SCOTLAND will name their side today to open the RBS Six Nations Championship away to Ireland with question marks hanging over the fitness of a number of key men.
The squad trained into the darkness at Murrayfield yesterday as head coach Scott Johnson worked through a variety of indoor and outdoor skills sessions, but Glasgow winger Tommy Seymour, Johnnie Beattie, the Montpellier No 8, and Ross Rennie were missing.
Beattie was struck down with a virus over the weekend, so was kept away from the squad, but the Scotland medics insisted that they are confident he will be fully recovered and resume training today or tomorrow.
Seymour has been out since the Boxing Day clash with Edinburgh due to a head knock and his return was delayed by a calf injury in training. Stirling County helped to finally return him to the field at the weekend, but the winger suffered a dead leg in the RBS Premiership game with Hawick and so could not train yesterday. So, if he was to be selected for Sunday, he would be starting his first Six Nations Championship with one club match under his belt in nearly six weeks.
Rennie was named in the training squad last week, which provoked some controversy as on-form Edinburgh flanker Roddy Grant was again overlooked. Johnson said that Rennie was a unique sort of player and that with Kelly Brown and Chris Fusaro both considered opensides there was no point in naming another specialist seven. But Rennie is currently in Bristol, having moved there on loan to get some game-time under his belt in the English Championship.
With the Glasgow-Edinburgh New Year’s Day derby postponed due to a flooded pitch a number of players in the squad have played a maximum of 160 minutes of rugby in the past five weeks.
Centre Matt Scott is another player who did not feature at the end of the autumn after injuring his hand against Japan 11 weeks ago. He then suffered a hamstring injury in January that kept him out of the Heineken Cup matches and so while highly regarded by Johnson is well short of match fitness.
Scotland have not suffered as deeply as some rival nations heading into the tournament, but they are without Tim Visser, Euan Murray and Al Kellock to injury and, barring Italy, have the weakest pool of playing talent to choose from. Duncan Hodge, the Scotland assistant coach, acknowledged: “We have got a few guys like that and it is a bit of a concern and we’d have liked Tommy to have more game-time, but it’s one of those things.
“You try to get him a game and he picks up a knock, and that’s the fine line we tread as coaches. We’d like players to be fit and healthy and in the form of their life, but we try to do that and they get injured, and in some positions we don’t have huge resource, but that is just the reality of what we have to deal with and we have to try to balance that off and make educated judgments.
“Johnnie is just a bit ill and Tommy has a dead leg from the weekend that just needs nursed for a couple of days, so both should be fine for the weekend. Athletically, he [Scott] has done a lot of training because when he had a broken hand he could still run and train so that was a bonus.
“The last two weeks with the hamstring has set him back a bit so we’ll just have to wait and see.
“We’ve got to make decisions for the team and all these things are considered. Tactically, who do we want on the pitch and we have to weigh that up with game-time. Are they ready? It is complicated.”
The team named today is not expected to throw up any real surprises but there will be a number of changes to the team that finished the autumn series, Greig Laidlaw and Ruaridh Jackson tipped to be restored at half-back with as few as two or three backs retaining the same jerseys from the 21-15 defeat to the Wallabies. Richie Gray is pushing for a return to the pack and the back row will be re-shuffled.
Ireland name their side on Friday which, similarly, will be familiar to that which ended the autumn Test series with a stirring performance against New Zealand that came within a minute of claiming a first-ever win over the All Blacks.
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