Former England captain Nick Easter believes Scotland can solve their “mental fragility” by recalling Newcastle back row forward Gary Graham, who has helped the newly promoted club make an unbeaten start to their Gallagher Premiership campaign. Physicality has been a hallmark of Newcastle’s victories and Easter knows how important the ball carrying of Graham has been as the Falcons knocked over Bath, Sale and Wasps – three of last season’s top five clubs – with a ferocious forward effort.
John Barclay, the former Scotland captain, conceded that Gregor Townsend’s men had lost the physical battle going down 31-16 to Ireland in Dublin last weekend to round off their Autumn Nations Cup challenge.
Graham won his two Scotland caps to date in the 2019 Six Nations championship but relegation to the Championship hampered his international cause. Now, back in the English top flight, the 27-year-old is showing the kind of mental and physical strength that Easter, the Newcastle defence coach, is adamant Scotland are still missing and is needed if they are to challenge the best teams in Europe.
Easter, who is preparing Newcastle for their European Challenge Cup opener with Cardiff Blues on Friday night, told RugbyPass: “No disrespect to Scotland, but one of the things that they need to get rid of is the mental fragility in the side. You saw that against Ireland and Gary doesn’t have one iota of that in his make-up. He believes 100 per cent in what he is doing and will take it to the opposition come what may.
“He will keep doing his job and will not go off piste and is inspirational.
“What typifies Gary is the Sale game against a team who are very physical and full of hard South African boys, and he hurt his shoulder after 30 minutes and was struggling. He is tough as teak, got over that at half time and in the 80th minute he has carried the ball into Jean-Luc du Preez, the hard man of Sale who I know well from my time coaching the Sharks (in South Africa), and left him dazed.
“Gary has got up and two phases later has flown into a ruck to free up the ball and we score a try to win the match. That typifies his mentality and he refuses to be beaten. He will take on anyone and everyone and his influence on the group is massive and the belief goes up two or three fold when he is there. Gary has been playing some smart rugby at No8 and he is a very combative guy who has an astonishing work-rate.
“His work off the ball, the scrambling in the back field – he just doesn’t give up. He doesn’t know when he is beaten.
“Gary likes to take things head on and has provided us with great go forward ball. Our game plan allows Gary to get into the match and he has averaged around 20 carries in all three wins and it puts you on the front foot.”
Graham has been worked hard in the opening Premiership matches because Newcastle have been operating without injured back row players including England’s Mark Wilson, who could return to the match squad against Cardiff.
It has meant Sean Robinson has been pressed into service on the blind side rather than the second row while young Connor Collett has taken his chance to impress on the open side.
Easter added: “We had to move things around because five back rowers have been injured. Connor has come back from New Zealand and put in an outstanding pre-season and deserved his chance while Sean is second row but is good enough to play at No6 and has been one of our top three players in all of the games.”
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