With Christmas fast upon us and the 1872 Cup first leg following hot on its heels, there are still a number of Scotland players who could be termed “missing in action”. These are players that we would have considered vital to our national interests just 12 months ago, but who are still uncertain to feature when the Six Nations opens in just over a month, on February the 4th.
Last appearance: has only appeared once for Saracens as a substitute in the Premiership this season, against Northampton in mid September.
Status: injured (sprained ankle).
Fact: his nickname within the Saracens squad is SuperDunc, which shows the regard he is held in at Allianz Park.
Latest Intel: Estimated to a Sarries fan that recovery was “4 weeks away” on or around 27th November. That could put him in the mix for late festive games with the aim to be match sharp to make the squads for the remaining European rounds (round 5 away to Scarlets or round 6 at home to Toulon). If he’s back playing European Rugby by then he should make the Scotland squad, but breaking into that Saracens squad will be no mean feat. If it takes longer, ironically his best bet may be a slot on the wing if Sean Maitland is rested or away with Scotland.
Known Associates: Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett are all in theory vying for the Scotland 13 shirt. Taylor’s heft and defensive capability makes him, like Dunbar, more likely to slot in at 12 for Scotland, which would be harsh on the in-form Matt Scott. Dunbar/Jones looks like the go-to pairing on form – but Jones and Taylor can both play on the wing too…
Last appearance: vs Harlequins in the Challenge Cup.
Fact: is one of the few Scotland players to have beaten New Zealand, having played for the Barbarians as the uncapped man in their 2009 win over the All Blacks.
Latest Intel: The tighthead prop was “rested” over the autumn after a gruelling season that really meant he’d seen non-stop action since about July 2015. With an ever-improving Scotland deputy now uncovered in the shape of Zander Fagerson it means that WP doesn’t need to play the full 80 minutes any more, and with Simon Berghan just recently finding a bit of form at Edinburgh it won’t be the same environment he returns to at club or international level. Nel may not be rushed back from exile for just these reasons, but if he doesn’t show up in the 1872 Cup (rumour has it that he will be when the squads are announced today) then his international spot could be usurped come the Ireland game. That puts an awful lot of hypothetical Lions teams at risk…
Known Associates: Zander Fagerson, Simon Berghan, Moray Low. Fagerson at this point is the only genuine challenger; to survive a Six Nations we need them both fit.
Last appearance: against Australia in November.
Status: injured (sprained ankle).
Fact: Loves the Home Alone movies, according to his excited tweet last week.
Latest Intel: Had corrective surgery on his sprained ankle on 17th November, with an estimated recovery time of 8 weeks. That puts him in line for a return mid-January but that could only be to the training field, leaving a pretty short 2-3 weeks to get up to international speed and face Ireland’s monster back row. When he visited the Edinburgh Sick Kids hospital recently, there were no signs of plastercasts or strapping in the photos. His trademark intensity and disregard for his own personal safety have been a hit with fans since his arrival before the last World Cup and he is still very highly rated despite a slight lack of form. He was going very well against Australia off the bench when injury struck. Incredibly frustrating.
Known Associates: Hamish Watson is now fairly well in charge of Scotland’s 7 shirt and will most likely hold on to it until Hardie can oust him at club level too. John Barclay and Ryan Wilson do a job there but as with the situation at tighthead between Nel/Fagerson, most fans now would probably have one of Hardie or Watson in the 7 shirt.
Last appearance: he sustained knee and ankle damage in the single point loss to Munster.
Status: injured (knee/ankle).
Fact: Horne has represented Scotland at U18, U19, U20, Scotland A and Sevens levels.
Latest Intel: only just back from a hand injury suffered in September, Horne joined our less-than-merry band of ankle injuries at the start of the month and has an estimated recovery time of 16 weeks. The problem Scotland have is that Horne is currently the number one deputy to Finn Russell at standoff. With Finn throwing himself into everything with reckless abandon, a fit backup is required and 16 weeks carries Horne right through to the tail end of the Six Nations. He could yet be involved, but Cotter will find himself going backwards for cover at 10 in the meantime.
Known Associates: The other choices of Duncan Weir and Ruaridh Jackson have often been found wanting at test level – as have Horne and Russell if we are being fair, but Russell is currently going through a purple patch that we hope continues. Other options to provide cover as part of a matchday squad from elsewhere in the team or from the bench would be Stuart Hogg, Greig Laidlaw or even perhaps Matt Scott? If Finn was injured though as happened in this years’ Six Nations, Jackson or Weir are the most likely replacements.
Last appearance: he’s only had one start for Bath in the Premiership this season, for a total of 72 minutes in September.
Status: Injured (hamstring tear)
Fact: fair haired Denton dyes his moustache, possibly why he doesn’t grow one very often.
Latest Intel: He left his one and only start for Bath this season injured and at the time was expected to be out for 4 months. That would put his recovery period ending late January just before the start of the Six Nations, so his timing could be perfect. With Toby Faletau – injured in the same game but now back starting for Bath – likely to be away for Wales, Bath chief Todd Blackadder will likely make use of him as soon as he’s fit. With game time by mid-January most likely an issue it seems unlikely that he’ll be in the opening Scotland squad but with the tournament stretching well into March he therefore may have time to stake a claim as an injury call up.
Known Associates: Josh Strauss hitting form last weekend for Glasgow, and the appearance of young tyro Magnus Bradbury won’t have helped his mood any. Adam Ashe is also on his way back from injury. A rampaging Number 8 is what Scotland needs in the back-row blend, and Denton will hope it’s still him.