STUART Hogg has yet to take contact in training with Scotland after making a faster than expected return from injury, but the national selectors now have high hopes that the full-back will be able to feature in the Autumn Tests. The announcement of the team to face Fiji this weekend has been put back a day to Thursday, and although other injury doubts contributed to that decision, the extra time could allow Hogg to prove he is now ready to play again following ankle surgery. If it is decided that Saturday is too soon, Blair Kinghorn should retain the No 15 jersey, with Hogg then focusing on a return against South Africa and/or Argentina.
The Glasgow player was one of six additions to the Scotland squad yesterday as Gregor Townsend assessed the damage from Saturday’s defeat by Wales, with three other Warriors also called up: centre Nick Grigg, uncapped lock Scott Cummings and No 8 Adam Ashe. Josh Strauss has also been recalled as back-row cover after a long period in the wilderness, while Duncan Weir similarly returns after a long time out and will provide backs cover.
Leicester’s David Denton and Matt Scott of Edinburgh have been released back to their clubs after sustaining head knocks, Blade Thomson may be out of action for the three Tests after being concussed playing for Scarlets against Edinburgh, and James Lang has dropped out after injuring his ribs while playing for Harlequins. Dougie Fife, Ross Ford and Henry Pyrgos have also been released back to Edinburgh, who have the week off in any case.
The balance of the back-row looks particularly problematic this week given the loss of Denton and Thomson, but it is the early recall of Hogg that will provide the big talking point in the coming days. Injured while playing against Munster in early September, he stayed on the field for most of that game, and subsequently travelled to South Africa with Glasgow on PRO14 duty before being sent home once the extent of his injury was realised. It was after he had ankle surgery on 21 September that a prognosis of 10-12 weeks on the sidelines was made, so any return this month would be ahead of schedule.
“He’s made a bit of progress, but there’s a bit more to make just to make sure he’s ready to go – and I think the next few days will determine that,” Scotland assistant coach Danny Wilson said yesterday (Monday). “He’s made really good progress in his re-hab, he’s worked extremely hard in a short space of time, and he’s shown me how important it is for him to play for Scotland.
“He’s desperate to play rugby full stop, desperate to get back out on the pitch, and he’s made real good progress, done everything that’s been asked of him. From our point of view as well it would be great to have him back out there, but we have to make sure we do our due diligence and he does his and we put him out there at the right time when he’s fully fit. And hopefully the next few days will dictate when that will be.”
Asked if Hogg would feature in later Autumn Tests even if he was not passed fit to play against Fiji, Wilson continued: “At this stage we’re definitely hopeful of that, but we have to wait and see how the next three days go. It’s quite an important week ahead.
“He’s not [taking contact] in this environment, no. He’s just come back today, so there’s a few boxes to tick yet.
“I think he wanted to play Friday night for Glasgow and he wants to play at every opportunity – that’s what I’m learning from him. He’s desperate to play at every opportunity for both his club and country, and it would be great to get him out there. He’s had his bumps and knocks as we know, but I think part of the process is getting him out there and passing running tests and slowly but surely getting himself fully fit for contact and the intensity of playing international rugby.”
Asked about the chances of Thomson’s returning to the squad and making his debut this month, Wilson suggested that the Scarlets forward’s case was similar to that of Hogg: the coaches are keen for him to be involved, but will wait patiently until there is certainty that he is ready. “It obviously looked like quite a nasty injury on Friday night, so we’ll have to wait and see. Blade came in for the first couple of weeks and from his performances with the Scarlets and how he’s trained and what he’s shown in the camp, he’s an exciting player that we’re desperate to get involved. But we might have to wait a little bit longer for that.”