Home SPORTS Blair Kinghorn: Benetton crush Edinburgh fairytale, but full-back ready to ‘shrink or...

Blair Kinghorn: Benetton crush Edinburgh fairytale, but full-back ready to ‘shrink or grow’ with Toulouse

Blair Kinghorn (centre) and his team-mates had to reflect on a painful defeat

At the end of his home goodbye, Blair Kinghorn came to the touchline at The Hive not as the double try-scorer who had helped set up what should have been an Edinburgh win but as the culprit in the game-defining moment late on that brought a Benetton try and an Edinburgh loss.

“Pretty raw,” he said – and he wasn’t talking about the iciness of the Edinburgh night. “Disappointing. A mistake by me at the end cost the team. Too risky, bad decision.”

The offload near his own line was, indeed, madcap, but that kind of risk-taking is part of who he is, part of why Toulouse want him. It goes right and he’s a buccaneering hero. It goes wrong, as it did on Friday, and you get a forlorn figure standing in front of you, his spirits only lifting slightly when talk turned to France and the adventure ahead.

“It’s not really sunk in to be honest,” he said of his move to Toulouse. One more game – against Ulster, if he plays in it – and he’s done. On 3 December, he will no longer be an Edinburgh man. He’ll be on the list with Antoine Dupont and Thomas Ramos and Romain Ntamack and all those other class acts populating the dressing room of the world’s greatest rugby club.

“I don’t think it’ll sink in until I actually get there, just because of the speed of it,” he said. “It’s a massive privilege for me. A great challenge to expand as a player and as a person.

“I feel like it’s time to take a step out of my comfort zone. Pressure is a great thing. Being surrounded by world-class players, it’s going go be tough, for sure. Frustrating at points, but I feel, if I didn’t take the opportunity, I’d kick myself. Pressure will make you shrink or grow and hopefully I’ll grow.”

This was not how it was supposed to be on his last nod in his home city. The Edinburgh team that Kinghorn will leave behind next week might be a world away from the joyless risk-averse one in which he took his first strides more than eight years ago, a crew coached by the ever-cautious, ever-practical Alan Solomons.

But, boy, they still have self-destruction in their DNA. The young Kinghorn’s brand of adventure didn’t go down a ton with ol’ Al back in the day. That capacity to deliver moments that got you out of your seat and other moments that made you sink into it in frustration hasn’t left him.

We saw it at The Hive again. Two tries that showed the pedigree that made Toulouse come calling with a fat contract and one mad attempted offload on the floor near his own line that gifted Benetton the lead with a dozen minutes left.

That was the killer moment, the game-definer. The fairytale got crushed underfoot. That was the standout incident, but there were many acts of self-harm by Edinburgh.

A lost lineout in the Benetton 22 late on. An error count that climbed higher and higher. Dropped balls all over the park. A last play that saw them feed Ben Healy for what would have been a match-winning drop goal had he not been too far out to take advantage.

Why not go through the phases a few more times? Why not inch things closer to the sticks? This was not all on Kinghorn – not by a long way – although in the aftermath he looked like a man who was accepting all of the blame.

Edinburgh's Blair Kinghorn scores a try
Blair Kinghorn’s evening started well with two tries

Kinghorn says he will play against Ulster next weekend – he calls it a massive game that he is desperate to win – and that will be that. Next stop, France. Toulon, winners of the European Challenge Cup, on 23 December. La Rochelle, winners of the European Champions Cup, a week later. Different gravy.

In his time at Edinburgh, he’s counted the coaches in and counted them back out again, from Solomons to Richard Cockerill to Duncan Hodge to Mike Blair. He’s moved home, from the main arena to Murrayfield to Myreside and now The Hive.

In his 138 games and his 36 tries, he’s lived this club’s largely disappointing story every step of the way. This was the last time the home crowd will see him as an Edinburgh player and he really did give them something to see in those early moments.

Toulouse are no fools. They have unbelievable riches in their backline, but they’ve still swooped for Kinghorn because they know that his athleticism, his speed of thought and movement in attack, his sheer grace and imagination with ball in hand, could be perfect for them.

It took him two and a half minutes to score, a ball out the line, a little surge of pace, a touch of strength to ward off a would-be defender and in he went. Nine minutes later, he began the move that brought the field position that led to Matt Currie’s score. Just before the break, Kinghorn went scampering up the right wing to get his second.

Versatility is part of the appeal of Kinghorn. Toulouse have Test players and brilliant tyros in practically every position in their backline, but they have more demands on them than any other club side in the world. Twenty-two French titles? Fine, when’s number 23? Five European Cups? Nice, but they’ll be winning number six when, exactly?

They are the grandest, biggest, most historic rugby club of them all and soon Kinghorn will be a part of it. One of these days, when everyone is fit and well, he could find himself at full-back or wing or at 10 with a backline of such luminaries as Thomas Ramos, Ange Capuozzo, Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont. The Toulouse support cast is also exceptional.

On one level, there is no bigger move that Kinghorn could have made and, on another, no harder. The demands will be ferocious. He’s now entering a different rugby realm where winning is expected and losing is treated as catastrophe. It’s a parallel universe to what he’s grown up with at Edinburgh.

Is he ready to step up? Finding out will be fun, unlike the Scottish farewell of Friday night that left everyone feeling cold, in every sense.

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