After a brutal few weeks including the loss of three of Scotland’s primary attacking threats in Stuart Hogg (shoulder) Huw Jones (knee) and Finn Russell (HIA), Gregor Townsend has moved quickly to bolster his squad.
In-form Worcester Warriors stand-off Duncan “Meatball” Weir is joined by Magnus Bradbury, Dougie Fife and James Johnstone, and front-row forwards Zander Fagerson and George Turner.
Fagerson’s return is likely to be on to the bench with WP Nel still injured but Magnus Bradbury could well be in line to start in the back row given the injury list and his form against the Dragons at the weekend. Bradbury (23) and Jamie Ritchie (22) were touted as future fixtures in the Scotland back row but they’ve got a pretty good opportunity to become important right now. Who would you put ahead of them that is fit?
The new group – somewhat indirectly – replaces injured Glasgow Warriors pair George Horne (shoulder) and Stafford McDowall (ankle), as well as another less-experienced group of David Cherry, Murray McCallum and Jake Kerr who are returned to their clubs
Finn Russell sustained a head injury during Racing 92’s TOP 14 clash with Toulouse in Paris yesterday and was withdrawn from play at half time. He is now subject to further monitoring and the graduated return to play protocol.
(Update 9/2/19) He did not satisfy the requirements of day two’s component of these protocols meaning there is insufficient time for him to be considered for this weekend’s action. He will now return to the care of his club’s medical team.
This leaves Scotland with a pretty big creative hole to fill in the midfield.
With Jones out, a Horne/Johnson partnership was likely but having guided Glasgow to victory against Cardiff at 10, now Horne the elder may have to focus on standoff, leaving the 13 shirt vacant.
James Johnstone might have seemed unlikely to fill it a few months ago, but he is in the form of his life and only unfamiliarity with the systems and other (Glasgow) players would be markers against him.
Stuart Hogg is not being considered for this Saturday’s game against France, following the shoulder injury he sustained against Ireland. That makes Blair Kinghorn the most likely to play 15, but whether Darcy Graham can unseat either Maitland or Seymour – or whether indeed he will be usurped for a bench spot by Dougie Fife – remains to be seen.
One thing is certain, the team that faces France will look very different indeed.