STUART HOGG is set to miss Scotland’s next Six Nations match against France, which is a week on Saturday, due to the shoulder injury he sustained against Ireland last weekend – but national team head coach Gregor Townsend is “very hopeful” of having the talismanic full-back available for the final two games of the Championship against Wales at home on 9th March and England away seven days later.
The coach dismissed media speculation yesterday [Wednesday] morning which claimed that the Scotland camp were concerned that Hogg “may have sustained a stage-three shoulder tear” which – if the case – would likely require surgery and “rule him out of not just the Six Nations, but the rest of the season”, leaving the 26-year-old in “a race against time to be match-fit in time for the start of the World Cup in Japan in mid-September”. In response, Townsend insisted instead that the true extent of the injury would not be clear until a specialist had reported back last night.
“Well, it’s news to me that he’s out for the Six Nations as we’re still waiting to see how he recovers,” said the coach. “He’s currently in the process with the shoulder expert we use, and I think it’s safe to say that he’s probably not going to be an option for the French game, but we’re hopeful that he’ll take a big part in the tournament after that – but we’re still waiting for that information.
“I’m very hopeful that he’ll get good news and that he’ll be available to play some part in the Six Nations.”
“I don’t think there’s any tear,” Townsend added. “He obviously landed on the point of his shoulder and there was some damage to his AC joint, and from that it’s how quickly it can recover, and whether it has done any more damage which didn’t seem to be the case after the game.”
Asked on clarification of what the injury was, Townsend replied: “A blow to the AC joint.”
He was then pushed on whether the selection panel might be tempted to be extra cautious about such an important player – who has not had his injuries to seek in recent seasons – during the remainder of the Championship, especially with the World Cup now just over seven months away.
“I think any player who is ready to play, we would consider him ready to play,” he replied. “Stuart came back in very quick time from his ankle injury for November and did very well for us then. Any player coming back has to pass a number of tests for them to be ready to play Test rugby, they have to be physically ready to do that.
“So, with his injury, a lot will happen, first of all in the reference we get from the expert, but also in how it improves over the next week.”
Hogg picked up the injury midway through the first half of Saturday’s game when he landed awkwardly after Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony dropped the shoulder and took him out after the ball had been kicked ahead. The incident was not picked up by match referee Romain Poite at the time, and despite Ireland scoring off that passage of play it was not referred to the Television Match Official.
Townsend is clearly frustrated with the way the situation was handled at the time, but in accepting that it wasn’t a red card offence he recognised that there is nothing which can be done about it afterwards, although he has registered his thoughts via the usual post-match feedback protocol.
“It’s disappointing,” said the coach. “It was a double-whammy for us at the time in that we were without a player for that sequence of phases when we lost the try and it would have been nice to go back to the TMO because it was part of that sequence of play, and then we lost a key player for the rest of the game. So, really disappointing for Stuart and the rest of the team.
“When TMOs come in they’ve got more chance of being conclusive,” he added. “If the referee thinks that he clearly saw what happened then that’s fine, but the game moves fast – we understand that referees won’t see everything – and because a try has been scored you would have thought that would be the perfect time to say: ‘Can we check on that? It happened just behind me and obviously one of the players has been injured – so can we have a chance to look at that slowed down?
“Our try that wasn’t a try, when Sam Johnson almost scored in the corner, they didn’t just go back to see whether Sam had scored it, they looked back at three phases earlier when Blair Kinghorn had a forward pass.
“So, we just look for more consistency there, especially when a player gets injured.”
“We brought up a number of incidents,” Townsend replied, when asked if he had made his views clear to Alain Rolland, World Rugby’s High Performance Match Officials Manager. “This happens normally so it wasn’t just this specific game. We’ve had feedback back from our feedback but that’s probably private between ourselves.
“When you look at the incident again, and they’ve had time to review it, then obviously an offence occurred there.”
Other injury updates
Meanwhile, centre Huw Jones remains in a similar wait-and-see situation to Hogg with respect to the knee injury he sustained against Ireland.
“He got a scan yesterday, so we are waiting for a report back,” explained Townsend. “We know he is unlikely to be involved in the France game and we will see after that.
In terms of players coming into contention, Townsend said the progress that Toulouse-based Richie Gray has made after an injury ravaged couple of seasons is encouraging, but suggested that he was not inclined to rush the second-row.
“He will be playing against Finn Russell on Sunday, so we hope that both of them get through that game,” he said. “Richie has got ground to make up and there are fewer opportunities in his position as our second-rows apart from Sam Skinner are healthy. Richie has played one game and he was very rusty in that. He’s had two weeks off since then so I’m looking forward to see how he goes.
There is not the same embarrassment of riches in the back-row, so Townsend is likely to keep a keener eye of John Hardie – and presumably his Newcastle Falcons team-mate Gary Graham – this weekend.
“I just got an update that John ran yesterday for the first time for a couple of weeks so that was a positive,” he said. “I don’t know if that means he’ll play at the weekend as he has been carrying a knee and a foot injury. Last week we had to send him back to Newcastle because of his knee and he didn’t play at the weekend.”
Townsend also said that Sale Sharks Byron McGuigan is expected to return to action with his club this weekend, which adds to the national team’s back three options in the absence of Hogg.