Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland’s injury list – how serious is it?

John Barclay
John Barclay has a word with Referee, Matthew Carley, during Scotland vs New Zealand - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

With less than two weeks to go before the 6 Nations kicks off Scotland’s injury list means head coach Gregor Townsend has some issues to deal with. Strength in depth has improved in recent years but niggling doubts remain that losing players disproportionately impacts the dark blues compared to, say, Ireland.

With so many players having been involved with the national side over the last 18 months or so it can be tough to try and understand just what effect enforced absences may have. What better way to visualise this to try and get a handle on the issues than with a Depth Chart?


Gregor Townsend has selected 37 backs in his squads since he took over ahead of the Summer 2017 tour. That includes 7 men who have yet to play a game under the head coach. Two of those players are in the mix for the Six Nations. Here is the current injury profile (click for larger version).


Things don’t look too bad here. The only position that might give the selectors sleepless nights is inside centre. Given Duncan Taylor’s long-term absence, the national side have learned how to cope without the man from Saracens (SuperDunc hasn’t played for Scotland since going off injured against Fiji in Suva back in June 2017).

Peter Horne has missed Glasgow’s last four games, but his inclusion in the initial panel suggests he’s expected to recover in time for the opening rounds. If he doesn’t it could well be down to one of two uncapped players to fill the playmaker role. Sam Johnson would probably already have made his debut in the Autumn but for an injury. Chris Dean has been in superb form for Edinburgh.

Toony may not want to leave inexperienced players potentially exposed in a must-win game for Scotland though. His next option would be to move away from a distributor. That would mean slotting in the hugely experienced – and much more direct – Alex Dunbar. Eck is short of game time though with only one start for Glasgow since the November Tests – and he wasn’t selected in the original squad.


Toony has selected 47 forwards in his squads over the last 18 months or so. That includes 13 men who have yet to play a game under the head coach. 8 of those players are in the mix for the Six Nations. Here is the current injury profile (click for larger version):


Issues in the forwards run a little deeper although the front row problems should be manageable. If the first choice trio can make it through the Italy and Ireland games relatively unscathed they should hopefully find reinforcements waiting by Round 3. Fraser Brown, George Turner and Zander Fagerson are all slated to return to action in time to be options away to France but will need to get up to speed quickly.

Like Duncan Taylor in the backs, Richie Gray’s absence in the pack has been so persistent that Scotland have learned to cope without the giant lock who was once a mainstay of the team. 27 minutes against Italy last year is Richie’s entire involvement in test rugby in very nearly two full years. Even if little brother Jonny also fails to make the starting gate at Murrayfield, Gregor Townsend can still call on a quartet of in-form locks. The European outings of Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis in particular have shown they should fear no-one in the championship.

The back row is where the biggest cause for concern lies. Toony’s preferred breakaway trio of Barclay, Watson and Wilson could all be missing, with Barclay definitely out for the whole tournament. With another 4/5 injuries to genuine contenders for places, in the absence of the top dogs Scotland’s depth will be sorely tested. Having said that there would be times in days gone by when Scotland fans would have bitten your hand off for a unit that comprised players of the quality of Jamie Ritchie, John Hardie or Josh Strauss.

So how serious is it?

In the early rounds of the 6 Nations things may be a wee bit tight at hooker and inside centre – but there are at least some fresh troops on the horizon in these positions. It’s in the back row that injuries will have the most impact. The style of play around the breakdown will probably need to be adapted to reflect the resources available. That’s not necessarily a bad thing with RWC 2019 on the horizon. Blooding a couple of large units like Gary Graham and Luke Crosbie may provide Gregor Townsend with a way to change up a game ahead of some physical encounters in Japan.

Short-term pain could lead to long-term gain for Toony and his troops.

18 Responses

  1. Good article which sums up the injury issues well. Interesting how many hookers have been involved in squads.

    Your last point is interesting also, Crosbie and Graham are both a stone heavier than Wilson or Ritchie and two stone heavier than Barclay or Watson. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate them starting over the named players yet I think the emergence of bigger options will be good and these boys aren’t exactly slouches around the pitch either.

  2. Good article, couple of small criticisms
    – the order of players is presumably meant to be from first choice down? If so, there are certainly a few arguments to be had! I think it’s time that long term injuries get moved down the pecking order a bit – Taylor and R.Gray have been out so long, who knows if they will ever be back to where they were.
    – players that cover more than 1 position (and not just in an emergency) should maybe be represented in each row, perhaps with an indicator showing this. For example Kinghorn is primarily a fullback and is listed here as a winger, making FB look like we only have 1 option. Also Pete Horne and Laidlaw are both potential 10 cover at some point. Quite a lot of other examples of this and adding them in would give a better view of depth in each position.

    If P.Horne isn’t fit, I would think Dunbar is likely to start at 12 over unproven players – although the Italy game is the best chance we have to blood someone if we have to. Maybe better to get the game won then bring them on after 50 minutes or so?

    Of course, if we really want to stick with a playmaker at 12, the tombola choice if Horne isn’t fit is Hastings at 10 and Russell at 12……..

    1. Cheers. Individual position depth charts which would include players who can cover multiple roles and we can move up or down for injury / form is a long-term project for the SRB so we should be able to reflect the issues you’ve talked about.

      I still think Gray and Taylor would have a decent chance of being first choice. None of our other locks offers quite the package RG does. No-one’s locked down the 12 shirt in Dunc’s absence. I take your point though – particularly with Taylor you do start to wonder if we’ll even see him in a Scotland shirt again…

      Main aim with this simplified version is hopefully to make it easier to visualise the impact of the injury list given there are so many players in and around the squad these days. Plus Scotland seem to list everyone with even a tenuous claim on a spot when they name the injured players!

  3. Apart from his D (admittedly a big caveat) is there any way that we can see King Blairhorn as the answer at 12? Pace, decent passing game, rangy off loading game, much more comfortable on the ball than Dunbar or Dean. Why should he be backup to a 2023 back 3 of Hogg, Graham and Van Der Merwe. Just an idea. He’s too good not be in the team and he’s no reserve winger in the long term.

      1. I know you jest re Hogg as its likely he’ll be in the team.

        Kinghorn was the U20’s Stand Off in 2015 if memory serves.

        Horne’s litany of failings and brain farts (blown overlaps, intercepts and kicks) mean that whilst he may suit Townsend’s preferred style he’ll never convince me. Which, let’s be honest, is probably his raison d’etre.

        And Duncan Taylor is just a fairy story you tell your kids about.

        So who’s left…….?

    1. Not a bad shout, however think his game is better suited out in the wide channels, having a wee bit more time on the ball. Mind you with Toony you can never tell …

  4. In the phoney 6 Nations period, perhaps those who entertain us with their fantasy teams could share their most tombola XVs.

    Australia first selected Michael Lynagh as inside centre outside the great Mark Ella, so don’t be surprised if Hastings appears at inside centre outside a similar maverick.

    1. Keep in mind that whilst Endlandshire were blessed with Jonny Wilkinson at 10 for a number of years, he started his test career at 13. Hastings for me could be an international player once he develops his rugby brain, not his ability. He could be an option at 15 or, as you have already mentioned, 12/13.

  5. I saw Townsend at one of the open training sessions in the Autumn and floated my idea to him about beefing up the back row considering all the injuries. Pick Brown, Turner and McInally in the back row -we all know they have and can play there – and draft in hookers Ford, Lawson and Malcolm. Build towards the WC, which will be brutal, with 6 hookers at your disposal. It kills 2 birds with one stone in one foul swoop. I don’t know how receptive he was to the idea, he seemed to be in a rush to meet the school kids beside me. We’ll know for sure when the WC squad is announced.

    1. wow.

      Brown and Turner injured will need time at hooker when fit. Lawson has retired, Ford is done and should retired, Malcolm couldn’t hit a barn from the inside and is away to Doncaster. Apart from that great post!
      Have you worked out why Toonie rushed off yet? I think the rest of us have!

  6. Richie gray made a 55 minute appearance today really good news and for me makes the Skinner to 6 option look more attractive

    1. That is good news. Would be nice if he was back for the England game at the end of the tournament.

  7. For the centres against Italy I think we should look at who didn’t go back to Glasgow for Friday’s game and who is fully fit. On that basis I think Sam Johnson has a good chance of making an appearance at 12 to get him capped. Toony and Rennie rate him very highly so lets give him a go before the world cup. I don’t think he’s that injured or he would have been sent back to the club for treatment. The other advantage is he’s played against all the Italian players in the Pro14 so not too much of a risk there.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion