Rory Darge admits he is glad he has had a full week to get to grips with the surprise of being asked to captain Scotland for the first time against Italy in this Saturday’s World Cup warm-up match at Murrayfield.
The 23-year-old Glasgow flanker, who has only seven caps to his name, was stunned when head coach Gregor Townsend told him last Friday that he had been chosen to lead an experimental XV, with regular skipper Jamie Ritchie among a raft of senior players given the weekend off.
The news was made public on Wednesday when the team was announced, and Darge is relishing the honour.
“It’s a bit of a weird feeling,” he said, speaking at the captain’s run press conference on Friday. “I’m honoured, obviously, but I’ve only got seven caps at this level so I didn’t really see it coming but I’m delighted that Gregor has picked me as a captain and sees me as a leader.
“It was pretty special when he told me. It was on the Friday morning last week, not long before he announced the team (internally). I’m glad he did it on the Friday so I had time to get my head round it.
“It didn’t frazzle my head, but I was just glad that I had time to digest it and tell my folks, take time to think about what is expected of me throughout the week and to have those conversations with guys who are more experienced in the role.
“I know it doesn’t seem like long, but it’s just been a bit more time to dwell on it and think about what I’m going to do. It’s been a pretty special week.”
Saturday’s game marks Darge’s first appearance for Scotland since the third summer Test against Argentina last July after an ankle injury ruled him out of the autumn Tests and the Six Nations.
“It was the worst injury I’ve had and it was my ankle, so you can lose range and get quite stiff,” he said.
“The physios and strength and conditioning staff at Glasgow, and the other boys who were injured, helped me get through it because it was pretty tough going into Scotstoun early in the morning when boys were either through here (in Edinburgh with Scotland) or on holiday.”
Darge has been buoyed by the support of other senior players in the squad since being named skipper.
“I don’t think so,” he said, when asked if the captaincy added any extra pressure on his shoulders. “There are different responsibilities, but it doesn’t change how I act.
“My biggest responsibility is to play well on Saturday so that’s what I am focusing on doing. The other stuff will come along with it.
“I’ve felt very supported and that has helped. It’s a big honour for me, quite a big deal, so to feel like you’re supported and backed is essential.
“I’m just excited for the game. It’s been a long time since I last played rugby (for Glasgow in the Challenge Cup on 19 May). Pre-season has been tough so to get the opportunity to put it out there, it can’t come quick enough.”
Meanwhile, Ruaridh McConnochie’s slim hopes of going to the World Cup appear to have been dashed after the full-back returned to Bath to recover from an Achilles injury.
The 31-year-old former England international – who took advantage of a change in eligibility rules to switch his allegiance to the Scots ahead of this year’s Six Nations – remains uncapped and will now have no chance of staking his claim in a warm-up match before Townsend trims his squad from 41 to 33 after next weekend’s Test at home to France.
McConnochie’s place in the training squad has now been taken by Glasgow’s Kyle Rowe.