AFTER saying, only half in jest, last week that he might have to select some under-20s to play against Ireland, Scotland head coach Vern Cotter was yesterday relieved to be able to choose from the same players who were involved against England.
Cotter has made two changes to his team for the match at BT Murrayfield tomorrow, both in the pack, with Ryan Grant coming in at loosehead prop for Alasdair Dickinson, and Adam Ashe replacing Rob Harley at blindside flanker.
Both Dickinson and Harley are on the bench, where Edinburgh winger Tim Visser returns and back-row forward Johnnie Beattie drops out. Cotter has reverted to a 5-3 split between his replacement forwards and backs after going 6-2 against England.
After the 25-13 loss at Twickenham – Scotland’s fourth defeat out of four in this season’s RBS Six Nations – Cotter said all eight of the players substituted in that match had been injured. There was particular concern over Matt Scott and Jim Hamilton and, although those two and the others have been passed fit, training this week has been disrupted due to the number of walking wounded.
“We were a little nervous on Sunday, waiting for the medical report,” Cotter said yesterday. “Luckily, the medical team have worked really hard, but we haven’t been able to do much early in the week.
“A lot of the guys have been put on limited activity, spending most of their time in rehab. Today we had a run, but we’ve still got a couple of players who
I think will only be able to join in tomorrow.
“Jim Hamilton is coming through slowly, as an old warrior does. Alasdair Dickinson has had a slow start to the week, Matt Scott as well. So we’ve had to adapt the week to those guys getting back to full fitness.”
The selection of Grant was partly influenced by Dickinson’s slow recovery but it is also felt that both the Glasgow loosehead and his team-mate Ashe will bring some new energy to the pack. “Ryan was able to train – Alasdair wasn’t,” Cotter continued. “Ryan is fresh. He’s been coming off the bench. Alasdair has played a lot of rugby.
“But the other thing about Alasdair coming off the bench is we know Ireland have a very powerful group who come on into the game, looking to apply pressure at the scrum. It’s nice to have someone in reserve who has been able to spend the week recovering and who will be fresh to finish the game for us.
“Rob Harley will offer us his energy towards the end of the game, too. Adam Ashe comes in as a well-balanced player with the ball and without the ball, defensively. He gives us another option to carry the ball at Ireland and put their defence under pressure.
“Hopefully we’ll get everybody back [in full training] tomorrow. We’ve been looking at the essentials of the game, which is why we’ve had Ryan in there for scrum and lineout. Jim has been able to participate in that sort of thing, but not in continued high-intensity running.
“Today we worked on defence. Normally that’s a Tuesday, so we’ve pushed everything to the end of the week. Tomorrow we’ll sign off, hopefully give them a cohesive plan.”
While accepting there had been defensive problems against England, Cotter suggested his players had done well in light of the late withdrawal of centre Alex Dunbar, who suffered cruciate ligament damage in training. “England helped to identify a number of things we need to work on – things in our control defensively.
“I thought the players did very well, having lost Alex Dunbar on the Thursday. Matt Scott hadn’t played, but he stepped up.
“England have a very good attack, probably one of the best I’ve seen. But scramble defence is always a good indicator of culture and team spirit and the guys did well to get out of some unfortunate situations and turn them into positives.”
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Matt Scott, Mark Bennett, Dougie Fife, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (captain); Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Jim Hamilton, Jonny Gray, Adam Ashe, Blair Cowan, David Denton.
Subs: Fraser Brown, Alasdair Dickinson, Geoff Cross, Tim Swinson, Rob Harley, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Greig Tonks, Tim Visser.
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