SCOTLAND forwards coach John Dalziel has said that co-captain Rory Darge is still in the mix to play against Wales in Saturday’s Six Nations opener, as it stands. But he conceded that a decision has not yet been made on whether the flanker has sufficiently recovered from the knee injury he suffered at the end of December.
“It was great to have Rory back in last week and with the support of the club and national medical team it was great to get him assessed,” said Dalziel. “He’s completely on track, we’ve put no timescales on him. We just want to make sure he’s available for either game one or game two.
“He’s progressed brilliantly, he’s run well today so there will be a decision on that. Tomorrow will be a key day on whether it’s next week or this weekend.”
If Darge doesn’t make the Wales game, then Scotland are blessed with relatively deep back-row cover at the moment. Seasoned campaigners Matt Fagerson, Jack Dempsey and Jamie Ritchie all recovered from injury during the leading up to the start of this Six Nations window. Luke Crosbie has been playing well for Edinburgh. Meanwhile, Bath’s Josh Bayliss and Saracens’ Andy Christie have both been in fine form recently for their respective clubs – which, Dalziel was quick to stress, has come as no surprise to him or his fellow national team coaches.
“We’ve seen that in abundance, that’s why they’ve been part of the last five or six campaigns. Both Josh and Andy were injured throughout the World Cup otherwise our selection could have looked totally different,” he stressed.
“To have them back in such fine form is great. The minutes Andy’s had since the start of the season have been unbelievable –we were a bit concerned that it might be too much, but he’s just been in excellent form.
“The blend that both of them give us as a six, seven or eight is invaluable. It’s now about them coming into this camp and really pushing through the big rocks that are required to be competitive in Test matches. We’ve got great depth in that area.”
Front-row, and specifically tight-head prop, is not as much of an area of plenty, with Monday’s news that veteran WP Nel has been sidelined with a neck injury highlighting just how thin on the ground Scotland are in this specialist area. Javan Sebastian has been parachuted into the squad as cover but has not played since mid-December due to a knee injury.
“Last week coming into it, it was going to be touch and go, so we’re a lot more confident now as he has finished last week in full training and he’s started this week,” said Dalziel of Sebastian’s prospects of being fit for Saturday.
“So for me there’s no concern should we need him. He’s fit and available for selection. That’s a better position than we were in at the tail end of last week, so that’s great.”
The only other No 3 in the squad is the uncapped Elliot Millar-Mills, a 31-year-old with an undistinguished record in the pro game which includes two short stints at Edinburgh in 2023 and 2017-18, during which time he managed four bench appearances in total and no starts.
“He had the previous spells at Edinburgh. We knew about his credentials around scrummaging, which is a massive point of difference for him. His ability to express himself outside of set-piece is something that he’s grown,” said Dalziel.
“He’s been in a number of environments from Wasps to Northampton and he’s had to learn a lot of stuff. Along the way, he’s picked up so many valuable lessons about what the level is about. He’s in fantastic form for Northampton [making 12 Premiership or Champions Cup appearances this season with one start], in terms of his ball carrying and ability to support breakdowns and the key ingredients for a tight-head at international level.
“We’ve chatted to him for a long time and I think he’s playing his best rugby now. He’s young for a tight-head in terms of what can happen. He’s come in and added a lot and he’s merited selection. Other guys could have been here but he’s the guy in good form and playing well. We’ve been really impressed by him over the last two weeks.
“He’s playing for Northampton, one of the best teams in the Premiership, so there’s no doubt at all about his credentials.”
Meanwhile, Dalziel was again non-committal about Nel being fit to face France in round two of the Six Nations.
“The decision will be made with the medical team, but there’s no point rushing somebody with a neck. He’s in the best position, being at home at the moment, to be assessed fully without the weight of travel and all the other discomforts that come with that.
“We’re hoping by the time we get back from Wales, Saturday evening, Sunday, that we get good news and we’re back to a full and healthy squad again for next week.
“This is something he’s had for three or four weeks. It’s one of them things – we just have to make sure it settles at the right time. And hopefully not travelling and not being part of a robust week, he’ll settle quicker.”
The good news is that scrum-half Ben White is not suffering any ill-effects after coming off early with an injured shoulder during Saturday’s French Top 14 victory for Toulon over La Rochelle.
“We were a bit worried watching it on the TV but like any rugby injury it was a bit of a stinger at the time and he’s been flying around like a mad thing today. No concerns about Ben, he’s good to go,” stated Dalziel.