Scotland's Blair Kinghorn tries to stop mention of F*nn R*ss*ll … and almost succeeds - Aidan Smith's verdict from BT Murrayfield
The big guy has operated at 10 before of course but never in such circumstances as Saturday evening when Finn Russell wasn’t injured and hadn’t walked out of the camp. Simply, staggeringly, our best player wasn’t selected for the autumn squad.
So, while Kinghorn, when he’s been the stand-off, has always had to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous comparison, they would have been coming at him in an absolute barrage as he attempted to craft and create against Australia.
What, in this moment, would Finn have done? Or just there, in that moment? Would the 62-cap British & Irish Lion have passed long, kicked diagonally, flipped the ball casually to a team-mate while standing perfectly still in the midfield mayhem, something which is very much his thing?
Kinghorn doesn’t really have a thing but, come on, give the man time. He looked edgy before the anthems (ah, but more edgy than usual?). In the wait for kick-off, though, he relaxed, played keepy-uppy, shared a joke with team-mates, possibly about his increasingly porno moustache or maybe his Peaky Blinders haircut.
His introduction to the game was slow, though he gathered a kick ahead by Australia’s Tate McDermott smartly enough then a few minutes later brought down the livewire scrum-half in the midfield. The Kinghorn kicking was solid and from the best of his penalty punts Scotland built an attack in which he delivered the short but perfectly-timed pass to Ollie Smith for the opening score. It wasn’t Finn-esque but on this occasion didn’t need to be.
With a quarter of the slow-burner gone, this had been Scotland’s only decisive passage of play in Australia’s half, the Wallabies enjoying the better territory, but then another Kinghorn penalty lit the dark blue touch player for more pressure and he was able to despatch what should have been another try-scoring pass – long this time to Sione Tuipululotu hugging the touchline – but the Oz-born Glasgow Warrior with the Clydeside granny fumbled at the crucial moment.
Head coach Gregor Townsend feels he can do without Russell for these Tests but believes there’s a need for getting inside the players’ heads with the help of a mind coach. Predictably, the social media jokers haven’t missed an opportunity for some fun with this appointment. “Is this for the team – or Gregor? Just asking … ” quipped one. “Can the guy play stand-off?” wondered another. Finn fans, clearly, their frustration was summed up thus: “It would be good for the mental health of Scotland supporters if the coach could get on with his star players.”
There seemed nothing wrong with Kinghorn’s thought processes when again breaking up Wallabies play in the middle of the park and he appeared perfectly clear-headed with his next drop-out. Really, it wasn’t a mind coach Kinghorn needed in this encounter; rather, as ever, Bill McLaren. How rugby has missed, since the commentator’s passing, that couthieness, humour and lyricism in descriptions of the rugger man’s mien. Bill would have had enormous fun with the lanky, lolloping Blair, for sure.
Oh, for instance, to have had McLaren at the mic for Kinghorn’s magic moment, three minutes into the second half. When the tourists’ attack broke down, ten yards into Scotland territory, the stand-off remembered his football training as a Hearts youth prospect and made a true connection with his left foot, sending the ball deep into the opposition half. Kinghorn was well behind a frantic cluster of yellow shirts when the chase began but three Gigantor-esque strides enabled him to blur past them. He kicked again, just as surely, and at that moment, instead of the noise about the man he’s replaced, he could hear the crowd’s roars. That must have sounded like the sweetest music and then he was gifted the sweetest bounce, enabling him to gather the ball and fall over the line.
Until this try – after a gallop of fully 60 yards – Kinghorn had been doing just fine. Unspectacular, but fine. The score – and by the way, could Russell have run so far and so fast? – put jauntiness in his step. He converted the try then nonchalantly arrowed a kick from hand right into the corner.
Kinghorn could almost settle back and let the match’s other story take shape as on the hour-mark Townsend decided to give the home fans a look at Jack Dempsey. This was also the opportunity for the men from the back-row forward’s homeland to knock him about a bit following his switch of allegiance.
The American boxer of that name was world champ a century ago and nicknamed the “Manassa Mauler”. Maybe Sydney-born Jack Dempsey will become the Murrayfield Mauler but Kinghorn wasn’t finished yet. He popped a punt up the line and it went through a pair of Wallaby hands to find touch. Everything seemed to be going his way, although his longest pass of the evening – his most Finn-like effort – sailed over the head of new captain Jamie Ritchie.
But then he had the chance, after Australia’s dogged fightback, to win the contest. The last-minute penalty was far out but seemed within his range. The crowd tried to will the effort home but it drifted agonisingly wide and Kinghorn’s shoulders drooped, along with his moustache.
This was the first time Scotland wore names on their backs. Resisted before, on the basis that no player can “own” a shirt, it’s intended to make identification easier. There’s never any trouble spotting Blair Kinghorn on a rugby field. Whether he’s got No 10 for keeps is still a matter for intense debate. He’ll remember his try for a long time and aim - perhaps with the help of the head doctor – to banish the kick from his memory.
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