Vern Cotter reckons Edinburgh’s recent upswing in form provides a real boost to Scotland ahead of next month’s autumn Test series against Australia, Argentina and Georgia.
Cotter named eight capital players in his 31-man squad and hailed the improvement under interim head coach Duncan Hodge, who has presided over three wins in a row.
There was a blow for Edinburgh and Scotland, however, with the news that tighthead WP Nel has been ruled out with a neck injury and Rory Sutherland has a groin problem, but their loosehead club-mate Alasdair Dickinson, who has been out injured, returns to the squad along with uncapped Allan Dell.
Nel has become a crucial player for club and country but has missed games recently with a neck complaint, although he did play in the win over Harlequins at the weekend. Hamish Watson is rewarded for his excellent Edinburgh form but there is no place for South Africa-born back-rower Cornell du Preez, who is now Scottish qualified but has had limited game time this season. Ex-Edinburgh centre Matt Scott misses out at centre, with Saracens’ Duncan Taylor included in the midfield group.
Damien Hoyland gets the nod amongst the wingers, with Ross Ford, Stuart McInally, Grant Gilchrist and John Hardie completing the Capital contingent.
Cotter admitted the loss of Nel was a big blow. “He saw a specialist again yesterday. I spoke to [SRU head doctor] James [Robson] this morning and it’s still unclear exactly what it is,” said Cotter. “He’s had this niggling neck injury.
“At the moment it seems there’s no operation needed. Rest is the best thing for him, so he’s been given a minimum four-week rest period then he’ll be assessed from there.
“If there’s anything else that comes out, it will be given as soon as we know it. I tried to find out more this morning. It was only yesterday. When we were naming the squad, he was going to be involved.”
Cotter praised Edinburgh’s recent run under Hodge, which has seen wins over Treviso, Timisoara and Harlequins “I think it’s important to have a game where a player can express himself,” said the national coach in an apparent vote of approval in interim Edinburgh chief Hodge’s more adventurous approach to that of the departed Alan Solomons. “I thought the game against Harlequins was a good game. Seeing players take initiative is important.”
South Africa-born back-rower Du Preez is now qualified on the residency rule, but has not played much as he recovers from ankle surgery at the end of last season.
“Cornell played very well last year, but he’s had this ankle injury that he’s still not fully recovered from,” said Cotter. “So we’re aware of what he can do and just waiting for him to be fully fit. Magnus has come through. We’ve seen him progress his game. Three months ago I probably would have said he wouldn’t be involved but seeing the progress he has made has been great.
“And I’d say Hamish [Watson] has made progress as well. I think his game is developing. It’s exciting times at Edinburgh with young players coming through.
“Look at Blair Kinghorn. We considered and looked at him. He played very well last week. We’d like him to back up a few more games like that before he becomes involved.”
Cotter, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that his time as Scotland coach will go no further than the end of this season.
Speaking to the media for the first time since it was announced in August that his contract would not be renewed and Glasgow Warriors coach Gregor Townsend would take the reins of the national team in June, the New Zealander indicated that it was not his decision to leave and that he will go with unfinished “objectives”.
“Holistically I understand [the decision], said Cotter at Heriot-Watt’s Oriam high performance centre. “As a competitor you’re always disappointed if you want to go places and have objectives in mind. That’s natural but it’s done, we just move on now.
“The decision was made to put Gregor in place and I think it’s a good decision. The executives made that decision and I respect it. The deal is the deal now, so we just get on with the job and get on with these last eight games.”