SCOTLAND have been forced to postpone naming their team to face South Africa by 48 hours after Edinburgh prop Geoff Cross became the second player to be ruled out of the summer tour.
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The 30-year-old, who won his 22nd cap on Saturday, suffered an injury to the AC joint in his shoulder when he was tackled nine minutes from the end of the 27-17 defeat by Samoa in Durban. He was one of countless players treated on the field who resumed and played to the finish, but scans yesterday revealed that his injury, while not serious, would require at least several weeks of rehabilitation and so he would not be fit to play this weekend, nor in the final weekend of the Castle Lager Test Series.
He will join Glasgow hooker Pat MacArthur on a flight home today, while the Scotland management wait and hope for a more positive update on the hamstring injury suffered by the first-choice tighthead Euan Murray, as well as progress reports on a handful of other players. No decision has yet been made on a replacement for either player.
The SRU stated: “Captain Kelly Brown went for a scan in Nelspruit this afternoon on his ankle injury and further assessment will be required on the flanker. Scotland’s medical team also continued to treat the three other frontline casualties from the Samoa match – No 8 Johnnie Beattie (shoulder), and stand-off Tom Heathcote and centre Alex Dunbar (concussion).
“As a consequence of the injuries, the Scotland team to face the Springboks, which was due to be announced tomorrow, will now be named on Thursday.”
Scotland currently have two fit hookers in Scott Lawson and Steve Lawrie and only three fit props – looseheads Moray Low and Alasdair Dickinson and Jon Welsh, who arrived as a replacement for Lions call-up Ryan Grant on Sunday. The latter’s call to arms may have come as a result of an injury crisis, but the smile on the face of Welsh suggested that he wasn’t overly fussed. In fact, if Murray is indeed added to the absentee list ahead of the South Africa match, the smile may indeed broaden further as the Glasgow man considers the prospect of adding to his rugby education with an 80-minute battle with Tendai Mtawarira, otherwise known in these parts as “The Beast”.
Few could begrudge the 26-year-old his excitement, after he spent the first seven months of this season on the sidelines recovering from a serious shoulder operation, and he is making a habit of stepping in for injured team-mates. In last year’s RBS Six Nations, Welsh was hastily told to get himself stripped minutes before Scotland took to the field against Italy in the final championship match, when Allan Jacobsen suffered a calf injury in the warm-up. Now, just as he was preparing for pre-season training with Glasgow, he received a call to tell him that his team-mate Ryan Grant had been called to the British and Irish Lions tour in Australia, and so he was needed in South Africa. He was delighted to hear both bits of news.
“It was great and I’m delighted for Ryan, and obviously for myself,” he said. “It was mid- afternoon two days ago after Ryan’s call-up [to the Lions] that I got the phone call to come out. I just had to sort a few things out at home and that was me, up and away. I’ve been in at Scotstoun training keeping myself ticking over. Because I didn’t have anything planned [for holidays], I was just counting down the days to pre-season starting and so mentally I’m up for this.
“When an opportunity like this arises, you just want to go out and give it your all and hopefully that happens this weekend, if selected. We’ll have to wait and see until the team is announced, but it would be a massive opportunity. It’s great to be called out to a place like South Africa to represent your country, so hopefully that [Test selection] happens.”
Bizarrely, as we spoke in the chapel of the squad’s Nelspruit base, a hotel out in the countryside with small apartments spread out around the restaurant, the lights went out. Welsh, a qualified electrician to trade, asked if he was needed.
“I’m getting called up for all my trades here,” he quipped.
It was a lighter moment in what has become a darker place lately in the wake of Scotland’s opening Test defeat by Samoa in Durban. The squad is keen to find a way to eradicate the errors from Saturday and seriously improve their defensive ability before facing a Springbok side that comfortably saw off Italy on the same day. With the squad so depleted by the aforementioned injuries, Welsh is guaranteed at least a place on the bench. Mention of facing Mtawarira brings back the former boxer’s smile.
“South Africa being one of the best scrummaging teams in the world means it will be a tough test but that is definitely something that I would relish,” he said. “If you want to get to the top, you need to play the best. It will be a massive challenge, but one I hope to get. It doesn’t hold any fears. At international level you’re not going to get any easy opposition, as it always is with your club as well, so my head’s switched on and ready to go. And to get to international level you have obviously had to hone your craft at club level against talented players, which I’ve done, so I’ve got no fears of anyone.
“I don’t know what the plan is yet, but I can play both sides of the scrum and if I need to play loosehead then I will, though I see myself primarily now as a tighthead. But I’d play scrum-half if Scotland asked me to.”
Welsh could provide a welcome burst of infectious confidence this week, the prop having come to the game late after three seasons with GHA and impressive showings with the Scotland club international side eventually winning him a contract at the Warriors.
He is a character and after that Test debut against Martin Castrigiovanni, which went well for him even if Scotland did lose the game, he suffered the agony of going on tour to Australia with Scotland and sitting on the bench, but not being used, in the win over the Wallabies, and then aggravating the shoulder injury in training and being forced home to news of a major operation. Since his return, his mental strength has been challenged as much as his physical as he accepted an invitation from the Scotland and Glasgow coaches to have a go on the tighthead side of the scrum and bring new depth to a problem position in Scottish rugby.
Seven months out did not help the learning process, but it gave him time to concentrate on his gym strength and in the next couple of weeks will come the test of whether he is ready to anchor the Scottish scrum. It will be a big call, but Welsh insisted that he is ready. He could hardly say anything else, but there is a clear determination about the Glaswegian that suggests he will not want for aggression if he is called up this week.
While he insisted that he is hopeful that every player in the injured list comes through fit this week, there is little doubt that he would rather the challenge – the biggest in his rugby career to date – came this weekend against the Springboks.
He added: “It’s about taking the opportunities that come your way, whenever they come, expected or not. That’s it in rugby. When people ask about the hard times, and the injuries, it’s the amount of people who take their chances and how quickly they are propelled to the rugby heights that keeps you going really. Just look at Ryan [Grant] and Stuart Hogg, and people like that. When you get an opportunity you need to take it.
“Now, I’d just like to play and show what I can do.”