Cam Redpath neck issue is a concern as Scotland seek to emulate 25-year-old achievement
Gregor Townsend’s side are trying to do it the other way round this year. They’ve got the tricky bit out of the way first, winning at Twickenham on the opening weekend of the Championship.
Next up is Wales at home on Saturday - a tough game, for sure, but one which they will go into with great confidence. Last week’s 11-6 win over England will make sure of that.
Unfortunately, three of the starting XV from that stylish triumph are missing, including Cam Repath, the centre who made such a startling Test debut.
The Bath player has a neck problem which is nerve-related and he is joined on the sidelines by flanker Jamie Ritchie and winger Sean Maitland. Ritchie damaged his hamstring at Twickenham while Maitland has issues with his knee and Achilles.
Redpath is replaced at inside centre by James Lang of Harlequins, with Blade Thomson coming in for Ritchie at blindside and Darcy Graham stepping in for Maitland.
The rest of the team is unchanged, as is the bench.
Of the three injuries, Redpath’s is causing most concern.
“Cam Redpath presented with a neck issue the day after the game,” reported Townsend, who played in the ’96 team which lost that winner-takes-all clash with England. “He’ll probably miss the next few weeks but we never know how quickly these neck issues resolve. We’re optimistic he’ll be back involved later in the Championship.
“It’s a neural issue. He got scanned on Wednesday and that gave us evidence to say it was the right decision not to have him involved this weekend.
“With neural issues, it’s not as simple as a muscle strain.
“We hope he will be back available to play in the rest of the Championship or maybe the last two games. But that will depend on what happens over the next two weeks.”
The prognosis on Ritchie and Maitland is more optimistic.
“We believe they’ll be back for the French game [on February 28],” said Townsend. “Jamie had a tightening in his hamstring so it’s a one to two week injury. Sean had a knee [problem] which affected his achilles, so he had to leave the field.
“At a push he could’ve made this weekend but given the physical nature of the game, the training that we need, and also the fact he’s hardly played any rugby these last few weeks, we felt it not right to put in the team this weekend, but we see him – both of them being back in the next couple of weeks.”
Ritchie’s absence sees Finn Russell replace him as one of two vice-captains in the team, Jonny Gray being the other. It’s further confirmation if any were needed of the stand-off’s reassimilation into the heart of the Scotland set-up following his rapprochement with Townsend.
Russell was instrumental in the victory over England and the coach was happy to promote him to vice-captaincy, a rank he has held previously.
“He’s one of our leaders and it’s a natural evolution,” said Townsend. “I would hope it gives him more confidence in his role.
“But, from what we’ve seen over the past three weeks, he’s leading naturally. That’s around attack but also in general leadership.
“He’s part of our leadership group and we look to them to become captains or vice-captains when required.”
Russell had an unscheduled ten-minute break at Twickenham following his trip on Ben Youngs and the fly-half also delivered a heart-in-mouth moment with an ambitious late drop goal attempt which ceded possession to England. But his overall performance was out of the top drawer and eclipsed that of Owen Farrell, his likely rival for the Lions No 10 Test jersey this summer.
“He has evolved over the years,” Townsend added. “You can call that having matured, evolved or just improved.
“He’s very connected to the team and what you don’t get a chance to see is what he does during the week, how well he trains, how well he communicates, his own prep that he does, as well as connecting with us as coaches.
“That should culminate in a good performance, which we saw at the weekend. But there are always areas to improve, always areas where you can look back and say: ‘Right, if I had that opportunity again next, what could we do differently?’
“With Finn or any player, there are always going to be a few of those after each game.”
Maitland’s injury is unfortunate given how well he played at Twickenham but it opens the door for Graham to return. He has not played since Edinburgh’s win over Glasgow at Murrayfield on January 2 but the effervescent winger offers a potent attacking threat, as Wales have found to their cost in the past. Townsend also talked up his defensive qualities.
“He’s been really good in training,” said the coach. “Physically, he’s worked hard in terms of getting on the ball in attack, showing his obvious strengths. But probably the most pleasing highlights have been defensively. He’s really fitted in well with our system, making good decisions there.
“He can’t wait to play. I think he’ll bring a freshness with his exuberance for getting on the ball and making difficult for defenders to try to tackle him.
“One of the first things he said to me was how well Sean Maitland had played and how he can build on Sean’s performance. Sean was outstanding having not started a game since late September. Darcy knows there’s real competition there and knows he’s got to follow up on what Sean delivered last weekend.”
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