THE fractured forearm sustained by Grant Gilchrist in Edinburgh’s 25-17 victory over Lyon in the European Challenge Cup at BT Murrayfield on Friday, has left Scotland head coach Vern Cotter with a real leadership dilemma ahead of the impending autumn Test series.
Cotter used the weekend to take soundings over the best possible way to fill the vacuum caused by the cruel twist of fate that has sidelined the 24-year-old, with an announcement likely by Wednesday, when Scotland will hold their media day at their Newcastle training base. But with no vice-captain named for the viagogo autumn Test series, and with Kelly Brown, Scotland’s skipper from the RBS Six Nations campaign, not even included in the 33-man squad, the outstanding candidates all appear to be fighting it out, ironically enough, for the No 9 shirt.
Gloucester’s Greig Laidlaw will rightly be seen as favourite after he captained Scotland to summer tour victories against the USA and Canada.
But Laidlaw’s residency at nine is now under intense pressure from a resurgent Chris Cusiter, whose move south of the border to Sale Sharks has put a spring back into the step of the man many still see as the most talented Scottish scrum-half of recent years.
The former British Lion has plenty of experience of leading his country, having captained Scotland on eight consecutive occasions in 2009-10, spanning both the autumn internationals and the RBS Six Nations.
Yet Cusiter’s late injury absence from the Sale Sharks side thrashed by Clermont Auvergne in yesterday’s European Rugby Champions Cup tie may have come at the most inopportune moment.
It could also have aided the candidacy of the increasingly impressive Henry Pyrgos, whose contribution at Glasgow as Cusiter’s successor at nine has kept Fijian international Niko Matawalu on the bench while the former Loughborough University chemistry student also successfully deputised for Josh Strauss as Glasgow captain in the recent thrashing of Bath in the European Rugby Champions Cup – the extra responsibility of the skipper’s armband did not stop Pyrgos from being named man of the match.
Laidlaw’s goal-kicking is now no longer so vital to the Scots after the emergence of Finn Russell at stand-off with Glasgow, and, with Duncan Weir continuing to provide steady stewardship at 10 for the Warriors.
Cotter could hark back to former Scotland captain Ross Ford, who took over the Edinburgh captaincy in the wake of Gilchrist’s injury against Lyon last Friday. But the hooker’s spell as Scotland skipper seemed to affect his own form and may count against him.
Laidlaw may well be the favourite but his unveiling as Scotland captain over the next 48 hours is no foregone conclusion.