Scotland are counting the cost of their 26-13 win over Japan in the first Test of their summer tour.
Alasdair Dickinson has dropped out of consideration for Saturday’s second, and final, match – with Gordon Reid on his way out to join him.
Glasgow Warriors’ Reid will join the squad in Tokyo today, with fellow prop Dickinson heading home for further care and assessment on an injury. The Edinburgh player damaged a hamstring in the third minute of Saturday’s victory at the Toyota City Stadium.
In addition, the fitness of four other Scotland players is giving cause for concern, though there do not appear to be any immediate plans to replace them.
John Barclay (shoulder), Willem Nel (knee), Duncan Taylor (hamstring) and Ryan Wilson (knee) all require further treatment and might be forced to miss the match at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium. None are being replaced at the moment.
In the case of Taylor, Barclay and Wilson, there is already enough cover within the squad and although losing Nel would be a major blow, the Edinburgh man is confident he will be able to play some part in the game.
Edinburgh prop Nel said: “I should be okay for next week. They came out all guns blazing and they are a physical team so it took us a while to break them down. It was a fairly close game. We need to get quicker to the breakdown and not give away silly penalties.”
The match in Toyota City provided Nel with his second Test try – which came early in the second half against 13 men and allowed his side to relax and control the match.
He continued: “I don’t go into games looking to score a try but if it happens, it happens.
“It is good to get over the line. They have run us close. We need to go back to the drawing board, especially at the breakdown.
“We were in their 22 four or five times then gave penalties away. We need to tighten up and see us through.”
Nel, South African-born and qualified on residency, is one of only four props in the squad so if he does not recover in time, Scotland could be in trouble with not enough props for a complete set on the replacements bench.
Head coach Vern Cotter was dissatisfied with elements of Scotland’s performance, but acknowledged the result at the Toyota Stadium trumps all other matters.
The Dark Blues drew first blood in their two-Test tour of Japan after taking advantage of the Brave Blossoms being reduced to 13 men either side of half-time following two yellow cards.
In that period, the visitors scored 14 points which ultimately proved crucial between the two teams, although Cotter lived up to his reputation as a tough man to please by admitting his side need to improve before next week’s second and final Test in Tokyo.
Cotter said: “We got the essential, which was a victory, and we created a number of opportunities. Another week together will help improve cohesion and help to get some of those opportunities to stick.
“Our set-piece held up. There were a couple of balls lost. Our defensive line out was okay. Our discipline was probably the key to it. We made more errors and they turned over a fair number of balls to us, which enabled us to get the pressure off.
“Our presence at ruck time was good. We could not string certain things together but there are ingredients there that will help us play big games and keep possession for longer.”
Captain Greig Laidlaw booted the conversions to a penalty try and Nel’s score and added four penalties, taking his tally on Saturday to 16 points.
He had a similar sense of frustration to his coach in that a number of things had gone right, including the ruthless way they exploited the two yellow cards handed out to their opponents, but there were still mediocre spells.
“Fits and starts, sometimes we were good, sometimes we weren’t,” he said. “I don’t know if we switched off because we have not played for that length of time. We will look to tighten up in a few areas next week to make sure that is not the case.
For Mark Hammett, the interim Japan coach, there was a lot of pride in the effort and determination of his players, particularly in defence, but frustration that in the end poor discipline cost them badly.
Shota Horie’s converted try put the 2019 World Cup hosts 7-3 ahead and they led 10-9 before Hendrik Tui and then Rikiya Matsuda were sin-binned, allowing Scotland to take advantage.
Hammett said: “They [Scotland] brought what we expected them to bring, very confrontational in attack.
“They looked to the set-pieces, which we generally managed – not always but I thought we got a pass mark for that. The second Test will be really intriguing.
“Ultimately the yellow cards were fair yellow cards, but were made worse when you are under the microscope for earlier ones. For any team, you have got to get your discipline right.”