When James Lang was named in Gregor Townsend’s squad for Scotland’s summer tour there was a bit of a quizzical response. James Lang? The bit-part fly-half from Harlequins?
That was about the sum of the knowledge and it was no wonder. Lang has played precious little rugby for his club but is just about to play a little more rugby for his country.
Seen as a centre by Gregor Townsend, Lang was capped from the start in Edmonton against Canada. He’ll win his second cap when Scotland play Argentina in Resistencia on the weekend. Townsend won’t name his 23-man squad until Thursday, but Lang will be in it.
The product of an English mother, a Welsh father and a Scottish grandfather, the tour, he says, has been “wicked”, even allowing for the defeat by the Americans in Houston.
For Lang, whose mother Rena played football for England, and who qualifies for Scotland through Rena’s Hamilton-reared dad, this has been a journey of discovery.
Before he hooked up with the international players, the only guys he knew were his former Harlequins team-mate Ruaridh Jackson and his old U-18 pals Zander Fagerson, Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury and Lewis Carmichael.
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“And it was five years since I saw them,” says the 23-year-old. “I wasn’t really expecting to be selected. I got a phone call from Gregor around March. I was on holiday in Morocco and it was quite a surprise.
“He said they were looking at me and were liking what they were seeing. Gregor spoke to me about my position. I’ve started at 10, 12, and 15 this year for Quins, but I think I’m here predominantly as a ball-playing 12, which is where I think I can really enhance my career.”
Scotland’s centres – an embarrassment of riches
It’s too early to say whether Lang is going to make it with Scotland. As a centre, he’s got a heap of opposition, some here on tour, some resting up at home.
There’s Huw Jones and Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne and Duncan Taylor, Mark Bennett and Matt Scott, Nick Grigg and Chris Harris. Including Lang, that’s nine centres in Townsend’s thoughts.
Lang knows he needs to feature more prominently for Harlequins if he wants to stay in the frame. “At the minute, I’m very happy at Quins. We’ve got a new head coach coming in, Paul Gustard, and I’ve heard very good things about him.
“It’s a clean slate for everyone. I’m looking forward to putting my hand up. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity.”
Certainly, Townsend thinks a lot of him.
“When they told me I was starting, I was thrilled, excited, couldn’t really wait to get out there and play,” says Lang. “And then, on the day, Stuart Hogg presented me with my top in the changing room and that was pretty class.
“Obviously, I’ve got loads of respect for him. He’s a world-class player and for him to do that was wicked.
“Singing the anthems was very special. My parents flew out to Edmonton and were in the crowd, so it was wicked to share that moment with them as well.”
‘USA loss was annoying but we have to move on’
Wicked might be his favourite word, but he has other, more suitable, descriptions of Saturday night in Houston. He wasn’t in the squad, but he wasn’t oblivious to the mood.
“We’re all looking forward to Argentina and righting the wrongs that happened last weekend,” he said. “I think it will be a great Test match. They’ve come off the back of a couple of losses, so they’ll be well up for it, as are we.
“The boys were very disappointed with the result. Credit to the USA, they played good rugby. It’s annoying we lost, but we have to move on quite quickly.”
The squad are now sampling the unique delights of Resistencia in north-eastern Argentina – the city of sculptures, as it is known. None can be seen from team hotel, which is a little out of town and monitored by armed police. For kicks, there’s a Walmart up the road. Vegas, it is not.
Not that it matters. The only thing that counts for Lang and his team-mates is a victory against the Pumas that might help eradicate the loss to the Eagles.