is now on 24 tries from 38 Test matches to date, second equal with Ian Smith (who reached that total in 32 matches between 1924 and 1933) and Tony Stanger (52 matches between 1989 and 1998). Meanwhile, van der Merwe is on 21 from 33 matches, and they are all chasing current top dog Stuart Hogg, who accumulated his 27 tries in 100 Test matches before retirement at the start of this summer.
It would be a remarkable achievement if Graham was to score the three tries he needs to close that gap between himself and Hogg against Ireland this coming Sunday, but the little winger is nothing if not an optimist.
“It’s getting close – it will come and will happen when it happens,” said Graham.. “Would I like to go equal with Hoggy with a hat-trick against Ireland? That would be lovely!
Time is on the 26-year-old’s side, so it surely is now a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ he will pass that 27-try mark. But Graham is a character who loves to leave his mark on big occasions, and they don’t come much bigger than a showdown against the number one team in the world in front of a packed Stade de France with a place in the World Cup quarter-finals on the line.
The permutations of what Scotland must do on Saturday to secure an unlikely qualification to the last eight of this tournament are complicated, but it essentially requires them to beat Ireland whilst depriving their opponents of a bonus point, and if Ireland lose but score four tries or more then Scotland must win by at least five match points. Anything else would mean Ireland and South Africa progressing with Scotland going home.
Final Pool B permutations at #RWC2023 with Ireland v Scotland the only match that impacts quarter-final qualification.
4-0 or 5-0 win for Scotland puts them through (with SA).
5-1 win for Scotland – it's complicated…
All other results put Ireland & South Africa through. pic.twitter.com/dqz8InuVZC
— Kevin Millar (@topofthemoonGW) October 1, 2023
“It’s do-or-die, now, a World Cup final … almost … for both teams. The atmosphere is going to be incredible so it’s a very exciting time ahead,” he added.
While Graham’s instinct is to attack at every opportunity, he recognises the need to be brave and stay diligent in defence against an Ireland side which has a backline filled with game-breakers.
“They’re so well drilled – you can’t take your eyes off any of their backs. I will have to be switched on for the whole 80 minutes, because they will sting you if you don’t do that,.
“We know their players very well and have played a lot of rugby against them in the URC and Six Nations. We know what they are going to bring – that physicality, brutality and being well-drilled.
“It should be a hell of an occasion. It felt like we were playing at Murrayfield in Lille on Saturday night. The fans were incredible. It’s not cheap coming out here, but the fans have done it and we don’t take that for granted. We notice it and feel it.
“Nice [for the Tonga match] felt like Murrayfield as well. The support we have had in France has been incredible. My family have done every game and they’re coming back over for Ireland,” he added, before revealing that there could be a complication in that plan.
“My sister is due – her due date was the day of the Romania game! I think my parents are hoping she holds off until after the Ireland game!”
Remarkably, three out of those four top try try-scorers in Scotland team history – Graham, Hogg and Stanger – come from Hawick, a Borders town with a population of around 13,500.
“It’s incredible – a hell of a stat,” said Graham. “Hawick have produced so many international players and now we have three of the top four try scorers in Scottish history. It’s brilliant for the town and there will be a lot of happy people back home.”
Graham also revealed that the distinctive bleach-blond hair and moustache he has been sporting during the World Cup will not last beyond the end of the tournament.
“My mum likes it but I don’t think my dad likes it,” he said. “It’s easy to spot me on the pitch, but it’s too much effort so it’s going after this!”