SCOTLAND’s injury concerns grew yesterday with the news that hooker George Turner is set to miss the Six Nations after injuring a knee in Glasgow’s win over Exeter at the weekend. Edinburgh’s Neil Cochrane has joined the squad as a replacement. Alex Dunbar took a head knock in the same Warriors game and has not reported for the three-day training camp in Edinburgh while he undergoes return-to-play protocols, and Richie Gray is another absentee with a calf problem.
The bad news on the three players has been counterbalanced to an extent, however, by the return to play of Greig Laidlaw. The scrum-half played the last few minutes of Clermont’s game at the weekend – a comeback that was earlier than expected after injury.
Turner is the most worrying addition to the injury list, not only because of the length of his likely spell on the sidelines but also due to the number of front-row casualties in general. With Ross Ford and Fraser Brown sidelined, Stuart McInally and Scott Lawson are the only two fit hookers in the squad besides the 34-year-old Cochrane, who was also called into the squad in November but was not used in the Autumn Tests.
“George is out with with a medial knee ligament injury, so he’s going to be out for around eight weeks,” Scotland assistant coach Dan McFarland said at an Oriam press conference. “I feel really sorry for him. He’s gutted.”
The nature of Dunbar’s injury means there is no way of knowing at present if the centre will be available to play against Wales on Saturday week remains to be seen, and although McFarland is hopeful for Gray, the coach admitted there is also a degree of uncertainty about the Toulouse lock, who missed the Autumn Tests and had only recently returned from injury.
“If he’s fit we’ll consider him for Wales – at this stage we don’t know,” McFarland continued. “We’re hopeful he’ll be able to join us over the next week or so.
“We were disappointed for Richie. He’s played over the last two or three games and has been looking athletic. He was getting round the park as if he’d never been away from that.
“We would have liked to have seen him play this weekend but it looks like he won’t. That was a disappointment.”
The Scotland camp had initially expected Laidlaw only to be in with a chance of playing this weekend, but the former captain was told by a specialist that he had now fully recovered from his broken fibula so was able to be on the bench for Clermont on Saturday. The No 9 may not be wholly match fit after just six minutes of action, but McFarland is in no doubt that he will be completely up to speed by the time of the game in Cardiff.
“Greig trained today and looked good. He was really happy to get on the pitch even for that short period. He had a couple of kicks at goal and felt the atmosphere of being back on the pitch.
“I can’t remember Greig’s fitness is ever going to be an issue – he’s a very focused fella. He won’t let anything drop off, so I don’t see his fitness being an issue at all.”
Scotland’s injury list is particularly long when it comes to the front row, with props such as Allan Dell, Willem Nel and Zander Fagerson all out in addition to hookers Ford, Brown and Turner. Wales do not have their troubles to seek either, but McFarland thinks it would be a mistake psychologically for Scotland to try to take heart from their opponents’ troubles.
“They have a few injury worries: every team does. We have a team to prepare and must prepare a good, positive atmosphere. This is a big opportunity for everybody. Having said that, when somebody rang to tell me Zander had dropped a bench on his foot I was not jumping around and talking about opportunity.”
The fact that Edinburgh and Glasgow both have the weekend off should help ensure that the injury list does not lengthen further before the Six Nations begins, but McFarland insisted that the coaches were not about to go easy on players in training just because they might only be one more casualty away from a crisis in certain areas. “Do you get to the stage where you put people in cotton wool?,” he asked rhetorically. “No, I don’t think so. It’s just not in our mentality.
“Our operation has got to be top of the line. We have to be out there training hard, doing well. The idea that we can put a bunch of bodies together and win a Six Nations game is not realistic.
“If we don’t get our training and preparation right, ideally spot on, we will not be competitive for five games. We have to make sure we get it right.
“It may be that on a scrum day that you may be able to pull back a bit and do something a little different – but not to such an extent that it will compromise your preparation. You will adapt in a certain way, but there’s a stage where you have to say ‘we’ve still go to do this’, or you won’t win anyway.”