FIVE days shy of his 21st birthday Blair Kinghorn gave the latest indication of his growing maturity as he calmly stepped up to knock over the conversion that took his club into the knockout stages of the European Challenge Cup on Friday night and ensuring them a home tie.
It could not have been an easier opportunity, Junior Rasolea’s 77th minute try having been registered directly behind the posts, but it still took nerve to be the man to take on the responsibility since it was his first attempt at goal, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne having departed the fray after knocking over their first five chances and Jaco Van der Walt succumbing to cramp after hitting the target with the second of his efforts.
“Sam and Jaco are both kicking exceptionally well at the moment. I feel I’m happy where I am, but I’m always there if I’m needed. I’ve done it my whole life, but Sammy and Jaco are on fire at the moment,” he said.
That is just the sort of attitude that has turned around his head coach’s view of the youngster’s international prospects, Richard Cockerill having said ahead of the autumn Tests that he felt Kinghorn was not ready for the international arena only to point out, last week, how much the full-back had matured in the past three months.
With Gregor Townsend due to name his squad for the Six Nations on Tuesday, Cockerill warmed to that theme in suggesting that with two-time British & Irish Lion Stuart Hogg yet to return to action, having been out since Scotland faced the All Blacks in November, a ready replacement is now on hand.
“He’s making good decisions,” Cockerill said, after watching his side secure their fifth win in five matches in the competition, this one very much the best of them in spite of the fact they missed out on a four-try bonus point for the first time.
“Against Stade, he wasn’t making the line breaks he has in the last few weeks because of the opposition, but he was sound under the high ball, he carried hard and looked after the ball and there were no errors in his game.
“For me, that shows he’s maturing, he’s listening and he’s working hard at his game. If that’s in Cardiff against Wales, you’re not making errors and you’re sound, and you’re still a threat with ball in hand, then suddenly it’s different.
“Some people learn quickly and some people learn a bit slower. To be fair to Blair, he’s listened, he’s worked hard and the penny has dropped quicker than it has done before.”
One of the more amusing exchanges of the early part of this season having been between Kinghorn and a journalist who was determined to get him to declare himself ready to play for Scotland, he is steadfastly refusing to be drawn on that subject, shifting the attention to the collective effort.
“I just feel like the team’s playing good rugby and with the attacking shape we play, the back three and centres are getting the ball in a bit more space. I’m really enjoying my rugby at the moment and I just need to keep working hard,” he insisted.
In fairness, however, he is benefiting from being part of a team that seem to have responded well to what is demanded of them by Cockerill, who seems to have seized upon some off-field indiscretions by some of his senior players early in his tenure, to set new standards.
“Everyone has got each other’s back. You can see that; if anything breaks out, everyone’s in. I’m really, really enjoying my rugby at the moment,” said Kinghorn.
His choice of running lines and power when carrying the ball having impressed throughout this season he had fewer opportunities to impress on Friday, but he still got close to scoring during the try-less first half, after Rasolea put him into space, while he showed his combative streak when his grappling exchange with one of the Stade forwards led to a larger scale flare up.
If that perhaps bordered on rash, he has the physical presence to look as if he can hold his own with most and he believes the way he is playing can be attributed to backing himself and his colleagues in every sense.
“It’s decision-making under pressure, knowing you can execute skills under pressure and if it’s not on, backing your team-mates to be there to help you out. The main thing you’ve got to do is stick with your gut instinct,” he said.
“I’m working harder on all aspects of my game, trying to work out the errors. I’m trying to be a bit more consistent week to week and hopefully that consistency will keep getting better.”
The same can be said for his team as a whole and as tight as it was on Friday as they were forced to come from behind four times in all, and three times during a thrilling second half which yielded six tries, it was the sort of match that their coach believes can set them up in the longer term.
“It’s a great game to win and learn lessons from, because they’re a good side they actually turned up and played tonight. They were physical, they picked a good team, and they looked like they meant business,” Cockerill said of Stade.
“I was pleased with the result. We can play a lot better, but I’m delighted. To go behind three times, to come back into it, we can learn some lessons about controlling the game and also I’m delighted for the players they kept their composure, get themselves a foothold back in the game and create opportunities to win the game.
“We could have lost it, but we worked hard enough and we put ourselves in a position to win the game. We did it against Glasgow, we did it tonight: it’s not all luck – we worked bloody hard for that.”