WP NEL is a serious doubt for the Six Nations after suffering a recurrence of the neck injury which had kept him out of action since last October during his comeback match for Edinburgh against Harlequins on Saturday. It was initially reported that the 30-year-old had suffered a concussion but Scotland head coach Vern Cotter revealed this morning [Wednesday] that an aggravation of the initial neck problem is what is causing the real concern.
“WP Nel will be going for a scan later on tonight [Wednesday] so we’ll get an idea whether or not he’s available for the competition. There is a doubt about him following the injury he had this weekend,” said Cotter.
“I think [the head knock] has aggravated the injury he had before. That’s something that needs to be examined. I can’t comment until the specialists have had a look.”
“There was the concussion protocol but they have been looking at the images and there are concerns among the medical staff. The doc wants to have a closer look with the specialists and we will know a lot more when he has done that.”
The South African-born prop, who qualifies for Scotland on residency grounds after moving to Edinburgh in 2012, has been widely touted a possible Test match starter for the Lions in New Zealand this summer, but that is looking less and less likely with every passing week.
Cotter would not be drawn on the potential longer-term implications for Nel’s career of this recent set-back.
“I will wait until we have professional advice on it. Of course there are concerns. I would like to know more, but there are concerns,” he said.
Despite his on-going injury woes, Nel was one of seven props named in Cotter’s Six Nations training squad on Wednesday morning. There was, however, no room for 37-times capped Moray Low, who covered the tighthead berth from the bench throughout the November Test series, with New Zealand-born Simon Berghan getting the nod instead.
Zander Fagerson is the man in possession of the number three jersey, but Cotter made it clear that Berghan is in line for a cap off the bench if Nel drops out – despite the fact that the 26-year-old has only managed three starts and 24 appearances in total for Edinburgh during three and a half years in the Scottish capital.
“He’s the next cab off the rank if WP doesn’t pass. He’s a skillful player, probably lacks a bit of confidence and hasn’t shown the consistency, but he has got something. He gets around the paddock and he is going to work on his scrummaging,” said Cotter.
“I remember in my first year, when we went away to the States, he came and trained with us. We’ve been waiting for him to come through and this will be an opportunity. He can get some specialist coaching with Jon Humphreys and that will be good for him. We could very well need him.”
“Moray Low hasn’t played a lot of rugby recently. Jon Welsh has been starting for Newcastle and he’s another one who was given a few things to work on and he has spent time on those,” he added.
On the other side of the scrum, Alasdair Dickinson and Rory Sutherland are once again unavailable with foot and groin injuries, respectively, meaning that Allan Dell is set to retain the number one jersey after showing up well when thrown in at the deep-end during the November series. Glasgow Warriors duo Gordon Reid and Alex Allan will vie for the back-up slot.
“We are happy with Allan Dell: what he did in autumn and he has followed that through with his Edinburgh games. He’s a good rugby player and he is holding the scrum up better as well,” said Cotter.
“We need good rugby players in the tight forward positions, players who can pick up the ball and run, and also defend without leaving holes. Allan is athletic, Zander is another one – very athletic, can steal ball, doesn’t leave holes in defence, and is quick on his feet.”
Meanwhile, there is no room in the back-row for Magnus Bradbury, who made a positive debut against Argentina in November, but has since fallen behind Edinburgh team-mate Cornell Du Preez and Rob Harley of Glasgow Warriors in the pecking order.
“Cornell is a more seasoned campaigner. Things either stop around him or go more quickly around him – we like that. Magnus is a great talent but has finished games better than he’s started them and we want the intensity from the start. That’ll be something discussed with him,” said Cotter.
Behind the scrum, there is a recall for centre Matt Scott, who was overlooked in November despite making an impressive start to the season with Gloucester after his move South from Edinburgh during the summer.
“We had concerns about it his decision making [in defence]. He has worked on that and does not isolate himself so much. He had a habit of turning in and following through…those sorts of things he has been made aware of and he has been working on that at Gloucester and we will be putting pressure on him, too, when he comes into camp,” explained Cotter.
“It says something of the man that he’s been able to take these things on and he’s got better at it. You can be strong and humble at the same time. He’s been humble and hard working and he’s shown the desire. He’s got great qualities but in this game it comes down to a couple of errors that effect results.”
Duncan Taylor also makes the squad despite having played just 17 minutes for Saracens against Exeter Chiefs two weeks ago being the only game time he has had since injuring his ankle back in September. Huw Jones is also likely to be short of match sharpness given that he has not played since the November Tests as it is currently the close season in South Africa.
SCOTLAND 37-MAN SQUAD FOR 2017 RBS 6 NATIONS
Alex Allan (Glasgow Warriors) – 3 caps
Simon Berghan (Edinburgh Rugby) – uncapped
Allan Dell (Edinburgh Rugby) – 3 caps
Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) – 4 caps
Willem Nel (Edinburgh Rugby) – 15 caps
Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors) – 19 caps
Jon Welsh (Newcastle Falcons) – 11 caps
Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) – 20 caps
Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby) – 102 caps
Stuart McInally (Edinburgh Rugby) – 9 caps
Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors) – 28 caps
Richie Gray (Toulouse) – 60 caps
Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby) – 15 caps
Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors) – 25 caps
Ben Toolis (Edinburgh Rugby) – 1 cap
John Barclay (Scarlets) – 55 caps
Cornell Du Preez (Edinburgh Rugby) – uncapped
John Hardie (Edinburgh Rugby) – 13 caps
Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors) – 19 caps
Josh Strauss (Glasgow Warriors) – 9 caps
Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby) – 5 caps
Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors) – 23 caps
Greig Laidlaw CAPTAIN (Gloucester) – 56 caps
Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) – 1 cap
Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) – 18 caps
Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors) – 22 caps
Duncan Weir (Edinburgh Rugby) – 23 caps
Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors) – 17 caps
Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) – 19 caps
Huw Jones (Stormers) – 3 caps
Matt Scott (Gloucester) – 36 caps
Duncan Taylor (Saracens) – 18 caps
Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) – 48 caps
Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh Rugby) – 2 caps
Sean Maitland (Saracens) – 26 caps
Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors) – 31 caps
Tim Visser (Harlequins) – 28 caps
Not currently considered through injury: David Denton (hamstring, Bath Rugby), Alasdair Dickinson (foot, Edinburgh Rugby), Pete Horne (ankle, Glasgow Warriors), Rory Hughes (knee, Glasgow Warriors), Rory Sutherland (groin, Edinburgh Rugby).