Scotland’s Six Nations hopes have suffered a crushing blow with the news that Glasgow Warriors tighthead Zander Fagerson faces two months out after suffering a foot injury during training this week.
The development is a real setback for Gregor Townsend ahead of Scotland’s opening match in the tournament against Wales in Cardiff on 3 February.
The national coach was already dealing with limited options in the specialist tighthead position.
WP Nel is recovering from a broken arm sustained in the first autumn Test against Samoa and there have been doubts if he will play any part in the Six Nations.
His Edinburgh team-mate Simon Berghan is serving a six-week suspension for a stamping offence during the first 1872 Cup clash and will miss the game in Cardiff.
It could mean a first cap for Newcastle’s Jon Welsh since the 2015 World Cup quarter-final against Australia at Twickenham. The former Glasgow man was called into Townsend’s squad as cover during the November Tests in which Scotland dealt admirably with a long list of front-row injuries.
Edinburgh’s Murray McCallum could be promoted to the national squad, while another experienced option could be Moray Low. The 37-times capped tighthead has not featured much for Exeter Chiefs this season but is fit and would be available if called upon.
Meanwhile, Adam Ashe will make his return to the Glasgow squad against Zebre in Italy tomorrow.
Ashe has been out for ten weeks after undergoing ankle surgery and takes a place on the bench.
However, it was revealed that flanker Callum Gibbins faces up to 12 weeks out after having surgery on an Achilles problem.
Rob Harley will captain a side which will feature a starting half-back combination of George Horne and Finn Russell for the first time.
Dave Rennie said: “Zebre have been impressive. In attack especially they lead the competition in a number of stats. They carry well, make a lot of line breaks and like to offload.
“They’re a different team at home and have made it really tough for a lot of teams in Parma. We’re going to have to defend really well and build on our ability to maintain pressure and go through the phases which was better last week.
“We’ve been a little bit thin in and around loose forwards so Matt Fagerson coming in last week and Adam coming back in this week is great.”
Glasgow Warriors team to play Zebre in the Guinness PRO14, Live on BBC ALBA, kick-off 3.30pm (GMT). Glasgow Warriors appearances in brackets:
15. Ruaridh Jackson (128); 14. Lee Jones (67), 13. Huw Jones (3), 12. Nick Grigg (33), 11. Niko Matawalu (86); 10. Finn Russell (74), 9. George Horne (11); 1. Alex Allan (64), 2. Pat MacArthur (164), 3. Siua Halanukonuka (6), 4. Greg Peterson (24), 5. Jonny Gray (81), 6. Rob Harley (172, captain), 7. Chris Fusaro (131), 8. Matt Fagerson (15). Replacements: 16. James Malcolm (21), 17. Oli Kebble (3), 18. D’Arcy Rae (34), 19. Kiran McDonald (6), 20. Adam Ashe (47), 21. Henry Pyrgos (136), 22. Peter Horne (129), 23. Brandon Thomson (5).