JAMIE Ritchie is expected to be unavailable for Scotland’s opening World Cup match against Ireland as he continues to recover fully from the broken cheekbone he suffered against Georgia. However, five others who were injury concerns – Allan Dell, Jonny Gray, Blair Kinghorn, Blade Thomson and Ben Toolis – have now been passed fit, meaning Gregor Townsend’s 31-man squad goes into the tournament with almost a completely clean bill of health.
Ritchie only joined up with the squad in Japan a couple of days ago, having initially been kept back in Edinburgh when they flew out on Monday because the facial injury which forced him off in the last warm-up match had still to be fully assessed. Magnus Bradbury left with the main group as cover for his Edinburgh team-mate, but later last week it was announced that Ritchie would after all be fit to take part in the tournament.
However, speaking at the team’s official arrival press conference earlier today in Nagasaki, Townsend revealed that the 23-year-old back-row forward had suffered a break to his cheekbone, had had a metal plate inserted, and would probably need more time before being available to play. “Jamie had surgery on Monday, so he joined us Thursday,” the head coach said. “He’s still recovering from the operation and also jet lag, so he’s not training with us just yet.
“We expect him to resume training next week. He’s unlikely to be available for the Ireland game, but he will be back in full training after that.
“It was a fractured cheekbone that Jamie suffered. He’s got a titanium plate in there now so it’s quite a regular surgery for players who suffer that type of injury. We believe that a two-to-three week turnaround can be done pretty easily. We know some players can come back in less time than that but we’re going to aim for the Samoa game rather than Ireland.”
Even if Ritchie had not suffered his injury, a spot on the bench against Ireland would have probably been the most he could have hoped for. And in any case, his exclusion from next Sunday’s game is overshadowed by the availability of the quintet who were either injured against Georgia or reported concerns in the aftermath of that game.
Blair Kinghorn and Ben Toolis were both taken off with head knocks during the win at BT Murrayfield, Jonny Gray and Blade Thomson came off because of hamstring issues, and Allan Dell later also said he had a hamstring concern.
“The pleasing thing is everybody is still in the squad, which is a huge boost,” Townsend added. “We ended up having six injuries against Georgia. We had four players who went to hospital that evening and two who had to be removed because of head injuries, but all of them are available to play in the World Cup.
“Jamie won’t probably be fit for the first game but the rest are all be available for selection this week. That means we’re in the best possible condition to play well.”
As Dell and Gordon Reid are the only specialist looseheads in the party, the loss of the former could have been the greatest concern for Townsend. All three tightheads are prepared to cover on the other side of the front row, although Jamie Bhatti, who made his Edinburgh debut yesterday after just missing out on selection, might have been flown out as cover.
Given Sam Skinner was ruled out of the tournament after injuring a hamstring in the home game against France, losing both Gray and Toolis would also have been a serious concern. That would have left Grant Gilchrist and Scott Cummings as the only fit locks in the group, meaning a back row would have to provide cover.