EDINBURGH ‘senior’ coach Sean believes that Connor Boyle has started to show the form which could see him follow his old age-grade and academy sparring partner Rory Darge into the senior Scotland squad.
The two openside flankers – who were born four days apart in February 2000 – starred in the national under-20s set-up between 2018 and 2020, with Darge shifting to No 8 so as to accommodate both players in the team. Boyle captained the side during the 2019 age-grade Six Nations and Junior World Championship while Darge took over the leadership role a year later.
They were stage three academy players together at Edinburgh during that period, before signing their first pro deals on the same day in July 2020, with Boyle making his competitive debut against Connacht on October 25th of that year and Darge’s bow coming three weeks later against Leinster on November 16th.
You wondered how long these two emerging talents – the same age and playing the same specialist position – could carry on along exactly the same path before it become totally self-defeating, especially at a club where there was already a bottle-neck of top quality back-rowers capable of playing the traditional No 7 role.
The schism came in April 2021 when Darge moved west to join Glasgow Warriors, initially on loan before agreeing terms on a permanent deal for the following season. He hasn’t looked back since quickly establishing himself as a key man in the Warriors back-row, earning his first cap for Scotland at the start of the 2022 Six Nations and now fully established as the national team’s first pick on the open-side.
Boyle, meanwhile, has kept plugging away at Edinburgh, with nowhere near the same success, and although tomorrow [Friday] night’s clash against the Bulls at the Hive Stadium will be his 37th appearance for the club, he has yet to push his way beyond fringe player status.
Of course, it was never guaranteed that Boyle and Darge would continue on the same career trajectory just because the start of their rugby lives followed similar paths, but you do wonder what the Edinburgh man might have achieved had he been given the same sort of chance to play regularly as his pal and rival got at the other end of the M8?
We will never know, of course – but at 23, time is still on Boyle’s side. And with Hamish Watson out for several weeks with a facial injury, it appears that Everitt – who took over the team this summer – is ready to give him a chance to build week on week. He has been involved in every game so far this season and, after three appearances off the bench, he made the most of his first start in last weekend’s gritty win over Connacht.
“It’s a great opportunity for Connor,” said Everitt. “We played Cameron Neild ahead of him in the first fixture against the Dragons, and then Sam Skinner pulled up in the warm-up and Connor got an opportunity off the bench and did really well in the second half, winning us five turnovers.
“He’s continued that form and his stats were quite amazing last weekend, he had 25 rucks and turned over two balls in the time he was on the field [the first 60 minutes], so he’s a guy who’s in form at the moment and playing really well.
“He’s a youngster and in order for him to grow he needs to play so it’s great that he’s got an opportunity to put together several performances. In saying that, he’s grabbing the opportunity with both hands because Hamish will be back in a couple of weeks’ time and they’ll be competing for that jersey.
“He would be disappointed in the fact that Rory [Darge] has overtaken him,” Everitt added. “Rory has played exceptionally well in the Scotland jersey and done really well for Glasgow, and I know that because I’ve been against Rory when I was coaching at the Sharks.
“[So] to see Rory go so far ahead of him would have been a bit of a wake-up call and I think he’s now realised with the opportunities that he has, he could get into Gregor Townsend’s head a bit and maybe challenge for a position in the national team.”
Everitt also confirmed that Darcy Graham has undergone a clean-up operation on a long-standing knee injury whilst recovering from a hip injury he returned from the World Cup with.
“He had a screw in his knee that had to be taken out because it was causing irritation,” explained the South African. “That’s what he has had to live with for the last 11 months.
“[So] it wasn’t that he was carrying an injury as such, or damage to the ligaments. A screw in his knee was causing irritation. That’s been removed since the World Cup, he’s feeling a lot better and he’s on track to play against Ulster [in a fortnight’s time].”