FRANCO SMITH is free to travel to South Africa for Glasgow Warriors’ clash against the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday after being granted a UK work visa, but a combination of flight timings and a sickness bug within the squad could still conspire against him being able to join up with the squad in time.
“We need to work out whether he can get here from a flights point of view,” explained Warriors managing director Al Kellock. “We’ve also got a reasonable amount of infection within the group so the last thing we want to do is bring somebody in who could then prolong that. All these things need to be discussed.”
Smith was stuck back in Glasgow watching the action on television when Warriors lost to the Sharks last weekend because his visa application had not yet been approved, and assistant coach Nigel Carolan expects his boss to move heaven and earth to make this match.
“It’s never going to be too late for Franco [to fly out],” he said. “For everybody concerned it’s been very frustrating because Franco has had input from afar but it’s not the same over Zoom.
“He’s extremely passionate about the team and extremely involved. He’s got his fingers in all the pies, from attack, defence, breakdown, all aspects. So, he’ll definitely want to get here for match-day, even if it is an hour before kick off.
Carolan didn’t give a full list of players who have fallen foul of the bug but did concede that the depth of Warriors’ player pool has been seriously tested during this two-match mini-tour of South Africa.
“It’s like a gastro infection,” he explained. “It’s not coming from any one thing, I think it’s from over two years in bubbles. Everyone is susceptible to all the little bugs that are going around
“Since last week a significant number of the squad have had some form of it, we’re into the teens in terms of the number infected so it’s been disruptive and challenging but we’re working our way through it.
““It just adds to the challenges of being on the road. The game [against the Sharks] last weekend wasn’t kind to us from an injury point of view with five players failing their head injury assessments, a broken jaw [suffered by Sam Johnson] and a torn calf muscle [suffered by Tom Gordon].”
Gordon isn’t expected to be back until December, while Johnson is looking at the new year.
“You are talking maybe two to three months out for something like that,” confirmed Carolan. “It is a significant injury and this is the third time he’s done it, so he knows the road which is ahead of him. It is very unfortunate for him because I thought he was going really well at the moment.”
Another factor impacting preparation and selection for Saturday’s match against the Lions is that a handful of Scotland squad members have flown home ahead of national head coach GregorTownsend naming his training squad for this Autumn’s Test series at lunchtime today.
“We’ve had a handful of players return to Scotland,” confirmed Carolan, who was reluctant to give names. “Some guys are injured, some are going home because of concussion, and some may be involved with the international team.
“We’ve needed to hang on to one or two as well, and then there are some who need more game times, so it is a balancing act,” he added. “I don’t know what Scotland’s plans are for next week but some of them could do with a little more game time, so the likes of Ross Thompson and George Turner might get a bit more involvement at the weekend. Horse trading is a fair way to describe what’s going on at the moment.”
Jack Dempsey – the Australian capped No 8 who could be named in Townsend’s squad today through World Rugby’s new three-year stand-down eligibility loophole – has been out of action in recent weeks with a rib injury but could come back into the frame for Glasgow this weekend.
“He wasn’t available last week but he had a dose of that gastro bug as well so he’s currently undergoing tests to assess the extent of that, and we’ll give him as a late as we can unto the week to see if he can prove fitness,” said Carolan. “It would be great if he is available to us and we’ll do everything we can to see if he can take the field on Saturday.”
“The Lions are going extremely well, but they are a team you can play rugby against. They are very dangerous in attack so it is the kind of game where we could score a lot of tries but we need to prepared for the fact that they could score tries as well.
“But it is our intention to go and play rugby, and we’re not going to focus too much about the weather and the altitude, because it is more important we play the style that suits us.”
Meanwhile, Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair hopes to get a few back of the key players who have been called into Scotland training back later this week for Saturday’s away game against Zebre but is taking nothing for granted.
“We’re not banking on it,” he said. “We’re not 100 per cent sure at the moment.
“Some guys have Scotland training at the start of this week and we’ll find out later in the week about their availability for us.”
The return of Duhan van der Merwe now means that Blair has 11 so-called ‘managed’ players – ones he can only select for Edinburgh games with the agreement of Townsend. “We put a proposal to Gregor about when we plan to play the guys and then we look at how many consecutive games they play, how many minutes they play, how many they start, how many are off the bench,” Blair explained.
“It’s not a fun part of the job trying to manage all that. But I think we’ve done it pretty well so far.”
Back-row forward Jamie Ritchie – widely tipped to be a future Scotland captain – has missed the last two URC games because of a rib injury. But Blair revealed that he is expected to be fit to face Australia at the end of the month.
“He’s training with the national guys at the moment and he should be fit to go,” he said.
South African winger Wes Goosen could make his Edinburgh debut on Saturday after injury has kept him out so far. “He’s fit and available for selection, so we’ve got to make a decision on him,” Blair said about the summer signing.
“It’s how we manage him back into things. He’s had a couple of niggly injuries and we want to make sure that when he comes back he’s firing but he’s looking really good in training.”