LESS than a year ago, Darryl Marfo was being handed his P45 and told to find a new employer after his club, second-tier English outfit London Welsh, slumped into voluntary liquidation over an unpaid £250,000 tax bill.
He is now a fully-fledged Scotland internationalist after an impressive debut against Samoa last Saturday, and is set to win his second cap against the mighty All Blacks at BT Murrayfield this coming weekend.
It has been a crazy 11 months for the 27-year-old loose-head prop, who was born and raised in a housing estate Pimlico in central London and qualifies to play for Scotland through his Ayrshire-born mother.
There was a lot of chat before the Samoa match about whether Marfo would be up to the job given his rather patchy record in the professional game, and while such scrutiny comes with the territory it is understandable that he gets a bit tetchy about being asked if it all seems like a wonderful and unlikely dream.
“I have to believe it because I just ran out in front of 60,000 people at Murrayfield on Saturday and that was a pretty real experience. I can believe it because it is happening,” he retorted.
“In this day and age, with all the social media, it is hard to avoid everything that gets said about you. I’m not the kind to go looking for that but obviously there are friends and family who mention things by text or phone calls,” he continued.
“If you are on the outside looking at how my career has gone, and how it has turned around in a short space of time, then people might be a bit hard pressed to understand it. I can’t control other people’s perceptions of me.”
“My career has not gone as I would have liked it to have gone, especially in the early years, with injuries, not getting as much game time as I would have liked, and the emergence of other good young players at the clubs I was at. What I would say is that I have been in the professional environment for nine years and among very good players.”
“When I was in England it was with internationalists from all different countries so I have been putting in the work week-in week-out for nine years, and what has happened now is that the opportunity has come and I have the chance to play regularly and get to show people what I can do.”
“Injuries were not fortunate to me in the past, but now they are helping me a bit. Nobody likes to see their team-mates injured but with Al Dickinson out, Rory Sutherland just coming back from injury, Allan Dell suffering a bit with his back … that leaves the door open for me. Michele Rizzo gets banned and I get a good run of games. What else can I do but put my best foot forward?”
“I don’t think it is fair to say I was expecting to be in the mix. There are things you can control and things you can’t control. There are multiple factors to international selection. I don’t know how Gregor thinks and I don’t know how Dan McFarland thinks. But, if there are two clubs in Scotland – Glasgow and Edinburgh – and I am starting regularly for one of them, that puts me in the best position to showcase my wears to the coaches who are selecting.”
Marfo’s very valid point is that he has made his own luck. He started his senior rugby career with Harlequins, joining as an 18-year-old straight out of school and was at The Stoop for six years in total, but amassed only 22 appearances and just one start in frontline games. He joined London Welsh for the 2015-16 season and played 25 games in the second-tier English Championship during the next 18 months, before the money at the club ran out.
“I got my P45 which was not a great experience. Lucky for me, Bath had a few loose-head injuries and I got signed by them [on a short-term contract] soon after that,” he explains.
“There were very real thoughts of having to pack it in at that stage, of having to go down a very different route. I know that I’m a very good rugby player but sometimes it’s about supply and demand and if no-one’s demanding a loose-head prop for their squad then I can’t supply that for them. It then becomes a case of having to earn money because you have to be a breadwinner.”
“I was only fortunate after the fact. Up until I got signed by Bath, which was quite a while after London Welsh went into liquidation, I was in exactly the same boat as they [his team-mates] were. It’s not like Bath had been lining me up and were circling like sharks, that wasn’t the case at all. In the year and a half that I was at London Welsh I made some really close friends, and it was such a sad situation where players, coaches and other members of the staff were giving their all, but where the people at the top who were running the organisation were not taking care of their part of the bargain, which led to the situation which unfolded.”
So, Bath kept his pro career alive until the end of the season, but the future beyond that was uncertain, and this is where making his own luck came into play.
“I heard through the grapevine Edinburgh were looking for loose-heads and I put that towards my agent. I try and maximise my potential. I managed to get [Edinburgh’s managing director] Jonny Petrie’s email address off someone and I said: ‘Look mate, I hear you are looking for a loose-head. I know it is unusual in this day and age but I would like to put myself forward for it.’ Along with the work of my agent, I signed.”
Marfo is non-committal about whether he happened to mention his Scottish credentials to Petrie. “It was a long time ago so I can’t remember the exact contents of the email,” he states. But if his childhood memories of visiting his mum’s home town are as halcyon as he suggests then it is hard to imagine that he would have left that detail out.
“My mother moved to London when she was 18 so all through my life, since I was a child, I’ve been very aware of my Scottish roots and my Scottish heritage. As a kid and a teenager, I came up here for weeks at a time – we’re talking summer holidays, Easter holidays, Christmas holidays, every half-term. I spent a lot of time in Scotland because all my mum’s side of the family are from here.”
“We’d come up to Ayr and I have great memories of growing up in a London council estate and coming to a seaside town. It was a really different experience and I loved it as a kid; you’d get off the plane or the train and immediately you could smell that fresh Scottish air and you could drink the water out of the taps.”
Marfo is currently on a one year deal with Edinburgh. He would like to see that arrangement extended but it remains to be seen whether the club – and head coach Richard Cockerill – will have use for him once Dickinson, Sutherland and Dell get back to full-fitness.
With a big performance this coming Saturday, he could suddenly find that his horizons stretch well beyond the Scottish capital.