AFTER surviving 24 minutes against South Africa’s infamous ‘bomb squad’ on Sunday night, Dave Cherry came a cropper when he slipped on a stair at the Scotland team’s hotel at the end of a well-earned day-off on Monday and has now flown home.
The hooker can draw some comfort from the knowledge that this means he can be present at the birth of his first child, but having spoken at the start of this campaign about his determination to remain with the squad no matter what so as to realise his dream of being part of a successful World Cup campaign, such an inauspicious end to his involvement will be a bitter pill to swallow.
Meanwhile. the fact that Stuart McInally is the beneficiary in this twist of fate will provide relief to the Scotland coaching staff (who are getting a seasoned-campaigner with a point to prove) and will surely be a cause for celebration among the wider rugby public (who recognise that the 33-year-old deserves a chance to bow out of the game on his own terms).
“I can’t really paint a picture because I wasn’t there, but he was on his way to bed,” said head coach Gregor Townsend, when asked earlier today [Thursday] to explain the circumstances around Cherry’s injury. “He hit the back of his head. Ally Little, our physio, was in the room just outside and reported straight away that there was a concussion. The medics presumed there was a loss of consciousness for 10 to 20 seconds.
“James Robson [the team doctor] then got called up, and as you know we take head knocks very seriously. With most head knocks now it’s a 12-day turnaround. It’s now rare to have a six-day turnaround, unless you’ve not had a history [of concussion] or you didn’t lose any consciousness.”
Cherry could have been available for Scotland’s next game against Tonga on Sunday week, 13 days after the injury, but with Ewan Ashman still to complete his return to play protocols following a concussion in training last week, an early call was made to bring in back-up for George Turner, who was briefly the only fit hooker in the squad.
It has been a jet-set few days for McInally who flew out to join the squad as cover for Ashman late last week, then returned home during the day on Monday on the assumption that Ashman would be fit to face Tonga, only to be called back to France almost immediately after Cherry’s fall. He took a full part in training yesterday.
“It’s really about the position Dave plays,” said Townsend. “Given this is 12 days and Ewan is recovering, for security and safety that we have two hookers and hopefully three for our game [against Tonga], we’re making the call now.
“It’s also about training. It’s unfortunate the accident happened in a position where we already have someone out injured,” added Townsend, who was then asked if there was a disciplinary factor behind Cherry’s early departure.
“No, not at all – it’s an injury and it’s bad luck. There’s no difference between getting injured on the training pitch and getting injured at the hotel. It’s an outcome that’s the negative for him and the group, but it’s an opportunity for Stuart to come in, and this time for real. Last time it was just to cover, but this time we’ve made the change because we’ve picked up another injury.
“It’s very difficult for Dave, and it’s sad. At least he got to play in a game [and] his fiancé is just about to give birth so at least he’s got something positive to go back to.”
McInally – who will retire from the game after this World Cup window to focus on qualifying as a commercial airline pilot – currently sits on 49 caps, so will almost certainly bring up his half century at some point during the next three weeks.
He captained Scotland at the last World Cup in Japan, which was a torrid experience personally and for the team. He ended up being dropped from the starting XV for the crucial final pool game against the host nation (which Scotland lost), and after taking an extended break to recover from the tournament, he spoke candidly about being so emotionally bruised by the experience that he was left feeling like he “never wanting to think about rugby ever again”.
To his credit, McInally did rediscover his appetite for the game and managed to make it into Scotland’s World Cup training camp this summer, only to be left devastated but not defeated when he missed out on the final cut.
“I have to really commend Stuart’s professionalism and his attitude,” continued Townsend. “He was really disappointed not to be selected [in the original squad]. He felt he’d done enough and he was right to feel that, but before we left, I had a good one-to-one with him to explain a bit more deeply the reasons why he didn’t make the squad.
“He also wanted to get the message across to me that he would be ready, that he would be doing sessions with Edinburgh, doing top-ups, and a week later he was out as cover. His professionalism to be out here and be ready is exemplary.
“Stuart was driven to make this squad. You can be a great team-mate, which he is, but not always are you going to drive yourself to be at your best. He did both. It’s his last gig, he could have easily said: ‘That’s it, I’m so disappointed, I’m retiring anyway’. But he’s kept believing and working hard.
“I was very aware when making the original selection call that there was more than just a player missing out. He was not going to play another game of rugby and had not had an enjoyable time at the last World Cup.
“So, on one hand it’s obviously disappointing for Dave, but I see a lot of positives with Stuart being able to fulfil that ambition he has. It’s one position where we are super strong, and it was the toughest decision. It was more about the blend of the three hookers we wanted in the squad, rather than what individuals had done.
“Stuart was great in training and very good in his games, so to be able to rely on someone coming in who is experienced, a former captain, been at World Cups and is in great condition is brilliant.”