Backs coach O’Halloran reckons Scots can cover injuries

Jason O'Halloran watches training
Jason O'Halloran watches training
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Scotland backs coach Jason O’Halloran is confident the Dark Blues will have a strong midfield against England despite Alex Dunbar joining fellow centres Mark Bennett and Peter Horne on the treatment table.

Dunbar suffered what the Scottish Rugby Union termed a “mild” thigh strain during Glasgow’s win over Racing 92 on Saturday while Bennett sat out full training as the Scotland squad gathered in St Andrews for a RBS Six Nations training camp after suffering a shoulder injury in the first Champions Cup fixture between the teams in Paris last month.

Horne is struggling with a foot injury and another Glasgow and Scotland centre, Richie Vernon, was ruled out of the squad following shoulder surgery.

But O’Halloran feels there is plenty of cover for the Six Nations opener on February 6 and it was the forwards division that head coach Vern Cotter strengthened by calling up Glasgow prop Alex Allan and Edinburgh back-row Hamish Watson.

On Bennett, O’Halloran said: “He’s a day to day proposition at the moment. He is doing some jogging today and, based on how he comes out of that, we will graduate his training. He is a possibility to play but the medics will make that call next week.

“If you look at Peter Horne, Mark Bennett, Duncan Taylor, Matt Scott, there is some depth there now. So that’s really comforting for me, we have four quality centres right there that we can choose from. I’m sure with a bit of work from the medical team we will go into the England game with a really good midfield.”

O’Halloran is a new addition to Scotland’s coaching staff and the New Zealander believes there is much to be excited about in his role.

The former Manawatu Turbos head coach said: “I’m excited about the talent, there are a lot of guys playing well.

“Mark Bennett is an outstanding young talent, Duncan Taylor has been playing really well for Saracens and has a bit of knowledge about England with the defensive system Sarries run. So he is a valuable guy.

“Matt Scott is playing well, Stuart Hogg is starting to play some really good rugby. Finn Russell is a really good player at this level and is coming off an excellent World Cup. Greig Laidlaw is an outstanding leader of the group. So the back line is something I’m really excited about and I’m keen to get to know them better and bring the best out of the group.

“I’m massively excited. First up is the Calcutta Cup match in front of a full house at Murrayfield so you can’t wish for anything better than that.”

Scotland lost every game in last season’s Six Nations but they have been buoyed by a positive World Cup campaign when they were two minutes away from a quarter-final victory over Australia.

“They are coming off a solid World Cup and will have learned a lot about playing in big games like this.

“I certainly think we can carry a lot more confidence into games. If you are more familiar with your role and understand it better, you can really bring another level of physical intensity to the game, and that’s really where our focus is.”

O’Halloran refused to set lofty ambitions for the campaign though.

“I don’t know about winning it, we just have to take one game at a time and the first hurdle is England, which is going to be a massive, massive challenge with Eddie (Jones) in there as the new coach and a lot of disappointed players after the World Cup.

“So they will be really hungry and wanting to make a statement and we have to match their physical intensity.

“It’s one step at a time, that’s the key thing, rather than getting too far ahead of ourselves.”