Scotland’s Six Nations injury crisis has deepened after it was revealed that hooker George Turner is out for eight weeks and will miss the entire tournament.
The 25-year-old suffered a knee ligament injury in Glasgow’s European Champions Cup win over Exeter Chiefs at Scotstoun on Saturday and the development putss fresh strain on Scotland’s depleted resources at hooker in particular and more widely in the front row.
Turner was in contention to back up Edinburgh’s Stuart McInally on the bench for the opening fixture against Wales in Cardiff a week on Saturday but now joins on the sidelines long-term absentee Ross Ford, and Fraser Brown, who has been stood down after suffering a series of head injuries.
Centre Alex Dunbar is undergoing return-to-play concussion protocols after suffering a head knock against Exeter and has not joined up with Gregor Townsend’s squad at the Oriam centre. Lock Richie Gray has also remained in France with his club Toulouse as he nurses a calf complaint. It is not yet known when the 28-year-old will make the trip to Edinburgh.
Scotland forwards coach Dan McFarland said: “George is out with a medial knee ligament injury. So he’s going to be out for around eight weeks. I feel really sorry for him. He’s gutted.”
Veteran Edinburgh hooker Neil Cochrane, 34, has been called into the squad as cover for McInally and Scott Lawson of Newcastle Falcons, who has returned to the Scotland fold three-and-a-half years since his last cap.
“Straight away. Like a duck to water,” said McFarland when asked how Lawson had fitted in after such a long spell away from the international scene.
“He was really good at training. We’ve been watching him since we came in as a coaching team. Scott’s been playing really well. The lads were down in Newcastle watching him against Exeter, he had a great game off the bench there.
“Lots of energy, set-pieces excellent. He brings a lot of experience to the squad. There will be guys who will relish getting to work with Scott. But there is no doubt he is here because he wants to play. We wouldn’t have him if he wasn’t desperate to get on the pitch.
“Cochrane helped us out in November. I was really impressed with Neil’s attitude. He brings a lot of experience too and there is a calmness to him. He’s able to give information and advice. He’s been around the block.”
On Gray, McFarland said: “We’re hoping he’ll be joining us at some point in the near future.”
As Scotland’s injuries continue to mount up there is some solace to take in the fact Wales, who provide the opposition in that crunch Cardiff opener in 11 days’ time, have suffered some significant blows of their own.
Lions stars Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau and Jonathan Davies are out for most or all of the tournament and there are now concerns over Dan Biggar.
With Stuart Hogg making a successful comeback at the weekend Scotland should be able to field most of their star turns at the Principality Stadium but have suffered significant attrition in the front row.
McFarland continues to preach from the same hymn sheet used in the autumn when a similar situation was dealt with admirably and talked up the opportunities there are for the taking rather than dwell too much on the injury setbacks suffered by Scotland, and indeed the Welsh.
“Do they balance each other? I haven’t really thought about that,” said the assistant coach.
“I read the newspapers. They have a few injury worries. Every team does. I don’t see it like that. We have a team to prepare and must prepare a good, positive atmosphere.
“This is a big opportunity for everybody. It is what it is. It will be the same for them. It will be upsetting for them to watch Dan Biggar going off with his arm in a sling.
“But you would be having heart attacks if you were worrying about that. Having said that, when somebody rang to tell me [tighthead] Zander [Fagerson] had dropped a bench on his foot I was not jumping around and talking about opportunity!”
McFarland, who moved from Glasgow to the national squad with Townsend at the end of last season, insists injury crises are something that modern coaching staffs are used to dealing with.
“Yes, that’s the way it is. When I coached at Glasgow I was forever interchanging people,” he said. “Internationals go away, some guys get injuries and you have to bring other guys in. It’s forever changing.
“When I was with Glasgow one of the most time-consuming aspects was introducing new players who arrived in October to all the forward plays, the gameplan, that kind of thing. Getting them up to speed when they might be playing at the weekend. It’s just the way it is.
“At Glasgow we had a second row crisis when Scott Cummings, Tjiuee Uanivi and Greg Peterson all got injured in one game and they were all out for six months. That was pretty difficult. But losing as many players in a position as crucial as tighthead, I’ve not seen that before.”