Scotland’s Six Nations campaign has been boosted after several key players returned to training.
Gregor Townsend’s side are preparing to take on England at BT Murrayfield next weekend which could decide their campaign after defeat to Wales and a win over France in their opening games.
Their preparations for the trip to Cardiff – which ended in humiliation – were hampered by the enforced absence of several front row forwards, but props WP Nel and Zander Fagerson have returned to training to bolster the pack, while hooker Fraser Brown is also nearing a return but will not be fit to take the field against England.
Edinburgh tight-head Nel has been absent since suffering a broken arm in the autumn international opener against Samoa, while Fagerson picked up a foot problem at the start of January, but the pair were spotted training at an open session at Townsend’s old club in Galashiels.
“He (Nel) is running around,” the Scotland head coach said. “He trained with us on Wednesday and we are just having a look.
“Zander trained with us today because Glasgow have a game so we will see how they get on this week and potentially next week we will be able to make a call on whether they are available, or it could be after the England game.”
On Brown, he added: “We hope he will resume full training next week, but that’s likely to be with his club but he should be back available pretty soon.
“It is a huge boost to have those experienced players in similar positions is a boost.
“The other is Richie Gray and we will know more this weekend whether he will be back full training too.”
Gray is another who has been a long-term absence after suffering a succession of back and calf injuries and at the start of the tournament it was feared he could miss the whole competition, but Townsend is optimistic he could return for the final two matches.
The second row remains with his club in Toulouse, but is being closely monitored ahead of a potential return.
Townsend said: “He’s not with us, (but) he should know over the weekend whether he can resume full training.”
Meanwhile, Townsend has played down the significance of last year’s mauling at Twickenham as Scotland prepare to host England next week.
The Scots were humbled 61-21 in London 12 months ago and England head to Edinburgh for the third round of the 2018 tournament as heavy favourites for a comfortable win.
Townsend’s squad bounced back from a crushing defeat to Wales in this season’s opener by beating France, but there is still a suspicion they lack the experience to turn up in the crucial matches, which Welsh boss Warren Gatland exploited so effectively.
“I think last year is irrelevant because it was at Twickenham and it happened a year ago,” he said. “There will be parts to the game that we will look at because England played a certain way against us in attack and defence.
“Who knows what they will do in a week’s time but that was successful so they might do something similar, but the players have experienced that and we will use that to prepare.”
Townsend conceded there is still a lot of room for improvement against Eddie Jones’ back-to-back champions.
He said: “We will have to take it up another couple of levels.
“We had opportunities we didn’t take and there were times we have to defend better.
“We know England are the number two team in the world and have been very consistent, you have to be on your game and do everything well to beat these top teams in the world.”