Gary Graham, a player with unshakeable Borders links, could make his debut off the bench tomorrow (Saturday) as Scotland take on Italy at BT Murrayfield in the opening round of the Guinness Six Nations Championship.
The Newcastle flanker has been named among the replacements for the opening round of the Guinness Six Nations Championship.
The 26-year-old is the son of former Scottish international prop forward, and current Hawick head coach, George Graham.
As expected, another ex-Hawick favourite, Stuart Hogg, has been named at full back, while Jedburgh’s own Greig Laidlaw captains the squad again. Former Melrose prop forward Jamie Bhatti is also on the bench.
As far as Graham is concerned, it’s another opportunity for Scotland honours, after he was an unused addition to the squad in last year’s Autumn Test series.
He moved to Carlisle at the age of three when his dad, who won 25 Scotland caps in rugby union, went south to play rugby league.
But young Gary returned to Scotland aged 17 and played for Gala and Scotland U20s, before joining Jersey in the English Championship.
He moved to Newcastle last year, where he has become a back-row regular in the English Premiership, while he also trained with the English Six Nations squad last year before transferring his allegiance back to his home country.
Scotland head coach, former Gala player Gregor Townsend, reckoned Gary would play with “pride and passion” if he was called into the action. He was strong and took the game to the opposition, whether in defence or attack, he added.
Last year, when Gary was added to the Autum Test pool, dad George said he had a bit to learn yet about the Scots’ set plays, patterns and moves.
However, he added: “I think it’s great he’s decided Scotland is the place he wants to go. The only thing English about him is his accent – he’s 100 per cent Scottish.
“He is a quality player and always has been. He is very, very aggressive, a good ball carrier, defensively very good and a big hitter as well. He’s fit and gets around the park very well. He’s good at clearing – he gets to the ball very quickly and manages to get people off the ball if they are on it.”
This week, before tomorrow’s team was announced, George said he was happy Gary was being considered but it was very much a case of wait and see.
“I am pleased he has been invited up but it’s a big squad of players,” he said. “It’s down to Gregor Townsend and what he decides.”
Scotland have won their last six meetings with Italy, whose last victory in the Six Nations was at Murrayfield in 2015 – one of seven occasions they have beaten the Scots in the championship.
The Italians played very well against Scotland in Rome last year and only succumbed late to a 29-27 defeat. Townsend predicted they would regard tomorrow’s game as a big chance to begin the campaign on a high and hopefully play Scotland in a similar manner to 2018.
The Scotland line-up is: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (c), Allan Dell, Stuart McInally, Willem Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Sam Skinner, Jamie Ritchie, Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: Jake Kerr, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Gary Graham, Josh Strauss, Ali Price, Adam Hastings, Chris Harris.