After a costly week which saw skipper Greig Laidlaw and No 8 Josh Strauss ruled out of the rest of the Six Nations, the injury news emanating from the Scotland camp was more positive yesterday.
A number of other players have been receiving medical attention in the wake of the brutal match in Paris, which ended in a 22-16 defeat by France, but defence coach Matt Taylor said yesterday that he expects John Barclay, John Hardie and Fraser Brown to all be fit for Saturday’s home match against Wales, with Ryan Wilson, who missed the French match with an infected elbow, also back in the mix.
Two players picked up knocks playing for their clubs at the weekend, Sean Maitland (ribs) and Mark Bennett (head injury assessment), and, while they both sat out training yesterday, there is optimism that neither is too serious.
The news on back-rowers Barclay, Hardie and Wilson comes as a relief following the confirmation on Friday that Strauss, who was superb at the Stade de France, will play no further part in the tournament with a kidney injury.
There was speculation that Dave Denton, who has returned from injury at Bath, may be called in as cover but Taylor confirmed he was not with the squad yesterday, which made it unlikely he would be considered for Saturday’s game, though he could be drafted in at a later stage.
Assuming Barclay is passed fully fit, it is likely he will resume the captaincy he briefly took over from Laidlaw in Paris before he followed the skipper off the field and on to the wounded list.
Jonny Gray became Scotland’s third on-field leader of the afternoon but Barclay should lead the team out against the country where he now plays his club rugby with Scarlets.
“John probably speaks more than Jonny, although Jonny does speak more than you might expect,” said Taylor.
“Jonny is more of a doing captain. Barclay is a doing captain but he probably talks more. That’s the main difference.”
The defence coach added with a smile: “You probably already know that from Jonny’s media interviews. It’s hard to extract anything from him.”
The loss of Laidlaw means others in the leadership group must step up and Taylor admitted that the ankle ligament damage suffered by the captain and No 1 goalkicker was a severe blow.
“Oh yeah, listen, it’s not great when our captain is injured. But in rugby that’s just the reality of the game,” he said.
“You can’t be dwelling on who’s injured and who’s not involved. You’ve got to be happy for the guys coming in, working on strengthening them and building them up.
“We can’t go into the game and say: ‘Oh, we haven’t got Greig, we haven’t got Straussy.’ We need to look at the positives.
“We’ve had a few meetings and [head coach] Vern [Cotter] has talked to the leaders. He has developed what we want to get out of the game, how we want to start, how we want to finish.”
The other major talking point this week is who will take the No 9 jersey left vacant by the injured Laidlaw, with Glasgow pair Ali Price and Henry Pyrgos vying for the starting slot.
Price’s club form and the fact he has been deputising since the autumn internationals, with two caps off the bench against Georgia and France, could give him the edge, though Pyrgos, who is back playing for Glasgow after a knee injury, could get the nod on grounds of experience and leadership.
“Ali is a tremendously exciting player with ball in hand. He’s got that turn of speed off the mark that really catches teams off guard,” said Taylor when asked to assess the two men’s chances.
“I look at the example of him igniting the Georgia game with that try late on. That’s a really good example of what he can do.
“Having been involved with Henry for a number of years at Glasgow and Scotland, I know that he’s a very good organiser who brings the rest of the group forward – and he’s a leader, as well. He’s very confident in how he plays, what he does, his structures and things like that. So I would say they both have their certain strengths. We’re lucky to have both of them.
“There has been a bit of discussion among the coaches about who is going to start. Probably more between Vern and [backs coach] Jason O’Halloran, to be honest.
“But I’ll be in the room with them. There is an excitement about the fact that we’ve got both to choose from, because they are both really good players. They’ve both worked with [stand-off] Finn [Russell] often enough at Glasgow – and they’re both on the same wavelength as Finn.
“They both have parts to play at Glasgow. And, again, I think that’s a strength.
“To have guys who work with our stand-off week in, week out, as well as playing club games with him, that has to be a bonus.”
Taylor believes Wales will offer another physical test, albeit a different one to that posed by the French.
“France were quite direct and physical. Wales are still very physical but, if you compare them to Ireland and France, they’re more similar to Ireland. They’re a lot more structured than the French, who will offload a lot more than the Welsh.
“Wales will carry hard, look to make yards and not offload as much. But their support tends to be closer to them. We still need to get off the line and be really physical with them.”