Six Nations: Rory Darge poised to make Scotland comeback against France

French lock Paul Willemse will miss the Murrayfield match after being given a four-match ban for his red-card offence against Ireland

Rory Darge
Rory Darge training with Scotland at Oriam today (Tuesday). Image: © Craig Watson.

SCOTLAND assistant coach Steve Tandy has backed Rory Darge to hit the ground running if, as appears increasingly likely, he makes his return from injury against France on Saturday.

Glasgow flanker Darge, co-captain of the team with Finn Russell, has not played since injuring a knee in the second 1872 Cup match against Edinburgh on 30 December. It was initially feared that the 23-year-old would need months to recover, but scans showed the damage was not as severe as first thought, and he is now on the brink of a comeback just six weeks later.

The back-row forward’s return would be especially opportune given the news earlier today that Edinburgh flanker Luke Crosbie has been ruled out of the rest of the Six Nations after damaging a shoulder in the second half of last Saturday’s dramatic win over Wales. The availability of Grant Gilchrist after suspension is also timely, given that Warriors lock Richie Gray will also miss the remaining four rounds of the Championship after injuring his biceps in the first half of the 27-26 victory in Cardiff.

Premiership Team-of-the-Week for Round 18

Opinion: ‘The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win’

Six Nations: Richie Gray and Luke Crosbie out for rest of championship

Tandy said this afternoon that Gray and Crosbie would be “sorely missed”. But he also insisted that the depth of the squad is sufficient to withstand the double loss, and said the coaching team had every confidence that Darge will make a successful comeback.

“We wouldn’t throw Rory in if we didn’t feel he was ready,” the defence specialist said. “He’s trained and he’s looking good. He came through training last week, he trained again today, so all being well in the rest of the training week he’ll be available.

“He’s done it before, after injuries. Knowing Rory and the guy he is, how diligent he is and how he looks at and studies the game, we have no doubts. Physically, it feels like he’s adding layer on layer as he gets a little bit older. 

“He’s physically ready, and even when they are injured, the boys are still lifting [weights] – it’s not as if they’re sitting there doing nothing.”

The main issue to be resolved now seems to be not if Darge will be involved in Saturday’s match at Murrayfield, but whether he will start or be on the bench. With Crosbie out, Matt Fagerson could be switched from No 8 to 6. Jack Dempsey would then start at 8, and either Darge or Jamie Ritchie would be at open-side. Andy Christie, who can play across the back-row, has also  made a strong case for selection with his fine form for Saracens this week.

Gilchrist, meanwhile, seems set to partner Glasgow’s Scott Cummings in the second row. The Edinburgh lock trained with the squad in Spain last week even though he was suspended because of his sending-off against Scarlets in his club’s Challenge Cup match last month. Gilchrist was also suspended for three weeks last year after being sent off in the opening minutes of the game against France, but Tandy insisted he was not worried about the 33-year-old’s discipline, saying there was often a fine line between a perfectly-timed tackle and one which incurred the wrath of the referee. 

“I wouldn’t like to think about how many tackles Grant has made in his career, but the magnifying glass can come out for one moment,” he said. “As a defence coach, I know what is a malicious tackle and what is a timing issue. The speed these boys move at you can be caught at any time. 

“So to play the amount that Grant has and make that number of tackles, I have no issue with Grant going into the game. With so many moving parts it’s a fine line and when you look at something on TV we sometimes underestimate how much skill goes into it. There could be late movement or a slip, and a lot of it is interpretation.

“Grant is always looking for feedback and how he can do more. It’s something we always work on and we have conversations all the time, not just with Grant but with everyone.”

Meanwhile, France will be without their lock Paul Willemse on Saturday after the Montpellier player was given a four-match ban following his sending-off in his team’s defeat by Ireland last Friday.  Willemse was dismissed in the first half of the match in Marseille after being shown two yellow cards – both for contact with the heads of opponents.

The four matches will be reduced to three if he takes part in World Rugby’s Coaching Intervention Programme. As things stand, however, he will miss:

  • 10 February: Scotland v France
  • 17 February: Racing 92 vs Montpellier
  • 24 or 25 February: Montpellier vs Bayonne or  France vs Italy
  • 2 March: Oyonnax vs Montpellier.

Opinion: ‘The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win’

About Stuart Bathgate 1363 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.


  1. Scotland’s 6N looks like the UN of Rugby, with 22 foreign-born players.
    1. Alec Hepburn (Australia); 2. Pierre Schoeman (South Africa); 3. Ewan Ashman (Canada); 4. Johnny Matthews (England); 5. Will Hurd (England); 6. Elliot Millar-Mills (England); 7. WP Nel (South Africa); 8. Javan Sebastian (England/Wales); 9. Sam Skinner (England); 10. Joshua Bayliss (England); 11. Andy Christie (England); 12. Jack Dempsey (Australia); 13. Ali Price (England); 14. Ben White (England); 15. Ben Healy (Ireland); 16. Rory Hutchinson (England); 17. Cameron Redpath (France); 18. Sione Tuipulotu (Australia); 19. Arron Reed (England); 20. Kyle Rowe (England); 21. Kyle Steyn (South Africa); 22. Duhan van der Merwe (South Africa).

    • This is such a tiresome non-topic. Every nation will have players born outside the boundary of the nation they represent. If you qualify by the rules, end of. So many people now have mixed heritage and/or nationality, the world has moved on from the days of travel by horse and cart and a hard border with the rest of the UK. I would love to see way more players come through grass-roots, academies, pro teams and then the national team but nationally isn’t relevant to that issue either. Even if we – hopefully – end up with a production line of talent through our own development channels, we should always pick the best qualified players, regardless of background.

    • This is a tired trope, and more to the point it is bordering on the pathetic that it keeps getting brought up. Everyone agrees that we need much better engagement from SRU with the grassroots game. Everyone wants the player pathways to be improved and for lots of homegrown talent to be in the squad. We are not there yet, hopefully a new Chief Exec will help change that…but it will take several years until it is, like the second Death Star, fully operational. In the meantime we are operating within the rules and we want to be competitive as that helps grow the game.

      A point I would like to make, where you are born is not the sole indicator of nationality. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, Jesus was born in a manger…that didn’t make him a donkey!

      Given you have taken the time to go through the whole squad, I will do the same (mainly as I am stuck on a very boring call).

      Starting with Schoeman, DvdM, and Nel. These are project players. They all qualified via residency, and all did so when it was a three-year period. This has now, sensibly, been extended to five years, which given that a pro career lasts for approximately 12-15 years (if you are lucky), equates to someone having to come and live in Scotland and play for approximately 30-40% of their professional rugby career, with no guarantee that it will lead to playing international rugby. If someone is willing to do that then all credit to them.

      On to the rest of the squad members that you mentioned:
      Alec Hepburn – Scottish father. Ewan Ashman – Dad is from Edinburgh and Ashman played Scotland U16 upwards, so hardly disconnected from the Scottish pathway; Johnny Matthews – Glaswegian mum, played Scotland U18, Scotland Club XV and Scotland A; Will Hurd – Scottish grandma, also played Scotland U20; Elliot Millar-Mills – Scottish mum; Javan Sebastian – Dad from Edinburgh; Sam Skinner – Scottish Dad; Josh Bayliss – Aberdonian grandma; Andy Christie – Scottish Mum; Jack Dempsey – Scottish grandad; Ali Price – Scottish Mum, also played Scotland U20; Ben White – Scottish grandad; Ben Healy – Scottish grandparents; Rory Hutchinson – Glaswegian grandparents, also played Scotland U18 and U20; Cameron Redpath – Scottish parents, he was born in France because his Dad (you remember him, played for Scotland on 60 occasions, was captain for some of them, played in three RWCs) was playing for Narbonne at the time; Sione Tuipulotu – Scottish grandma; Arron Reed – Scottish grandparents; Kyle Rowe – Scottish parents, may have been born in England but educated at QVS, Dunblane (a school for kids of military personnel – might hint as to why born in England), played for Falkirk, Glasgow Hawks and Ayr, as well as Scotland U19 and U20 and Scotland Club XV, also played Scotland 7s – so pretty much steeped in the Scottish system, but sure lets call him ‘foreign’; Kyle Steyn – Scottish mother, played Scotland 7s.

      Of the 22 ‘foreign-born’ players only three don’t have a familial connection to Scotland. Of the 19 remaining, 11 have at least one parent, with the remaining eight having at least one grandparent who is Scottish. 12 of the 22 were born in England, which is part of the same sovereign state for crying out loud. If you have a problem with Scots travelling overseas and having kids then that speaks to a wider issue.

      If there is a home grown player you think should be in the position of any one of the slots that these players have, then lets have a conversation about why that player is better than the incumbent but ‘because he was born just round the corner from here’ is not a reason. The best players who are eligible under the rules of World Rugby should be in the squad.

  2. This is one game where I can the sense in a 6-2 split on the bench – along with Ireland game – but not having Kinghorn available would make that a big gamble this weekend in terms of cover in the backs. So I too would like to see Dempsey/M Fagerson/Christie start with Darge on the bench. Probably will be Gilchrist coming into the 2nd row, though not convinced he adds enough outside of set piece. Imagine no change in back line, though perhaps Hutchinson offers more flexibility off the bench but Redpath has been playing well for Bath and looked good off the bench last weekend. But it’s more about attitude and concentration than individual players; if we don’t get our mindset right for Saturday, then it’s going to be a painful day.

  3. ‘Close to full fitness’ and not having played for six weeks is a far cry from being match-fit and ready to play test rugby. It’s a risk Scotland don’t have to take given the excellent alternative options. I would start with Dempsey-Fagerson-Christie in the back row. with Darge on the bench ready to come on for the final 20. The French catch the eye with their exhilarating attacking play, but they are also very physical up front. We will miss Crosbie’s abrasiveness to combat it and by way of compensation the big Saracens lad packs quite some punch, is quick all over the park, handy as a lineout option and in the red-hot form of his life. How could you possibly not? Dempsey is outstanding and a shoo-in for me, while the normally excellent Fagerson does a mountain of work, puts in the tackles and deserves a shot at redemption having been bettered by the Welsh loose forward unit in the second half. By contrast Jamie Ritchie’s form has been wretched of late and you don’t pick a player on the strength of hoping he will snap out of a poor streak. Losing the captaincy is no reason to give him a free pass into the team and that is where the change needs to come.

    • Fagerson is no more than a good club player. He gives his all but that is not enough at international level. He should be nowhere near the international setup other than the fact he is one of GTs favourite sons. How many times do we need to get blown apart by bigger more physical backrows before the penny drops.

      • Fagerson regularly tops the tackle charts if we are going to play show-ponies like Dempsey and fetchers like Darge we need someone making 20+ tackles. None of our other back rows offer that.
        If only Bradbury had Fagersons work rate.

      • Christie has to play and I’d also like to see Bayliss get a chance as well. With his pace he looks to have the potential to be a real point of difference player.
        Townsend’s skills as a selector are questionable.

      • Fagerson put in 18 tackles – second highest by any playr from any country in Round One, second only to the Italian Lad on 19.

  4. My team for this weekend:

    Schoeman, Turner, Z Fagerson
    Cummings, Gilchrist
    M Fagerson, Ritchie, Dempsey
    White, Russell
    Tuipulotu, Jones
    Duhan VDM, Rowe, Steyn

    Subs: Hepburn, Matthews, Miller Mills, Skinner, Darge, Horne, Healy, Redpath

  5. Not sure I would risk a seriously undercooked Darge without some recent game-time. Will be interested to see if Toonie is prepared to send a message to the side by dropping some of those who went missing in the second half. If Ritchie was selected for his ‘leadership’ qualities then he was an epic fail. Likewise Turner who didn’t endear himself with the ref with a lengthy mouthing off during a break in play in the 2nd half.

    • Ritchie certainly isn’t playing as well as he has in past times perhaps it is perhaps the McInally syndrome he didn’t take to the Captaincy either in my estimation.
      Picking the Captain isn’t always just find the ‘best’ player.

      • Agreed George but IMHO that’s because we’re used to seeing outstanding displays from him. On the other hand, the hour or so he was on the park he made 14 tackles with no misses and carried successfully on 7 occasions, ball successfully retained. Given the ball in play time of much less than an hour he was involved in play for the majority of his time on the park. That he didn’t achieve his usual couple of turnovers is the only aspect I can mark him down for, but I felt the Welsh were sealing off and by and large, getting away with it.
        Not outstanding, perhaps, but hardly
        ‘wretched ‘ as one of our more opinionated posters would have it.

  6. Matthews deserves his shot, but just can’t see Toonie making what he will view as a risky call…. Might prefer to see Christie/Fagerson/Dempsey start with Darge coming off the bench, but agree that Skinner would help with lineout options. Bench could be a 6:2 split with the French heavies to compete with….

  7. Matthews deserves his shot, but just can’t see Toonie making what he will view as a risky call…. Might prefer to see Christie/Fagerson/Dempsey start with Darge coming off the bench, but agree that Skinner would help with lineout options. Bench could be a 6:2 split with the French heavies to compete with….

  8. Back row need to dominate this weekend. I’d be surprised if he is in the squad for Saturday but is it just me but having seen the footage of the trip to Spain and Wales today Ritchie looks like he is not his usual self…

  9. Side for Saturday- Schoeman, Matthews,Fagerson, Cummins, Gilchrist, Christie, Darge, Dempsey, White, Russell, VDM, Tui, Jones, Steyn, Kinghorn. Bench- Hepburn, Turner, Millar Mills, Skinner, Ritchie, Horne, Redpath, Rowe

    • Kinghorn is still out for this game, so I assume Rowe will start again (that’s the sensible option seeing as he did well starting Wales, so deserves another chance to keep his confidence up, but who ever knows what Townsend will do). So maybe we’ll see Healy on the bench again?


Leave a Reply

Please be respectful in your replies. Abusive language is automatically blocked. Your email address will not be published.