Matt Taylor on Gary Graham and Upcoming Springboks Clash

Gregor Townsend’s Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor spoke on Monday about back-rower Gary Graham being called in to the international squad, how his inclusion may change game day line-ups, and what the team will face coming up against South Africa at BT Murrayfield.

Matt Taylor is Assistant Coach to Head Coach Gregor Townsend. (Photo: Daily Record)

Gary Graham call-up

It was somewhat of a surprising drop in the ocean when it was announced at the beginning of this week that Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend had called Newcastle Falcons back-rower Gary Graham in to his autumn tests squad.

26-year old Graham was born in Stirling and is the son of former Scotland prop George Graham, who was capped 25 times for his country.

Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor discussed the decision to call up Graham, saying: “We’ve been looking at Gary for a long time, so it was a great opportunity to bring him in. He has been playing well and he spoke to Gregor the other day and we are happy to have him in.”

Asked if Graham would be immediately considered for selection against South Africa – who come to BT Murrayfield this Saturday – Taylor responded: “Any player in the squad is in contention. He is like anybody else in the squad so he will be in contention.”

Graham – who was also eligible to play internationally for Eddie Jones England side – has a number of attributes which attracted the Scotland coaches. Taylor described these qualities, saying: “He is aggressive, abrasive and he is confrontational which is what you want in a back rower so these are his main attributes.”

The coach also touched upon how he thought Graham’s father George may have reacted in the aftermath of the announcement: “He’ll be extremely proud, there’s no doubt about that. I was lucky enough to play with George down at the Borders and he’s a passionate Scot and I’m sure he’ll be very proud today.”

Possibility of changing line-up

With the introduction of Graham to the Scotland set up, it is understandable for questions to be raised over what effect this will have on other back-rowers selection opportunities.

Taylor addressed this on Monday: “A lot of the back-rowers, particularly on the weekend, did pretty well, but it’s like anything – you sit down, you work at who you have, what they’re going to bring and combinations, cohesion, all those type of things.”

Another issue which may affect the team that Townsend will name later this week, is that Matt Fagerson was taken off injured against Fiji this past Saturday. Taylor gave an update on the situation: “I think he’s being assessed at the moment, so there’s good reason to say he’ll be up for selection this weekend. It wasn’t a major injury as such.”

Threat the Springboks pose

South Africa are no easy team to come up against, and Taylor fully acknowledges that his side will be under some serious pressure: “The Springboks are a very good side, one of the best in the world. They are on a resurgence under Rassie Erasmus.

“It wasn’t long ago that they beat New Zealand in New Zealand. They are a very tough side and we’re looking forward to playing them at Murrayfield. We haven’t played them since the World Cup.

“This will be the 10th game sold out. It’s a great atmosphere and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

One of the aspects of their game that poses the biggest challenge is the strength and skill of their forward pack – especially at the set piece. Of this, Taylor said: “We all know that they have one of the biggest packs in world rugby. They’re very confrontational and they’ll carry hard. They have a good driving game, set-piece game.

“They’re trying to play with more width and use the ball more than they have in the past. They’ve scored more tries from kick-return. In the past, it was driving lineouts for just about everything but they are expanding the game and they now play lots of phases in attack.

“They’re an excellent side and we’re going to have to be very good. But they’re going to have to be very good to play us at home as well.”

In terms of how his Scotland side can prepare for such a hard-hitting encounter, Taylor noted: “I think you kind of know what’s coming to a certain degree with South Africa and it’s all about being physical and confrontational and stopping them playing.

“If you do that you’ve got an opportunity to do well and if you don’t you’re going backwards at a rate of knots. We’ll be looking to get up with their line speed and double contact them and do those things.”

Scotland face South Africa this Saturday at BT Murrayfield, with a 17:20 kick off.

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