Blair Kinghorn is relishing his elevated status as Scotland’s first-choice World Cup full-back after spending most of his international career to date trying to emerge from the shadows of greats Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg.
The 26-year-old Edinburgh back has accumulated 47 caps since his debut in 2018, largely due to his versatility in being able to operate at number 15, number 10 and even on the wing.
In trying to establish himself at full-back, Kinghorn found Hogg – Scotland’s record try-scorer – blocking his way to a starting place, while his bid to become an international stand-off always seemed unlikely for as long as the talismanic Russell was still at the top of his game.
Hogg’s retirement earlier this summer, however, opened the door for Kinghorn to set about making the 15 jersey his own.
After starting the two summer Tests against France last month, it came as little surprise when he got the nod over the less experienced full-back Ollie Smith to start the World Cup opener against South Africa.
He is expected to retain his place for Sunday’s match against Tonga in Nice as the Scots bid to bounce back from their 18-3 defeat by the Springboks.
“I feel like there’s been a different focus this pre-season, coming into the World Cup feeling like I can grab a starting jersey,” he said.
“Being able to start at 15 is something I don’t want to let go of and something I don’t take lightly.
“I’m really excited about it. Everyone always wants to be starting for their country and now that I’ve had the opportunity to start the last game, and a couple of the warm-up games to start at 15, it’s been really exciting for me.
“There’s still a lot of competition in our squad for that jersey, everyone is pushing each other, so I’ve just got to keep training well and playing well, if selected, and hopefully I can hang on to it for a while longer.”
For much of 2022, amid tension between Gregor Townsend and Russell, it looked like Kinghorn was being primed as a Scotland fly-half.
However, with Russell and the head coach having patched up their differences last November, Kinghorn’s hopes of becoming number 10 for the national team were effectively dashed.
“I think so,” he said when asked if his focus was now fully on the full-back position. “I feel comfortable back there. I’ve got the ability to cover stand-off if needed but I feel like full-back is my best suited position at the moment, and I feel like that’s where I can offer the team my strengths.”
Kinghorn knows he has big boots to fill in succeeding Hogg, one of Scotland’s greatest ever players, but he is intent on playing the position his own way.
“Obviously Hoggy was a world-class player so over the last five years since I’ve been in camp with him I’ve been picking up little bits of knowledge here and there from him, but I’m looking to put my own game into that 15 jersey,” he said.
“A lot of players play in different styles and I think me and Hoggy have contrasting styles in certain ways, but I’ll be looking to put my own stamp on the position.”
Kinghorn is enjoying his second World Cup after going to Japan in 2019 as a 22-year-old. The back was a fringe man at the last showpiece, making just two appearances and only one as a starter. He feels he has developed significantly as a player and a person since then.
“I was inexperienced and quite young when I came to my first World Cup,” said Kinghorn. “You grow and mature into these situations and you realise how hard it is to stay at the top of your game for an entire pre-season and World Cup.
“You’ve got to take your preparation and your recovery seriously. I think when you’re younger you’re a bit naive to how much work it actually takes so I feel like I’m a more mature player who has definitely dealt with a bit more life experience within rugby and I can handle situations a bit better.”