Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Nel ruled out of Six Nations…but is it all bad news for Scotland?

WP Nel - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography
WP Nel - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

WP Nel will miss this year’s Six Nations, after scans revealed his neck injury to be more serious than first feared.

For a year since his international debut, he has been the cornerstone of Vern Cotter’s pack and was seen by many as a shoe-in to tour with the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand over the summer having scrummaged destructively since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

That now looks highly unlikely as the 30-year-old Edinburgh prop is forced to sit out the Six Nations. Lions coach Warren Gatland would be forced to take a prop not having played at international level since June 2016 (against Japan) and throw him straight in against hungry Super Rugby teams and potentially the All Blacks.

For Scotland, Zander Fagerson, a man nine years his younger, is now holding the number three jersey.

WP Nel - pic © Al Ross
WP Nel – pic © Al Ross

There is little doubt losing Nel is a huge blow ahead of Cotter’s swansong, but Fagerson has given Scotland fans reasons for optimism.

The prop, who celebrated his 21st birthday only this week, performed admirably in the Autumn and was not shown up by a rapidly-improving Wallabies scrum, nor dismantled by the hardened Pumas or Georgian packs, as some had anticipated.

Fagerson has kicked on since then, too – he rarely shirks taking on defences with ball in hand, and the former Strathallan School pupil has added dynamism to his carrying, and improved his work at the breakdown – a ‘jackal’ penalty earned against Cardiff Blues a perfect example of his improving all-round game.

Zander Fagerson - pic &copy Al Ross/Novantae Photography
Zander Fagerson – pic &copy Al Ross/Novantae Photography

While there are still questions over his scrummaging technique, the 21-year-old has shown sufficient strength in the area to likely hold off Newcastle’s Jon Welsh who was recalled to the squad last week.

In the absence of Peter Wright or even Mr A. Dymock, we turned to our colleague Brodie Smithers, himself a sometime prop, who said: “Like a lot of modern props his strength is built on a foundation of deadlifts and squats as opposed to plain old scrummaging.

“This means he’s very strong when set and square but if his opposite number starts to move him around or puts his body at an angle he’s not comfortable with, he folds. It’ll come, he just needs more hours at the coalface.”

More hours at the coalface are set to come in the Six Nations – Fagerson is almost sure to be in the team to face Ireland – but you can be sure he will be pushed hard for the shirt by Welsh and uncapped Edinburgh prop Simon Berghan in training.


12 Responses

  1. Fagerson’s done pretty well for Warriors since the AIs, too. Certainly made Genge look decidedly average in both games against Tigers.

  2. There’s no doubt its a loss – I’d agree that the loss is mitigated somewhat by the emergence of Fagerson, but having 2 world class tight heads could very much be the difference between a W or a L when you get to the last 15-20 minutes of a game. certainly the emergence of Dell and the reinvigoration of Reid at loosehead makes Dickinson and Sutherland’s absence less felt – but you can’t help but think that having Dickinson, Brown, Nel starting with Dell / Sutherland, Ford, Fagerson on the bench would have given us a front row to match all but the Irish.

    1. Loosehead for me is a bit of a worry if Dell is out (with Dickinson and Sutherland already out), although Gordy Reid’s performance at the weekend eased the pain somewhat. Ironically Moray Low has played a lot at loosehead for Exeter this season…

  3. Yes it’s a massive blow and we are going to miss him. It’s exactly like saying would we miss Hogg? Would we miss Russell? Yes as they are all irreplaceable. Zander is a promising prospect though and at least he had the autumn internationals to develop at this level

    1. I don’t think Nel is irreplaceable in the way Hogg and Russell are. Outside of the set scrum, I think Fagerson is already ahead of him in several areas.

      1. What areas? I mean Nel is pretty impressive around the park and has a knack of scoring tries most props don’t. I think he’s a pretty complete package – as is Fagerson actually but he’s still a little green in the scrum.

      2. I’d say his defence and ball carrying are stronger, but not by a massive amount. You’re right Nel does seem to burrow holes others don’t see! And he’s a good way ahead of Zander at scrum time but the lad’s still young. By the time he hits 28-30 he should be monstrously good!

      3. I freely admit my knowledge of the finer details of the front row is limited, but I have gathered from anecdotal evidence that props are not at their peak until their late 20’s and into their 30’s, which means that Fagerson and Dell are going to form a very formidable front row in about 5 years or so.

        I haven’t seen much of Dell, but Fagerson has come on so much in the last couple of years and if this development continues at a similar rate then he will be a world class tight head in no time at all.

  4. Fagerson backed up by Berghan looks ok to me. Only after that the position is a worry. Nel is not as vital as he looked 12 months ago. I agree with the view Fagerson is already ahead of Nel in a couple of areas, he’s an extremely talented all-round athlete, one of these guys who’s good at anything sporting he tries and should a really formidable prop at his peak.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion