WP NEL has been ruled out of Scotland’s RBS 6 Nations campaign due to a neck injury which has been troubling him since October. The 30-year-old prop attempted a comeback last weekend for Edinburgh against Harlequins but lasted less than half an hour, initially coming off with a head knock before it was found that he had also aggravated the pre-existing injury.
An MRI scan on Wednesday found that he had damaged an intervertebral disc. He will now have a second specialist assessment this coming Monday to consider a programme of recovery, including whether corrective surgery is required.
Nel was being widely touted at the start of the season as a potential starter in the Lions Test team this coming summer, but that is almost certainly not going to happen now. His focus will be purely on trying to get fit again to play any sort of rugby.
Zander Fagerson started throughout the Autumn Test series at tighthead prop and has been in fine form for Glasgow Warriors this season, but there is a distinct lack of strength in depth behind him.
Moray Low has been struggling for game time at Exeter Chiefs and was left out the training squad when it was announced on Monday, with Cotter stating that New Zealand-born Simon Berghan would be ‘the next cab off the rank’ if Nel didn’t make it.
However, the 26-year-old has hardly set the heather alight during his three and a half years playing in Scotland, having made only three starts and 21 appearances off the bench in the professional game.
“He’s a skilful player, probably lacks a bit of confidence and hasn’t shown the consistency, but he has got something. He gets around the paddock and he is going to work on his scrummaging,” insisted the Scotland coach, rather unconvincingly.
“I remember in my first year, when we went away to the States, he came and trained with us. We’ve been waiting for him to come through and this will be an opportunity. He can get some specialist coaching with Jon Humphreys and that will be good for him. We could very well need him.”
Jon Welsh has also been recalled to the squad, ands been playing regularly for Newcastle Falcons, so he may be a safer option as back-up to Fagerson.
Scotland’s scrum just about got away with it during the November series, but the Six Nations is certain to be a far more ferocious examination of their mettle, so the absence of Nel is a major blow.