ALEX Dunbar is set miss this autumn’s Rugby World Cup after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in training yesterday. The Glasgow centre, who had been named in the Scotland team for tomorrow’s game at Twickenham, will be out of action for between six and nine months.
Dunbar’s place in the team to face England goes to Matt Scott – one of five changes to the starting 15 from the loss to Italy two weeks ago. Jim Hamilton comes back into the second row and David Denton returns at No 8, while in the backs Dougie Fife is named on the wing and Finn Russell is restored to stand-off after his two-week suspension. Six of the eight replacements are forwards, among them another No 8, the fit-again Adam Ashe. The only substitute backs are scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and utility player Greig Tonks, who was drafted on to the bench as a result of Scott’s promotion.
The full extent of the injury to Dunbar was not immediately known, and initially the Scotland camp hoped it might be relatively minor. But a hospital scan revealed that it was a rupture, and that surgery would be required, as well as “around six to nine months rest and rehabilitation” according to a statement from Scottish Rugby.
“Alex did it on his own,” head coach Vern Cotter explained. “A change of direction and his knee went out from underneath him. That was this morning, his left knee.
“We’ll miss him in attack and defence. He’s one of our best line-breakers and has been playing very well up to now, very well. He’s understandably very upset about it. We’ve seen guys come back from an ACL before, so it’s just about when we get him back.”
Cotter has had to battle with an extensive injury list since before the Championship began, but the loss of Dunbar is a particular blow given the solidity in defence that will be needed from first minute to last against England. Nonetheless, the coach did his best to look on the bright side. “We’re a team who don’t get things easy. It’s another example of it. But I think it has tightened the group up, and that will be important when we play this weekend. We’ve got an able replacement who has played well recently.
“We would dearly love to have Alex starting and then have someone like Matt come in and keep pace, bring physical intensity and presence to the game. We don’t have large numbers of international backs who are at international level – yet. But Matt has stepped straight in, and it means we’ll have to juggle the bench if we get injuries.”
The restoration of Russell, Denton and Hamilton was widely expected, but Fife’s selection for the first time since he came off the bench to score a try against France was less predictable. Another Edinburgh winger, Tim Visser, also had a strong claim, but Cotter decided that Fife’s all-round game was the best choice.
“It was tight, but we think his energy, especially in the aerial game, will be important. His energy, enthusiasm, his kick-chase... He’s a young player who is strong, creates line breaks and is a finisher as well.”
Sean Lamont is out injured, and Sean Maitland, who was on the way back and has played for Glasgow, was ruled out earlier in the week as not yet fit enough for such a demanding match. Those two and Visser will constitute a big challenge for Fife as he tries to cement a place in the World Cup squad – No 11 Tommy Seymour is the first-choice winger at present – but in the meantime the Edinburgh back is simply pleased to be selected again.
“The coaches have said that my recent performances have given me this chance,” he said. “My energy and kick-chasing is a massive part of my game. The last few weeks have been about a kicking game, so this has given me a shot in the arm and hopefully I can do myself justice.
“This is my fifth cap and they have all been away games. I would love to play at Murrayfield one day, so hopefully it’ll happen. But it doesn’t get any bigger than playing against England, and Twickenham seems like a really cool place to go out and win the Calcutta Cup.”
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