By Alan Dymock
WHEN SCOTLAND’S head coach and soon-to-be director of rugby says: “We have no-one else,” when the team’s No.8 goes down, it can send a shiver down Scots spines.
That one lonely sentence sums up the injury crisis Scotland currently find themselves in. Playing Italy in South Africa in the last game of their summer the boys in the darker shade of blue have seen captain Kelly Brown, Geoff Cross, Pat MacArthur, Ryan Wilson and Pete Horne fly home with injuries. Hooker Stevie Lawrie is still out there but plays no more part, much like fly-half Ruaridh Jackson, and now Johnnie Beattie is rated as 50/50 to play a part tomorrow.
Yesterday Scott Johnson was putting a brave face on his team’s disintegration.
“I said that this tour would be about broadening our base and that we’d find out about whether certain players were ready to play international rugby.”
However, today with Beattie’s battle to be fit, he has found himself admitting that they may have an empty spot on the bench should the Montpellier back-rower pull out. He said: We would probably have to put Fraser Brown [the uncapped hooker on the bench] in as the reserve cover and bring in Stevie Lawrie [additional cover at hooker].
“We will see how Beattie pulls up in the morning. He is a tough lad. His rugby is surprisingly tough, you talk about some of his skills but he is resilient and has played injured before.
“He has the ability to put it out of his head, so we will go late with it – one, because we have no choice and, two, because he has the character to carry it.”
Character will certainly be tested on Saturday. Scotland rebounded strongly after their humbling defeat to Samoa two weeks ago by running South Africa close. It was a hard-edged performance that rattled their hosts and did some much-needed repair work to their reputations.
They now face an Italian side also smarting from two losses, but who are not a shadow of themselves in terms of personal. A customary glance at the Azzurri bench where Leonardo Ghiraldini, Lorenzo Cittadini, Alessandro Zanni, Gonzalo Canale and Luke McLean sit in waiting tells you that the Italians plan an 80-minute assault.
Scotland have had to re-jig with David Denton coming in to start at blindside, Al Kellock is reinstated as Jim Hamilton returns to blighty for the birth of his second child and Tom Heathcote returns at fly-half with Jackson out.
This is the last significant day of a long, long season and both sides will just want to get to the other end. Nevertheless, there will be a dog fight before the final whistle goes and neither team will want to secede what pride they have left just to get over the line.
Perhaps with the pressure almost off some players will let it all hang out. Andrea Masi will be dangerous, Sergio Parisse always gives his best and Marco Bortolami is still hoping to get something out of a season where he has played almost no rugby at all.
As for the Scots, they will hope that Matt Scott can continue to show the touches of class that had South Africa on the back foot last week. Al Strokosch and Sean Lamont will also be expected to continue grinding and scratching forward.
This tour was always meant to be a development process running at the same time as the Lions. Circumstance has rendered it an ugly slog at times, but that does not mean it has to be a total bust. If Scotland can continue what they started last week they can end their season – at long last – on a good note.