Six Nations: WP Nel injury leaves Scotland on precipice of tight-head prop crisis

Javan Sebastian called up to national team's training camp in Spain – alongside stand-off Ross Thompson

Javan Sebastian has been called into Scotland's Six Nations training squad in Spain. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Javan Sebastian has been called into Scotland's Six Nations training squad in Spain. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTLAND have lost the experience and expertise of veteran tight-head prop WP Nel ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff, with the 37-year-old sidelined by a neck strain.

Nel’s Edinburgh team-mate, Javan Sebastian, has been called up to the national squad’s training camp in Spain to provide cover on the right-hand side of the front-row. He trained with the group last week but hasn’t played in a match since mid-December due to a knee injury.

As it stands, Zander Fagerson will wear the No 3 jersey against Wales on Saturday, while it is now toss-up between the undercooked Sebastian and the uncapped Elliot Millar-Mills – who was called into the squad last week in place of the injured Will Hurd – for the bench spot.


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Meanwhile, stand-off Ross Thompson, who has struggled for game-time at Glasgow Warriors this season, has also been called into the squad following the loss of Adam Hastings to injury last week.

Glasgow back-rower Euan Ferrie and and Glasgow scrum-half Jamie Dobie are also training with the group.


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About David Barnes 3820 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

34 Comments

  1. Further thought on the next in line tight head and Darcy Rae. From the last 2 Edinburgh team announcements, Darcy is not listed as injured but for both games Angus Williams was on the bench as back up tight head. So in Edinburghs rankings he’s ahead of Rae.

    • Here’s the TH Prop game-time for Edinburgh specifically this season and included last season too as comparison:

      WP Nel – 8/13 starts (61.5%), 1 bench appearance, 546 mins played (52.5% of all minutes)
      Javan Sebastian – 5/13 starts (38.5%), 3 bench appearances, 321 mins (30.9% of all minutes) – has missed 4 games through injury
      Angus Williams – 0/13 starts, 6 bench appearances, 125 mins (12% of all minutes)
      D’Arcy Rae – 0/13 starts, 3 bench appearances, 48 mins (4.6% of all minutes)
      Luan De Bruin – 0/13 games played, 0 mins – has missed all games through injury
      Ollie Blyth-Lafferty (academy) – 0/13 games played, 0 mins

      That means all starts were either Nel or Sebastian, who also came off the bench 30.8% of the time for a combined 83.4% of game-time, and no player younger than 29 has played any minutes. De Bruin is now the only non-SQ Tighthead at Edinburgh, but could become eligible in 2026.

      Last Season
      WP Nel – 16 played, 10/23 starts (43.5%), 894 mins (48.6%)
      Luan De Bruin – 11 played , 6/23 starts (26.1%), 366 mins (19.9%)
      Angus Williams – 8 played, 3/23 starts (13%), 245 mins (13.3%)
      Lee-Roy Atalifo – 7 played, 2/23 starts (8.7%), 208 mins (11.3%)
      Murray McCallum – 2 played, 2/23 starts (8.7%), 99 mins (5.4%)
      Elliot Millar-Mills – 1 played, no starts, 28 mins (1.5%)
      Dan Gamble – 0, 0, 0 (Loaned out to London Scottish)

      23 games, 1840 total minutes

      8/23 starts (34.8%) and 572 mins (31.2% of total) played by non-SQ players

      4/23 starts (17.4%) and 335 mins (18.2%) played by players who were released at the end of the season, including Dan Gamble, the only academy-produced TH Prop in the squad.

      • De Bruin should never get near a Scottish jersey. He’s the Edinburgh version of Kebble but not as big and a poorer scrummager. I cant imagine his contract being renewed.

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  2. To all those wondering about where Rae and McCallum and so on are, here’s a breakdown of the minutes played by all the more fringe Scottish qualified players this season. Stats are from itsrugby.

    Murphy Walker (24 y.o.) – 0 mins from 0 games this season. Soon to be back from injury apparently.
    Fin Richardson (25 y.o.) – one game for Exeter all season, unknown number of minutes
    Oli Kebble (31 y.o.) – 65 mins over 3 appearances at TH (average of 22 mins per game), all from bench, rest of his appearances this season have been at LH
    Angus Williams (30 y.o.) – 125 mins over 6 appearances (average of 21 mins per game), all from bench
    D’Arcy Rae (29 y.o.)- 144 mins, 1 start, but only 48 mins (average of 16 mins per game) over 3 appearances since joining Edinburgh, all from bench
    Will Hurd (24 y.o.) – 184 mins over 9 appearances (average of 20 mins per game), all from bench
    Elliot Millar-Mills (31 y.o.) – 322 mins over 12 appearances, 1 start (average of 27 mins per game), but playing in a Northampton team that are top of the Premiership and have a home last 16 game in the Champions Cup
    Rhys Litterick (24 y.o.) – 460 mins over 12 appearances, 3 starts (average of 38 mins per game), playing for a middling Cardiff team
    Euan McLaren (24 y.o.) – 11 appearances in the Super Series, majority of which were starts, selected in The Offside Line’s Dream Team
    Murray McCallum (27 y.o.) – 651 mins over 18 appearances, 7 starts (average of 36 mins per game), but playing in a Newcastle team that have only won one game all season

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  3. Hope Toonie takes Zander’s handbags away. He is bound to be targeted by all teams knowing the backup is a major weakness. An indictment of SRU pathways who have failed to identify Scottish props from within the club game. Hope the Bear is on standby.

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  4. Whilst I agree with most of the comments about Kebble and have often criticised him in the past for his lack of abbrasiveness for such a big lump, under the circumstances I thought he might have been used as he can usually scrum OK. Zander can easily play 60-70 minutes so assuming he doesnt leave any earlier than this you’re back up is not needed for long. Although having just listened to the BBC sounds like Sebastian is back fit in which case he has always been the 3rd choice and should do the job.

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    • Kebble cannot do what Zander or Schoey can do around the field but he is a solid scrummager and the only giant we have to counter Antonio at scrum time when we play France. Kebble played 3 years for the Stormers in a pack alongside Mbonambi, Malherbe, Etzebeth, Kleyn, Du Toit, Burger and Vermeulen. So if properly managed and coached he should have been good enough to get in the Scotland squad given he can cover both sides of the scrum. If he isn’t good enough, then presumably those who don’t think so also conclude that Frans Malherbe (who is also a giant at 21 stones but doesn’t get around the park that much) and Antonio of France would also not be good enough for Scotland. Kebble is also good enough to play for some guy called Franco Smith – Franco who? Oh, wasn’t he the player that scored a try for SA in the 68-10 thrashing of Scotland in 1997? And who was the Scotland openside on the field at full time the last time we beat France in a competitive fixture?

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  5. I have the same thoughts of D’Arcy and Murray. Not sure what they have to do to get a call up.

    Also, what has happened to Murphy Walker? Isn’t he a tight-head? I’m assuming he’s injured

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    • Darcy Rae and Murray McCallum not only have to play well to get selected, but to also actually play regularly. Only MM is getting decent minutes and he is playing in an under-performing Falcons team. Rae is one of five TH props at Edinburgh, fighting with Angus Williams & Luan de Bruin for 3rd choice, so he’s got to play better than those two to even get a look in. When Rae was playing regularly for Bath he didn’t seem do enough to get a call up. I doubt the coaches think Rae is up to test level standards, unless he has some kind of renaissance.

  6. Wales is our bogey team. I’ve lost count of the games that we should’ve won against them and didn’t. Any sign of weakness and Gatland will have them focussing on it. Cue lots of pointing and shouting at our tight head every time there is a scrum and there will now be scrums taken at every opportunity. Zanders a fine prop but Nel always paints a good picture so I wasn’t concerned should he come on. However our 3 choices are all much of a muchness – mediocre.
    Kebble really should be the tight head in waiting given his build and strength. Successive coaches at Glasgow have failed to get him to up his work rate around the paddock. On the eve of the 6N we really shouldn’t be in the position of searching around hoping someone steps up.

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    • Franco Smith rates Kebble and picks him regularly in the Glasgow 23 as the open side along with Jamie Bhatti. Top priority of any prop is to lock the scrum. Kebble does that. So does Malherbe of SA and Antonio of France, neither of whom do much else around the park due to their size. If you want to win test match rugby you need to be rock solid at the set piece. That’s why SA and France (and Franco Smith at Glasgow!) choose size over mobility with props at scrum time.

  7. I’ve watched Oli Keeble closely, and his lack of work-rate for Glasgow down at Exeter, observing almost on the touchline.
    He can hold up a scrum, no doubt about that, but his work-rate around the park especially at mauls is extremely poor. He would and has been exposed at international level.

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    • He has never shown any real hunger and desire to push on and that is probably why he would have been overlooked by SA as he does not have the fire in the belly.

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    • Don’t ever recall Frans Malherbe and Uni Antonio doing much around the park or at mauls but boy they can hold a scrum rock solid. If you don’t have parity at the set piece then you don’t have a chance of winning international rugby games. Wasn’t it Ronan O’Gara who said that numbers 1-10 decide who wins a Test match and numbers 12 and beyond decide by how much?

  8. Oli Kebble is a player who is currently giving the impression of going through the motions, some of his performances recently have been anonymous. It’s a no thank you from me.

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  9. Two capped tight heads in Darcy Rae and Murray McCallum also available, both playing in top leagues this season. Do they not fit the game plan, or are they not considered fit for international rugby now?

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    • Feel very sorry for D’Arcy and Murray as it is obvious Townsend does not rate them for his squad. Kebble has only been going through the motions for a long time now.

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      • You can say the same for Bradbury who has been ripping out trees at Bristol which is even more perplexing as Scotland are in desperate need of ball carriers as we cannot expect Zander and Dempsey to do it all. Equally strange why was Rae who played over 50 games for Bath in the premiership then played in Top 14 signed by Edinburgh (approved of course by Murrayfield) if he is not getting played as he has not as I am aware been listed as injured. Murray is playing in a struggling Newcastle team but it seems that we are plucking props out of a hat as most of us had never heard of Hurd and Miller Mills.

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    • GT does this so often with players. Horne never allowed to start is in same boat. Goes back to likes of Strauss being shut out. Petulance isn’t a good trait in a coach.

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  10. Not sure why you would not have Kebble in at this point. He has played more at tighthead than Millar-Mills this season and is playing pretty well in general.

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