Scotland’s man of the autumn series Huw Jones is facing a race against time to make the start of the Six Nations.
The Stormers centre, who has enjoyed a stunning start to his Scotland career with two tries against Australia a couple of weeks ago and a brilliant assist against Argentina, is out of tomorrow’s third and final autumn Test against Georgia at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park with a foot injury he sustained in the act of setting up Sean Maitland for the Scots’ only touchdown in the 19-16 win over the Pumas.
Scotland’s next match after tomorrow’s Test is their Six Nations opener against Ireland at BT Murrayfield on Saturday 4 February. But Scotland coach Vern Cotter admitted it could be a couple of months before the 22-year-old is fit to play again.
“I think Huw is four weeks away before starting rehab, six weeks before he’s back training so it’s two months before he’s back playing, depending on how it goes,” said Cotter. “He’s in a [protective] boot now so we’ll see if he’s available for the Six Nations.”
Mark Bennett replaces Jones tomorrow and will partner his Glasgow team-mate Alex Dunbar in midfield and Cotter has picked a back row he feels is equipped to deal with the “rough and tumble” that Georgia’s ultra-physical pack will bring to tomorrow’s match.
Cotter has picked Glasgow forward Rob Harley, pictured, in his starting XV for the first time since the 2015 Six Nations, with the blindside joined in the back three by Ryan Wilson and openside Hamish Watson. Despite some impressive performances in the past two Tests against Australia and Argentina, John Barclay drops to the bench, while Magnus Bradbury, the 21-year-old who made his Test debut last
weekend, doesn’t feature.
The other changes from the side that beat Argentina 19-16 last Saturday see Ross Ford return at hooker and Richie Gray recovered from his possible concussion to pack down again with brother
Jonny in the second row.
“We have opted for Rob Harley at six for his experience at the set phase. We are playing against a team that likes rough and tumble and Rob will give us that strength in here,” said the coach. “Having Barclay on the bench is great and having that experience to keep the shape when he comes on; it’s going to be a game that will be physical so it’s about keeping clear heads.
“Ryan’s there for his skillset as well. He has got that attitude and that is infectious, other players are buoyed on by his enthusiasm, but he’s getting more and more accurate in his game, and we feel accuracy is going to be more important than a lot of other things.”
Cotter is good friends with Georgia coach Milton Haig and having worked with Georgian players in France insists Scotland are braced for a very tough afternoon. “We respect Georgia enormously,” he said. “I know how they feel about their jersey and their country and they are well coached.
“There could, unconsciously, be a relaxing [by Scotland] after playing Argentina and getting a win. But I think there’s enough discipline and enough standard setting being done within the group to make sure standards don’t slip for this game.”