GREGOR Townsend appears confident that all three of his players who were unable to join up with the national squad this week will be available for the Calcutta Cup match a week on Saturday.
And, while commiserating with Owen Farrell for being ruled out of the Six Nations by injury, the Scotland head coach predicted that the England captain’s likely replacement Marcus Smith would have an excellent tournament.
Bath forward Josh Bayliss was unable to train with the Scotland squad earlier this week after sustaining a head injury on club duty, while Worcester winger Duhan van der Merwe and London Irish winger Kyle Rowe have been suffering with unspecified illnesses. However, speaking at yesterday’s virtual launch of the Championship, Townsend sounded decidedly optimistic about their chances of returning to training next week and thus being available for selection for the home game against England.
“Josh is starting his return-to-play process today,” the coach said. “It has been delayed just until he is symptom-free. Both Kyle and Duhan are better with their illnesses but will not take part in our camp this week – but we believe they will recover over the next few days and be with us next week.
“All three, if they continue to make progress, will be with us on Sunday night and next week. We also have a lot of players who will be playing rugby this weekend so we will see how the players get through these games.”
England have had similar short-term issues, including the enforced absence of Joe Marler after he tested positive for Covid. Their head coach Eddie Jones believes the prop will be cleared in good time to be included in the squad for BT Murrayfield. But Manu Tuilagi has a recurring hamstring problem that could keep him out of the whole tournament, Jonny May has a knee injury that could prevent him from competing, and Farrell is definitely out for the duration as he requires surgery on an ankle surgery.
The loss of Farrell – England’s kicker and a pivotal figure in attack as well as their skipper – could prompt the visitors to make a significant change to their style of play if they choose Smith to replace him. Townsend is acutely aware of the different kind of threat posed by the Harlequins stand-off, with whom he worked during last summer’s Lions tour to South Africa.
“I’m really disappointed for him [Farrell] that he is injured,” he continued. “It changes things. Obviously Marcus Smith coming in in a key position changes the dynamic of how they play – he’s got some unique strengths and we saw them in the autumn.
“Marcus showed with Harlequins first of all in some big games that he can step up when his team’s behind – to help his team win, but also to score tries as an individual. He showed in the Lions the quality of the player he was in our training sessions.
“He was involved in one game, but we saw at first hand what a threat [he is] with ball in hand, how he’s got various options in attack, and he’s full of confidence. So yeah, if he’s selected then England will play a different way. They’re going to have to bring Marcus into the game and show his strengths, so we’ve got to negate that. We’ve got to be aware that it is a different style of rugby.
“And it’s great to see him grab his opportunities. I really enjoyed working with him in the summer and it’s been brilliant to see a player of his attacking ability thrive in the international arena, and I’m sure he’ll have a great Six Nations.”
Someone else who could be set for an outstanding Championship is Scotland centre Cameron Redpath, who had an outstanding Test debut last year against England but then suffered a knee injury that kept him out of action for the rest of the year. Townsend may decide that Redpath has not played enough rugby of late to merit inclusion against England, but is certain nonetheless that the Bath man could, if match fit, be a major player.
“He’s missed a lot of rugby, and just in terms of the physical side of the game he’s finding his feet. He’s played two games since he was out injured for about eight months and has gone well in those two games. They were very tough fixtures – away to La Rochelle, where he was playing at 10, and then at home to one of the best teams around just now, Leinster.
“We’re hoping he’ll get another opportunity this weekend for Bath against Harlequins. He trained really well yesterday, and we’ll see where we are with Cam and with the rest of the players as we head into England week and we have to decide on a 15 and a 23. But it’s just brilliant to see him back fit and playing again.”