SCOTLAND are in danger of suffering an injury crisis before the first ball has been kicked in anger at the Rugby World Cup.
Ryan Grant, one of the leading contenders for the loosehead prop role, suffered an ugly ankle injury and was carted off the Aviva pitch in Scotland’s 28-22 loss to Ireland in Dublin on Saturday evening.
That was just one of four injuries on the day and, with three more warm-up matches scheduled before Scotland face Japan on 23 September in the opening match of their campaign, more casualties are almost inevitable.
Grant was making a charge for the Irish line but was tackled by two defenders and went down awkwardly. The match was stopped while medics attended the Glasgow prop, who gave a thumbs up sign as he left the field. Notwithstanding the prop’s optimism, Scotland head coach Vern Cotter suggested that the full extent of the injury would not be known until today but he did admit his concern with the casualty rate before implying that Grant would sit out next weekend’s match in Turin.
“I am really worried about injuries,” said Cotter. “We need to look at how we came out of the game physically.
“With Ryan [Grant] not with us for a week or so, we have Alan Dell, who has been training with us.
“The boys are focusing on all facets of the game and we will certainly be having a look at the scrum. Irelan are a good scrummaging team, they hurt Wales last week.”
It is hard to believe that Cotter would have wanted as many as four warm-up matches. They were put in place by previous incumbent Andy Robinson after Scotland struggled horribly to beat Georgia in their opening match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
The concern then was that Scotland were “undercooked” after just two pre-tournament friendlies so Robinson arranged four warm-up matches this time to ensure it didn’t happen again.
Scotland will be cooked to a crisp by the time they play Japan but just how many of their first choice team are unavailable because to injury remains to be seen. Other casualties on Saturday included a hamstring tear/strain for hooker Fraser Brown and a dislocated/fractured finger for flanker Hugh Blake, one of the two new caps in the squad. Meanwhile the other starting prop Newcastle’s Jon Welsh also left the pitch after a blow to the head, although his coach said his failure to return to the action after leaving the field on 46 minutes was merely a precaution.
The Scots have depth in some positions, scrumhalf and lock for instance, but little at stand-off, fullback and especially tighthead prop. Welsh may be a doubt for Italy now and Grant, a loosehead who has filled in at tighthead on occasion, is likely to be sidelined.
Elsewhere, Sean Maitland and Alex Dunbar are both fighting to be fit for the start of the tournament following shoulder and knee injuries respectively and Cotter confirmed that the final decision on them would rest with the veteran Scottish doctor James Robson. In better news Grant Gilchrist, David Denton and Matt Scott all made a successful returns to action in Dublin.
Encounters with Italy are usually physical affairs and next Saturday in Turin will be no different so it was no surprise to learn that Cotter is planning to ring a few changes.
“We did not have anything fixed in place too solidly because we knew that injuries, knocks and bumps would probably change things,” he said in regard to next weekend’s selection.
“I think there will be a few players who may get another run, but there will be players who won’t.
“We have another two games to play before we name the 31, both against Italy home and away, so we will do our work and see if we can see more clearly after that.”
At least competition for places has increased following Saturday’s match with pretty much the entire back line advancing the case for their inclusion, especially Peter Horne and the twin wingers, Sean Lamont and Tim Visser.
“There will be some tough decisions,” Cotter said. “That was the deal, we all knew how it would work. We started with 46 and we end with 31. We have two more games [before the cut is made] and we will look at it closely from there.”