Scotland’s man of the autumn series, Huw Jones, is facing a race against time to make the start of the Six Nations.
The Stormers centre, who has enjoyed a stunning start to his Scotland career with two tries against Australia a couple of weeks ago and a brilliant assist against Argentina, is out of tomorrow’s third and final autumn Test at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park with a foot injury he sustained in the act of setting up Sean Maitland for the Scots’ only touchdown in the 19-16 win over the Pumas.
Scotland’s next match after tomorrow’s Georgian Test is their Six Nations opener against Ireland at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, February 4. However, Scotland coach Vern Cotter admitted it could be a couple of months before the 22-year-old is ready to take the field again.
“I think Huw is four weeks anyway before starting rehab, six weeks before back training so it’s two months before back playing, depending on how it goes,” said Cotter. “He’s in a [protective] boot now so we’ll see if he’s available for the Six Nations.”
Mark Bennett replaces Jones tomorrow to partner his Glasgow team-mate Alex Dunbar in midfield and Cotter has picked a back row he feels is equipped to deal with the “rough and tumble” that Georgia’s ultra-physical pack will bring to tomorrow’s match.
Cotter has picked Glasgow forward Rob Harley in his starting XV for the first time since the 2015 Six Nations, with the blindside joined in the back three by Ryan Wilson and openside Hamish Watson. Despite some impressive performances in the past two Tests against Australia and Argentina, John Barclay drops to the bench, while Magnus Bradbury, the 21-year-old who made his Test debut last weekend, doesn’t feature this weekend.
The other changes from the side that beat Argentina 19-16 last Saturday is Ross Ford who returns at hooker and Richie Gray has recovered from his possible concussion to pack down again with brother Jonny in the second row.
“We have opted for Rob Harley at six for his experience at the set phase. We are playing against a team that likes rough and tumble and Rob will give us that strength in here,” said the coach.
“Having Barclay on the bench is great and having that experience to keep shape so when he comes on; it’s going to be a game that will be physical so it’s about keeping clear heads.
“Ryan’s there for his skill set as well, he has got that attitude and that is infectious, other players are buoyed on by his enthusiasm, but he’s getting more and more accurate in his game, and we feel accuracy going to be more important than a lot of other things.”
Cotter is good friends with the Georgia coach Milton Haig and has worked with Georgian players in France. The Kiwi coach is full of admiration for the strides the east Europeans have made in recent years and insists Scotland are braced for a very tough afternoon.
“We respect Georgia enormously,” said Cotter. “I coached Georgian players and I know their mindset. I know how they feel about their jersey and their country and they are well coached.
“There could, unconsciously, be a relaxing [from Scotland] after playing Argentina and getting a win. But I think there’s enough discipline and enough standard setting being done within the group to make sure standards don’t slip for this game.
“Georgia are looking for recognition for the work they’ve done, and this gives them a clear opportunity against Scotland and it’s something they’ve been asking for. It will be a tough old game of rugby.
“They gave the All Blacks a real carry up during the World Cup. They’re not only physical but they also want to move the ball, they’re trying to develop that part of their game. I imagine they’ll want to play to their strengths but they’ll want to show they can do other things as well.
“They have a combative mindset so they don’t mind the forward orientated game, they express themselves well at it.
“A lot of them come from judo or wrestling backgrounds over there so in that man-to-man thing they excel at. They’re a good bunch.”
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (c); Allan Dell, Ross Ford, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray, Rob Harley, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson.
Subs: Fraser Brown, Alex Allan. Moray Low, Grant Gilchrist, John Barclay, Ali Price, Pete Horne, Rory Hughes.
Georgia: Merab Kvirikashvili; Giorgi Aptsiauri, Merab Sharikadze, Tamaz Mtchedlidze, Sandro Todua; Lasha Malaghuradze, Vasil Lobzhanidze; Beka Bitsadze, Mamuka Gorgodze (c), Vito Kolelishvili, Giorgi Nemsadze, Kote Mikautadze, Levan Chilachava, Jaba Bregvadze, Mikheil Nariashvili.
Subs: Badri Alkhazashvili, Kakha Asieshvili, Dudu Kubriashvili, Lasha Lomidze, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, Giorgi Begadze, Beka Tsiklauri, Shalva Sutiashvili.
Tomorrow, 2.30pm. Rugby Park. Referee: M Carley (ENG).