Scotland head coach Vern Cotter has expressed serious concern over the fitness of one of his most important players, tighthead prop WP Nel, and admitted he is a doubt for the upcoming Six Nations.
Nel was named yesterday in Cotter’s 37-man squad for the tournament, which starts for Scotland at home to Ireland on 4 February, but it is clear that the forward is struggling after his comeback for Edinburgh against Harlequins at the weekend lasted only 27 minutes. It was initially reported that the South Africa-born prop was undergoing Head Injury Assessment protocols but Cotter confirmed yesterday that there had been a potential exacerbation of the neck injury which had kept him out since October.
“I think [the head knock] has aggravated the injury he had before,” said Cotter. “That’s something that needs to be examined. I can’t comment until the specialists have had a look.
“There was the concussion protocol but they have been looking at the images and there are concerns among the medical staff. The doc wants to have a closer look with the specialists and we will know a lot more when he has done that.
“It was more that he had aggravated any neck problem he had previously.”
Cotter said that Nel was having a further scan last night and added: “We’ll get an idea whether if not he’s available for the competition, there is a doubt about him.
“I will wait until we have professional advice on it. Of course there are concerns. I would like to know more, but there are concerns.”
With loosehead Alasdair Dickinson already out of the opening stages of the tournament at least it means Cotter faces the unwelcome prospect of heading into that Ireland crunch at BT Murrayfield without either of his first-choice props.
Nel has become one of Scotland’s key men in recent years since qualifying to play for his adopted homeland on the three-year residency rule. The 30-year-old has excelled in the specialist and highly-valued role of tighthead, amassing 15 Scotland caps since his debut against Italy in a World Cup warm-up game in 2015 and emerging into a leading contender for a Test start in this summer’s British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.
When Nel was ruled out of the autumn Test series after hurting his neck in the home European game against Harlequins last October, he was initially sidelined for four weeks but that turned into over two months. A continuing neck problem is, naturally, deeply worrying for a prop forward and supporters of Edinburgh and Scottish rugby will be hoping that Nel can make a swift recovery.
The doubt over the first-choice No 3’s availability has prompted Cotter to beef up his tighthead options, with Simon Berghan of Edinburgh and