Scotland’s growing injury list can let others grasp their chance

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As Scotland’s injuries continue to mount up there is some solace to take in the fact Wales, who provide the opposition in that crunch Cardiff opener in 11 days’ time, have suffered some significant blows of their own.

Lions stars Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau and Jonathan Davies are out for most or all of the tournament and there are now concerns over Dan Biggar.

Edinburgh hooker Neil Cochran has been called into the Scotland squad as cover. Picture: SNS/SRU.

Edinburgh hooker Neil Cochran has been called into the Scotland squad as cover. Picture: SNS/SRU.

With Stuart Hogg making a successful comeback at the weekend Scotland should be able to field most of their star turns at the Principality Stadium but have suffered significant attrition, in the front row in 
particular.

Forwards coach Dan McFarland, pictured, continues to preach from the same hymn sheet used in the autumn when a similar situation was dealt with admirably and talked up the opportunities there for the taking rather than dwell too much on the injury setbacks suffered by Scotland, and indeed the Welsh.

“Do they balance each other? I haven’t really thought about that,” said the assistant coach.

“I read the newspapers. They have a few injury worries. Every team does. I don’t see it like that. We have a team to prepare and must prepare a good, positive atmosphere.

“This is a big opportunity for everybody. It is what it is. It will be the same for them. It will be upsetting for them to watch Dan Biggar going off with his arm in a sling.

“But you would be having heart attacks if you were worrying about that. Having said that, when somebody rang to tell me [tighthead] Zander [Fagerson] had dropped a bench on his foot I was not jumping around and talking about opportunity!”

McFarland, who moved from Glasgow to the national squad with head coach Gregor Townsend at the end of last season, insists that it is something that modern coaching staffs are used to dealing with.

“Yes, that’s the way it is. When I coached at Glasgow I was forever interchanging people,” he said. “Internationals go away, some guys get injuries and you have to bring other guys in. It’s forever changing. When I was with Glasgow one of the most time-consuming aspects was introducing new players who arrived in October to all the forward plays, the gameplan, that kind of thing. Getting them up to speed when they might be playing at the weekend. It’s just the way it is.

“At Glasgow we had a second row crisis when Scott Cummings, Tjiuee Uanivi and Greg Peterson all got injured in one game and they were all out for six months. That was pretty difficult. But losing as many players in a position as crucial as tighthead, I’ve not seen that before.

“As we know from November, guys stepped in who people hadn’t even heard of before and played some fantastic rugby. This just gives a huge opportunity for other fellas. That’s great, I love that.”

The injuries that have been sustained are worrying enough but the concern is that over the course of a notoriously intense and physical competition even more pile up.

“Do you get to the stage where you put people in cotton wool? No, I don’t think so,” was McFarland’s blunt assessment as Scotland began their preparations in earnest yesterday at the start of their Oriam training camp.

“It’s just not in our mentality. Our operation has got to be top of the line. We have to be out there training hard, doing well. If we don’t get our training and preparation right, ideally spot on, we will not be competitive for five games. We have to make sure we get it right.

“It may be that on a scrum day that you may be able to pull back a bit and do something a little different. But not to such an extent that it will compromise your preparation. You will adapt in a certain way but there’s a stage where you have to say ‘we’ve still go to do this’, or you won’t win anyway.”

There was mixed news out of France at the weekend with Richie Gray not joining up with the squad due to a calf problem but scrum-half Greig Laidlaw making a swifter than expected return to action off the bench for Clermont Auvergne.

“I don’t know. We will see how that goes,” said McFarland of Toulouse lock Gray. “Hopefully it will be relatively soon. “We were disappointed for Richie. When you think of all the time he took to come back from his injury. He has played over the last two or three games and has been looking athletic. He was getting round the park as if he had never been away from that.

“There were bits of his game he was looking to improve and we had been in contact over those things. He was looking in a really good position to step on. We would have liked to have seen him play this weekend but it looks like he won’t. That’s a disappointment.”

Asked if he is expected to be fit in time for Wales, McFarland replied: “At the moment I can’t answer that. If he is fit we will consider him for Wales. At this stage we don’t know.

“We are hopeful he will able to join us over the next week or so.

“Greig trained today and looked good. He was really happy to get on the pitch, even for that short period. He had a couple of kicks at goal and felt the atmosphere of being back on the pitch.

“I don’t think Greig’s fitness is ever going to be an issue. He is a very focused fella. He won’t let anything drop off so I don’t see his fitness being an issue at all. The specialist gave him the all clear.”