Scotland v Ireland: WP Nel set to miss Ireland clash due to calf tear

Assistant coach Mike Blair is confident a more experienced bench will help guard against another late slump

WP Nel
WP Nel cuts a dejected figure as he sits on the bench with an injured calf during the second half of Scotland's victory over Italy on Saturday. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

WP NEL appears certain to miss Scotland’s clash against Ireland in the Six Nations on Saturday due to the calf tear he picked up during the team’s victory over Italy last weekend, which would ordinarily side-line a player for a minimum of three weeks in a best case scenario.

“When he went off it was a precaution, originally, and he just tightened up a bit,” explained assistant coach Mike Blair. “That’s when the information came back about the tear, so it will just be a little bit of time. Some people react quickly to it, some people don’t. You don’t really know.”

Murray McCallum was called into the squad yesterday [Monday] morning as extra cover at tight-head prop, although D’Arcy Rae is next cab off the rank for a bench spot if Simon Berghan is, as expected, promoted to the starting XV.

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Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend indicated after the match on Saturday that Zander Fagerson is close to being match fit again but added that he would probably need to get some game time with Glasgow Warriors after four and a half months out with an ankle injury before being ready to play international rugby

Loose-head prop Allan Dell acknowledged that the loss of Nel is a significant blow but backed his club-mate Berghan to fill the gap, helped by the likelihood that it will be an all Edinburgh front-row.

“We have played in the Six Nations without him [Nel] before,” said Dell. “Simon Berghan, I assume, will come in and fill the three jersey. He has played well for Edinburgh and he has played well for Scotland at tighthead. That experience and aggression that WP brings to the front row will be solely missed, I feel.

“If it is the same [club] front-row then we’ve all got the chemistry of scrummaging together. Hopefully that will help us and we won’t miss WP too much. I’m sure he’ll be in giving us his knowledge in the next few days. All the guys have scrummed really well the last few months. The chemistry’s there and we’ve had one or two sessions to get introduced to each other again.”

Meanwhile, Blair insisted that hooker Fraser Brown, who has also been added to the squad, is a serious contender to be involved on Saturday – most likely on the bench behind Stuart McInally – despite the fact that he has not played in eight weeks due to a knee injury.

“It’s definitely an option,” he stated. “Fraser is one of these unfortunate guys who has had a lot of injuries, so he knows what it’s like to come back from injury – he came back in the same situation last year – and he knows how to handle his body. He trained with us last week as well. Not fully but he was involved in parts.

“I’m sure he’ll be really keen today and we’ll just weigh that fitness up against the experience he brings to the group.

“It’s great having him back involved with the squad. The type of player and personality he is – he’s pretty hard on the guys around him and gets a bit of abuse for being quite negative – but what he says is very direct and he’s got respect from the rest of the players.”

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Adding experience to the mix

Blair added that the management team are also optimistic about Sean Maitland, Jonny Gray and Pete Horne coming back into the frame after missing last week through injury – which should add extra depth to the squad and hopefully ensure against the sort of late collapse we witnessed against Italy when a lack of experience on the park after the bench had been emptied contributed to three tries being conceded in the final ten minutes.

“I don’t think you’d point the finger at any individual performances it was just that collective [lack of] leadership experience,” said Blair. “We’ve got a few guys coming back into the selection mix now who will certainly help with that.”

Ireland lost their opening match of the Championship to England in Dublin on Saturday so will arrive in Edinburgh desperate to get their campaign back on track, but Blair insisted that he does not expect that to make the challenge his team faces any tougher than it was going to be anyway.

“Ireland are a quality team, one of the top teams in the world and they’re going to look forward to coming and playing us,” said the former scrum-half. “Joe Schmidt is a very intelligent coach along with Andy Farrell, so we expect a big showing from them. Not just because they lost that game. It’s something we’d be expecting anyway so we know we need to be right on the top of our game.

“Detail is probably the main thing about a Joe Schmidt team,” he added.“He will find ways of manipulating your defence to suit their players. It’s something we’ve got to be really careful of.They usually come out with a new play, a couple of new plays, each game they play.So, we’ll do our homework on them – but also be aware that they might pull something we’ve not seen at all.”

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About David Barnes 3033 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.