Blair Kinghorn seized the opportunity afforded by the absence of Finn Russell to score a hat trick against Italy in Scotland’s concluding Six Nations game. A more than able deputy to the mercurial fly-half, it would seem.
And yet the Edinburgh back’s best position remains unclear, as Scotland’s head coach Gregor Townsend’s Blair Switch Project continues.
Yes, Kinghorn was a constant threat with ball in hand, his pace and power evident with every carry. But questions remain over his ability to control games from 10, with his skills constantly compared, perhaps unfairly, to Russell.
Before the Italy game, the 26-year-old’s impactful cameos had come at full-back, so is that a better role for him despite his second career hat trick against the Italians?
‘He gets pelters but he’s a class act’
Kinghorn first transitioned to playing 10 at club level in 2021, and since then has regularly filled in for Scotland when Russell has been unavailable.
Despite that experience and his eye-catching display against the Italians, former Scotland captain John Barclay feels that Kinghorn’s best role moving forward is at 15, where he started his professional career.
“I’d pick Kinghorn at full-back,” he said on BBC One after the 26-14 win over Italy. “When Ben Healy came on [at fly-half] the balance of play was a bit better. It’s maybe unfair on Blair – I think he’s been superb in the Championship.”
However, injured Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg says Kinghorn’s quality is not up for debate, and that his presence eases any worries surrounding the fly-half position long-term.
“Blair’s a class act, and he gets a lot of pelters towards him being a stand-in for Finn,” Hogg said. “Yes, he was today, but he was incredible, and for everything that comes his way, it doesn’t seem to phase him whatsoever.
“He works incredibly hard, brings a huge amount of energy, and every time he’s had an opportunity this Six Nations campaign, he’s made a hell of an impact.
“I thought he was quality today and he’ll learn a great deal from that. We’re not going to be in a position to rely on Finn Russell forever, and to have someone of Blair’s quality to step in is massive for Scotland.”
Current captain Jamie Ritchie was also effusive in his praise for the 26-year-old.
“Blair did really well; he’s been brilliant all week,” Ritchie said. “He’s been brilliant throughout the tournament. You’ve seen that when he’s come off the bench for us. He’s brought impact and tempo, I’m glad he got his start today.”
‘We encourage our 10s to run’
Kinghorn has now scored 13 international tries in his 43 Scotland appearances.
He is a try-scorer, which perhaps explains the conundrum – fans of the national team want to see him in broken field, running at unstructured defences with space to play in.
His chances to do that are limited somewhat at 10, but Townsend says Kinghorn is still more than capable of playing his best rugby at stand-off
“Blair’s got a strong running game,” Townsend said. “So when he’s got chances to take on the defence we encourage him to do that.
“We didn’t have much ball for him to work with the backline as much, but there was a lot of glimpses there that we had Italy under pressure.
“He can show his pace and his running game in many areas. Wing is a position he can excel in. He will be in the mix for all those positions. I loved the fact he took on the line on several occasions. We encourage our 10s to run.”