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.
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.