Hawick’s Darcy Graham expected to be fit again for start of 2023 Rugby World Cup
The 26-year-old was named in the Scots’ starting XV last Thursday but withdrawn a day later and replaced by Kyle Steyn after sustaining a quad strain in training, sparking fears that he might not be fit again for his side’s pool game against the defending world champions in Marseille.
Speaking after Saturday’s win, ex-Gala and Border Reivers player Townsend says he’s expecting Graham to be back in full training this week or next.
“I don’t want to say that and jinx it, but the indications would be that by the end of this week, potentially Thursday, he’ll be back to full fitness,” said the 50-year-old. “If not, it will be the following week.
“We're training Tuesday and Thursday this week and then the guys will have Friday and Saturday off, so we’re aiming for Thursday for Darcy.
“If he’s not able to train Thursday, it will be the following Monday in France.
“There’ve been a couple of what you might call normal test match niggles, nothing more serious than that, which is great.
“I’m really pleased that Kyle got through the game because he actually was one that went off injured on Tuesday, along with Darcy, but recovered well enough to train on Thursday.”
Graham, 26, only made his international comeback in July, against Italy, after having been out of action for his country since scoring a hat-trick against Argentina in November due to a knee injury sustained on club duty the month after.
Scotland scored five tries in the second half at the weekend after going in 6-0 down at half-time.
Townsend was impressed by that fightback, saying: “I believe it was probably better for us going six points down because it meant we had to improve certain areas.
“Our fitness would have to come through and it did, and our bench did really well too.
“We know also that playing against South Africa is a different game, but Georgia didn’t score a try so that was a pleasing aspect too.
“We're still working for a performance we can be happy with over the 80 minutes. It is never going to be the complete performance because the opposition are going to have their moments.
“Georgia are a very good team. They’ve beaten Wales and Italy and they are outstanding in that contact area, so we have to give them credit too, but we know that certain aspects we’ll have to improve, and at least we saw that improvement in the second half, which was pleasing.”
Graham is one of two Borderers in the 33-strong Scottish squad heading to their training base in France on Sunday, along with fellow ex-Hawick player Rory Sutherland, brought on as a 53rd-minute replacement for former Melrose loosehead prop Jamie Bhatti against Georgia to earn his 26th cap.
Former Southern Knights flanker Rory Darge also featured for Scotland on Saturday, scoring one of their tries, along with Duhan van der Merwe at the double, Jack Dempsey and Steyn.
Van der Merwe’s brace of touchdowns took his tally for Scotland to 20, just seven short of Hawick’s Stuart Hogg’s all-time record total of 27. They also saw the South African edge ahead of Graham into fifth place, jointly with Tommy Seymour, in the national team’s list of leading try-scorers.
Edinburgh winger Graham, capped 35 times, remains sixth with 19 since making his international debut in 2018.
Hogg, 31, now retired after amassing 100 caps since 2012, has been Scotland’s outright top try-scorer since November 2021 after drawing level with Ian Smith and Hawick’s Tony Stanger earlier that month.
Townsend says he’s close to a decision on his starting XV to face the South Africans but he’s less certain about his eight substitutes.
“It’s probably not set in stone,” he said after Saturday’s win. “We’ll have a good look at that game again in depth.
“I’m more clear on the 15 than the 23, and I know there are players who have put their hand up today to come into the mix, whether in the 15 or, more likely, the bench.
“That's been a really positive outcome of these four games – our bench has played really well, and we've finished every game stronger than our opposition.
“That's a credit to the fitness of the squad and what they’ve done during the summer campaign but also to the eight guys making a difference in the last 20 minutes of games, and they certainly did that today.”
This year’s world cup is Graham’s second following 2019’s in Japan and Sutherland’s first.
The Scots failed to make it out of their group four years ago after losing 27-3 to Ireland and 28-21 to the hosts, though they beat Samoa and Russia by 34-0 and 61-0 respectively.
As well as the Springboks, they’re up against the Irish again in their pool in France, plus Tonga and Romania.
To progress in France, the Scots, ranked fifth in the world, will need to beat at least one of those two higher-ranked opponents, Ireland being top-rated and the current champions fourth.
They’ve not got the better of the Irish since 2017, losing eight times since that 27-22 Six Nations victory at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium, and haven’t won against South Africa since 2010, suffering seven defeats in the interim following that 21-17 autumn international win, also at Murrayfield.
Townsend’s team play Tonga on Sunday, September 24, in Nice and Romania on Saturday, September 30, in Lille before wrapping up their pool games against Ireland on Saturday, October 7, in Paris.