SCOTLAND forwards coach John Dalziel kept his cards lose to his chest yesterday when asked for a prognosis on Jamie Ritchie, who picked up a hamstring injury playing against England on Saturday, but we know that the flanker will definitely miss this coming Saturday’s away match against Wales and it is expected that he will be out of action until well beyond the end of this Six Nations campaign.
“It’s to do with the back of a hamstring and possibly down to a slippery pitch,” explained Dalziel. “He went backwards and almost did the splits. He felt something go in the back of the leg and was strapped pretty quickly.
“He’s with the medical team at the moment and trying to find out what’s happened. We will find out and see what his return looks like. Hopefully, it’s not too bad and we can get him back as soon as possible.
“He’s had his scan and we’ve got the results, so it is just a case of talking through that and seeing how long he is going to be missing for.”
While acknowledging that the loss of Ritchie is a blow, Dalziel was quick to stress that it is not an insurmountable set-back.
“He’s been one of the top players for us for the past few years, and he’s really grown as a leader as well, so he’s a big miss but our squad has been prepared for that because it’s a very physical competition,” said Dalziel.
“Ahead of going to Wales and trying to back up [the win against England] we’re looking at the depth of our squad and ways we can freshen up, so we’ll be prepared for who can come in, and we’ve got a lot of good players who could fill that role.”
Magnus Bradbury came off the bench for Ritchie on Saturday, however Sam Skinner’s line-out expertise means he might be a better fit to start in Cardiff if the Scotland coaching team want a like-for-like replacement. Edinburgh’s Nick Haining and Andy Christie of Saracens are also options, while Dalziel insisted that Rory Darge – the uncapped Glasgow Warriors player – should not be ruled out even though he is generally viewed as an out-and-out openside.
“Jamie, when he first started, was a seven and the model we went for was having two sevens in the back row, which helped his development into a hybrid player who is useful at the lineout – and that’s a strength in Rory Darge’s armoury as well in terms of lineout” reasoned Dalziel.
“So, he gives us that option as well as he’s played a lot at eight [at Scotland under-20s level], and in terms of that skill-set he ticks a box, which allows Hamish to play as well. We have a lot of different horses for courses and it’s about finding a blend to counter the threat that Wales will pose.”
Bath back-row Josh Bayliss would also have come into this conversation, but he has not yet returned to the squad following a concussion.
“It was one of those complex ones that had a little bit more symptoms, so we want to be careful with that,” explained Dalziel. “It’s been a couple of weeks, and with the movement and travel it’s better for Josh to just stay where his [club] medical team are. Hopefully he’ll be back to play some part in the Six Nations.”
Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s Dave Cherry was added to the training squad yesterday, with Dalziel insisting that this has nothing to do with a concern about the availability of any of the three hookers – George Turner, Stuart McInally and Ewan Ashman – named in the initial 39- strong group.
“We’re really lucky with the depth we have at hooker at the moment,” he said. “Dave was a huge part of the Six Nations last year when he came in and played wonderfully, and Fraser [Brown] was in at the weekend as well.
“We want to try and get everybody involved at some point and not wait until there’s an injury or a concern. We want these guys to have an understanding of the systems and how if differs from the club they’re play at, to make sure that we have six or seven hookers available that can come in and do a job.”
Dalziel admitted that he would like to see his big forwards have a more prominent role with ball-in-hand this week, after Scotland’s starting front-five managed just 14 carries for a combined total of 58 metres between them against England, compared to 31 carries for 128 metres made by their opponents..
“We had maybe two or three periods when we looked at our best, but it just wasn’t our most polished performance,” he conceded. “And that’s encouraging, because historically we might have lost that game, but we found a way to win it. We’ll be better going forward.”