SCOTLAND’S injury problems appear to be easing slightly ahead of their showdown against Grand Slam chasing Wales next Saturday, with Finn Russell, WP Nel and Hamish Watson all returning to action with their clubs this weekend, and Sam Skinner also in the frame to be added to the training squad next week after recovering from the ankle problem he picked up against Italy at the start of February.
National team head coach Gregor Townsend was understandably reluctant to count his chickens before they had hatched, but he did admit that he is hopeful of having a few more options in terms of selection next week as he seeks to reinvigorate a Six Nations campaign which is in real danger of flatlining after disappointing back-to-back defeats against Ireland and France.
Townsend also hinted that he is primed to mix things up by giving a few emerging players a chance to show what they can do against Wales, rather than sticking with some of the tried and tested members of the squad who have appeared jaded in recent weeks.
“It is a boost to have Finn [Russell] available for his club this week but he was available for his club two weeks ago and got injured then, so we will see what happens this weekend,” said Townsend.
“WP [Nel] and Hamish [Watson] are playing for Edinburgh, that is obviously a bonus for us and them, and Ben Toolis has gone back to play for Edinburgh, so all three of those players game time will be managed to ensure that they contribute for their clubs and get match fitness but also with an eye to us involving them next week,” he added.
“Sam Skinner won’t be playing for his club this weekend but is almost back to full training, so we will bring him back into the squad if he gets through … I know he had a big session today.
“So, that helps going into the last two games, to have people coming back, but we still have to get through this weekend.”
Meanwhile, Zander Fagerson will get a chance to build up some more match sharpness/fitness after being named in the Warriors side to take on Zebre this weekend. The tight-head prop was thrown straight back into the Scotland squad last week, despite having had only 50-minutes of game time for his club since returning from five months out with an ankle injury.
However, a recurrence of George Horne’s shoulder injury means that he won’t be involved this weekend and could hamper his chances of pushing his way into Scotland contention next weekend.
One of the few positives Scotland were able to take away from last week’s Parisian debacle was the impact of the bench, with Ali Price, Adam Hastings, Darcy Graham and Gary Graham adding real energy during the final quarter, and Townsend indicated that he might now be ready to throw the dice with some of the less experienced members of the squad.
“I was asked a few weeks ago about selection with the World Cup in mind and at that time it was definitely not a factor as we were planning to do as well in the Championship and aiming to win as many games,” he reasoned. “Now that we have lost two, that becomes a factor, because we want to put our best team out to win this weekend, but we also want to see the players that are knocking on the door for selection and could be in the mix for the World Cup.
“Is this the time to bring them in? That will depend on the players we have available. We should have more players available this week than we did going to France.
“There are a lot of players that are playing well just now that deserve another opportunity to see what they have learned as a group and as individuals out in France. There are other people that we might go with as it is a good chance to see them instead of waiting until the summer Tests.
“We know with Greig [Laidlaw], for example, how much he cares for the Scotland team and how he is playing, but Ali [Price] is playing well too, and that’s the competition levels we want. The players are all aware that, whether it is captain, vice-captain or those who have played a number of years, their position will always be under threat if someone else is playing really well.
Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie has confirmed that the possibility of Stuart Hogg returning in time to play some part in the Six Nations remains in the balance, while Huw Jones continues to be a long shot.
“Hoggy is a week by week process,” said Rennie. “He is in here doing his rehab, but Scotland are overseeing him. They hope that he will return in time to play some Six Nations footy.”
“We know that Huw won’t take any part in the rest of the Six Nations,” he added, before correcting himself. “Unlikely is probably the right word. He is still in a knee brace, but he is working hard. I’m not sure of the timeframes for those guys because they are being overseen by the Scottish medical team. I’ll leave it at that.”