Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has branded referee Roman Poite’s decision not to review the tackle which injured Stuart Hogg’s shoulder in Saturday’s 22-13 defeat to Ireland at Murrayfield as “strange”.
Full-back Hogg, who Townsend claimed could yet play a part later in the Six Nations, was prostrate on the Murrayfield turf when Conor Murray scored Ireland’s opening try.
Immediately after the match, Townsend questioned the French referee’s role in the incident and he was asked at a squad session in Clydebank yesterday what he thought with the benefit of time and hindsight.
“It is even more strange,” replied Townsend. “It’s disappointing. It was a double-whammy for us at the time in that we lost a player for that sequence of phases – he would have been in position to take that kick – and we then lost the try.”
However, there was a more positive reply when the head coach was asked if he was hopeful of having his star full-back on the field for the game against Wales, which doesn’t take place until 9 March – three weeks on Saturday.
“Yes,” came Townsend’s confident and succinct response. “We obviously have to wait for news of how he’s getting on,” he added.
“He’s currently in the process with the shoulder expert we use and I think it’s safe to say that he’s probably not going to be an option for the French game. We’re hopeful that he’ll take a big part in the tournament after that but we’re still waiting for that information.
“We will hear tonight [last night] from Stuart’s meeting with the shoulder specialist and that will give us news on whether it will rule him out for the longer term and we will see how he recovers over the next couple of weeks.
“Obviously he was in pain after the game and we know from the initial scan what the injury is, but the shoulder expert will give us more information on when he can come back and train or play.
Scotland came into this tournament with a long list of injuries, John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Richie Gray and Zander Fagerson amongst them, and the opening two Tests have only added to the problem.
In addition to Hogg, pictured, centre Huw Jones is almost certainly out of the trip to Paris and the Glasgow breakaway Ryan Wilson will miss the rest of the Six Nations following his knee injury. Exeter’s Sam Skinner is out of the French match after injuring his ankle against Italy but he too may yet make a belated return to the tournament for the final two rounds.
The good news is that Richie Gray has played club rugby again, for the first time since getting an operation on a worrying hip injury, although he is still some way off making his next Test appearance according to his coach.
“He will be playing against Finn [Russell] on Sunday [when Racing’92 host Toulouse], so we hope that both of them get through that game,” said Townsend, mentally crossing his fingers.
“Richie has got ground to make up and there are fewer opportunities in his position as our second rows, apart from Sam Skinner, are healthy. Richie has played one game and he was very rusty in that. He’s had two weeks off since then so I’m looking forward to see how he goes.”
There is always a worry around pushing a world class player like Hogg, above, or Gray back into the Test team immediately after an injury. Townsend has to balance the risk of aggravating the injury against the opportunity cost of leaving such an influential player in the stand.
“I think any player who is ready to play, we would consider him ready to play,” said Townsend with a certain logic. “So Stuart came back in very quick time from his ankle injury for November and did very well for us then. And any player coming back has to pass a number of tests for them to be ready to play Test rugby, they have to be physically ready to do that.
“So, with his injury, a lot will happen, first of all in the reference we get from the expert, but also in how it improves over the next week.”