Scotland Rugby World Cup: Zander Fagerson is ‘fresh’ and will face South Africa after serving his ban
The prop has played just 50 minutes of rugby this season following his red card in the warm-up against France at Murrayfield which resulted in a three-match suspension. He missed the subsequent matches against France in Saint-Etienne and Georgia at home but was able to replace the final game of his ban with taking part in a coaching course, freeing him up to face the Springboks, arguably the world’s best scrummagers.
Fagerson has put in extra work in training and Townsend had no hesitation in naming him in his team. “He’s fresh,” said the Scotland coach. “He’s trained really hard and we’ve scrummed a lot. I don’t believe it affects props as much as maybe backline positions where getting touches on the ball, making defensive decisions in difficult situations, you need the match practice. Zander is very fit, his work is going to be in the set-piece and at close quarters. I see it as a bonus that he’s been able to do more fitness work. We had our best scrummaging session of the campaign on Wednesday which was great.”
Fagerson has been Scotland’s leading specialist tighthead for last two World Cup cycles but admitted he nursed doubts about missing out in France following his red card for a dangerous ruck clearout. “It did cross my mind, but I just had to deal with the outcome and take it from there,” said the player. “So, I’m really happy to be here, I’m looking forward to playing again and I’m just really excited about this weekend. Training has been pretty intense so I’ve just kept my head down with that, done my extras and topping it up with the strength and conditioning coaches. I feel in a good place.”
Townsend has been able to name a full-strength starting XV for the South Africa game, with winger Darcy Graham returning to the side after recovering from a quad strain. However, the coach has been hit by a couple of injuries in his wider squad and the hooker Stuart McInally has travelled to France as cover for Ewan Ashman, who is recovering from a concussion sustained in training this week. McInally is not part of the squad but is on standby. George Horne, the scrum-half, has also been ruled out of the South Africa game due to a concussion injury.
“Ewan and George both got injured,” confirmed Townsend. “They both had concussion so they’ll be ruled out for this weekend and we don’t play next week so it will be 12-day turnaround minimum and hopefully they recover fully to be available for our training week ahead of Tonga.”
McInally didn’t make the cut for the original World Cup squad and looked to have retired from the game but now could be called upon for one last hurrah. “It’s important that Stuart McInally came into the country just in case we have another injury to a hooker as we get closer to the game,” said Townsend. “It’s obviously a specialised position and we must have cover or we wouldn’t be able to put out 15 players and we’d have to go uncontested scrums. So it’s great that he’s here. There are certain rules and regulations he has to abide by. He can’t train with the team. He’s here as a precaution.”
George Turner is the starting hooker against the Boks, with Dave Cherry on the bench. Townsend also revealed that Graham has been using hyperbaric oxygen chambers to speed his recovery from the thigh injury which caused him to miss Scotland’s final warm-up match against Georgia. “He has put a lot of hard work in and there has been visits to hyperbaric chambers, works with the medics to get to this stage when he is back to 100 percent and looking really good in training,” said the coach.
Townsend has named a starting XV that was widely expected but has sprung a surprise on the bench by going for a 5-3 split of forwards and backs. There was speculation he might match his opponents and have a 6-2 split to try to counter South Africa’s much trumpeted ‘Bomb Squad’, the nickname given to their replacements.
Jamie Ritchie, the blindside flanker, captains the team for the Pool B clash at the Velodrome, home of Olympique Marseille, and is joined in the back row by openside Rory Darge and No 8 Jack Dempsey. Experienced locks Grant Gilchrist and Richie Gray are in the second row while the front row consists of Pierre Schoeman, George Turner and Zander Fagerson. Blair Kinghorn is at full-back for Scotland, the wings are Graham and Duhan van der Merwe and the centres are the Glasgow Warriors pair Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu. Finn Russell, playing in his third World Cup, is at stand-off, with Ben White at scrum-half.
Townsend has made some interesting calls on the bench. There is no place for Kyle Steyn, the winger who performed impressively in the warm-ups. The three backs on the bench are Ollie Smith, Cam Redpath and scrum-half Ali Price. The forward replacements are hooker Cherry, props Jamie Bhatti and WP Nel, lock Scott Cummings and back-rower Matt Fagerson.
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