Scotland coach Gregor Townsend insisted he had no issues with John Hardie’s disciplinary problem last season as he welcomed the openside flanker back to the national squad for the Six Nations.
Hardie was suspended for three months in November 2017 after what was widely reported to be alleged cocaine use and released by Edinburgh at the end of last season. The New Zealand-born forward, who has 16 caps, has since resurrected his career at Newcastle Falcons and Townsend was clear that the door had never been closed on his Scotland chances.
“No not at all, he hasn’t been involved in squads with us because of injury,” said the coach, who yesterday named his initial 39-man squad for the tournament, which starts on February 2 with the visit of Italy to BT Murrayfield.
“He [Hardie] came back to Newcastle after being out in training with [French club] Clermont around the time of the November Tests. That was pleasing he came back and started playing, and he’s played really well over the last few weeks.”
Hardie, 30, has since won an extended contract at the Falcons and returns with hopes of winning his first Scotland cap since the June 2017 loss to Fiji in Suva. He boosts back-row options with the news that captain John Barclay is highly unlikely to play any part in this year’s tournament.
Barclay ruptured his Achilles last May and hasn’t appeared for his new club Edinburgh, with his recovery time being pushed steadily back in recent weeks.
“I don’t think so,” said Townsend when asked if his skipper was likely to feature in the Six Nations. “He’s not on that list that’s due to come back before the France game [February 23]. He may come back [for Edinburgh] towards the end of the Six Nations. That’s going to be too late for him to play for us.”
Townsend was philosophical about a lengthy injury list he said was part of life in top-level rugby but hopeful some big names could re-appear as the tournament goes on, including 66-times capped Toulouse lock Richie Gray.
“Richie’s trained fully these last two weeks so he’s targeting coming back the week before the Italy game, that’s a week on Saturday, if all goes well in training the next two weeks,” said Townsend. “He’s not played since pre-season so it’ll take him two or three games to get back to full match fitness for his club, never mind international rugby, but it’s pleasing and encouraging to know he might be back in the next few weeks.”