STUART MCINALLY is awaiting an expert opinion on whether the neck injury he sustained during a weight training session last week is going to impact his involvement in the Six Nations, which kicks off with a trip to Twickenham to take on England in just under three weeks’ time.
“We’re waiting for him to see a specialist to see what exactly the issue is,” said Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill after Saturday night’s 1872 Cup defeat to Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun. “We’re hoping it’s not a long-term injury but we’ll have to see.”
Gregor Townsend will name his training Six Nations training squad on Wednesday. With Fraser Brown certain to miss the first few rounds of the Championship, and unlikely to be involved at all, due to his own neck problem, the loss of McInally would be a major blow. It would leave George Turner as the next cab off the rank, with very few experienced options who have recent game-time under their belts behind that.
Grant Stewart was capped three time during the build-up to the 2019 World Cup but a combination of cancelled matches and the emergence of Johnny Matthews at Glasgow Warriors means he has not played a game since mid-December.
Jake Kerr has one Scotland appearance off the bench against Italy during the 2019 Six Nations to his name and has only managed only one appearance for Leicester Tigers – also off the bench – so far this season, against Bayonne in the Challenge Cup in December.
Last year’s Scotland Under-20s hooker Ewan Ashman trained with Scotland during the Autumn but has only played six minutes for Sale Sharks this season, also in mid-December.
Uncapped Dave Cherry – McInally’s understudy at Edinburgh – would be the option with the most meaningful game time in the last month, he won’t be a completely new face having been involved n the training squad for the 2019 Six Nations, and his busy performance on Saturday evening won’t have done his prospects any harm.
Of course, there is always a very good chance that Townsend will drop a leftfield pick on us, so don’t rule out a surprise pick to plug that gap – should it need plugging.
Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors head coach Danny Wilson appeared confident that the head-injury Scott Cummings picked up on Saturday night shouldn’t keep him out of action for too long – whilst also recognising that his second-row partner Richie Gray is now right back in the mix for a Scotland slot during the Six Nations (having picked up the last of his 65 Scotland caps to date way back in March 2018).
“Scott took a head knock and he failed his HIA to come back on, no more than that,” said Wilson.
“Richie has been outstanding [in recent weeks],” he added. “Our lineout functioned really well in both games, which is pleasing. The other pleasing part, which Richie contributes to, is the turnaround in the scrum.
“Fraser Brown has been involved in coaching the scrum with us. To beat Edinburgh, you have to have your set-piece in order because you know their set-piece is decent. We won that battle and that helped us get the win.
“Richie has been out for a long time so to come back in and perform as he has done is a credit to him. He’s keen to put his hand up, which he is doing.”
Wilson added that he doesn’t know when his side will next play but ruled out PRO14 managing to hastily arrange a game in the next fortnight.
“At the moment, we’ve been told we won’t be playing the next two weeks and then there’s a bit of a debate,” he explained. “I think we are planning to play the rearranged game against Treviso in three or four weeks’ time.
“I’m hoping that comes as soon as possible because we don’t want a backlog and we want to be able to roll on after a win.”
The big question for Wilson – and for Cockerill – is how many and how often Scotland squad players will be released back during to their clubs during the Six Nations window (assuming there is PRO14 games to play in). It is a complicated issue because the need to keep players in bubbles to minimise possible Covid exposures was a major consideration during the Autumn and that is certain to be the case again this Spring.
“I have had conversations with Gregor, I had a conversation with him today [Saturday], funnily enough,” said Wilson.
“Obviously, Gregor has his plans in place and there is still a bit of uncertainty about the Six nations generally, in terms of what the rules and regulations are going to be. I think they are still putting that together.
“I am anticipating that there will be chunks of time when players are kept together, though maybe not in as big a squad [Townsend’s Autumn training squad was 40 players strong]. That’s my hope. But we’ll have to wait and see.
“For me, it is a tough one because you understand that the money needs to come back in to international rugby because that’s the lifeblood of us as a sport. But at the same time, with your Glasgow hat on you can’t be without that many players for that long. It is a tough one and we’ll just have to wait and see.
“Hopefully, if I’ve got this right, if we are not playing on Monday nights that will help. The Monday night fixtures give us a problem because of the testing process.
“Then there is the testing itself? Will everyone be kept in a bubble? There are all these different permutations at the moment. I’ve got to a stage this season where you are better off just waiting for confirmation because you can be guessing all day long and going down completely the wrong route.
“If we don’t get a lot of players released, we will ultimately have to go and add to our squad with loan players or whatever we need to do.”