SCOTLAND assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys hopes a Six Nations disciplinary panel will decide Fraser Brown’s yellow card against England was sufficient punishment for his offence and clear him to play against Italy on Saturday. The Glasgow Warriors hooker, who was sin-binned by the referee for a late and dangerous tackle in the opening minutes of the 61-21 Calcutta Cup defeat, faces a hearing in London today after citing commissioner Patrice Frantschi of France referred the offence to the independent three-person panel.
The panel has the power to suspend Brown, with the length of any ban depending on what they deem to be the severity of the offence. Scotland are likely to start with Ross Ford against the Italians and bring Edinburgh hooker Stuart McInally onto the bench if Brown is ruled out, but they could do without further disruption to the squad on top of a lengthy injury list.
“We’re obviously going to make contingencies in case he is banned, but we’re fairly hopeful that the right punishment was on the field because he [tackled English winger Elliot Daly] didn’t land on his neck,” Humphreys said yesterday. “We’re fairly hopeful that when they review that they’ll see that and he’ll be available.”
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In addition to the players already lost to injury either just before or during the tournament, Scotland will now be without Mark Bennett for Saturday’s match at Murrayfield, while Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Ryan Wilson must all complete head-injury assessment (HIA) protocols before being cleared to take part in what will be Vern Cotter’s last game as head coach of the national team.
Finn Russell, Huw Jones and Richie Gray will also need to be assessed before they are included in the squad, but as things stand no-one else will be drafted in. Cotter originally named a 37-man squad for the tournament, and in addition to McInally others who have yet to be called on are likely to be selected before the coach sees fit to call on outsiders.
Gloucester centre Matt Scott would be the obvious choice at centre if Jones joins Bennett on the sidelines, and Edinburgh winger Damien Hoyland is the other back yet to be named in the match-day squad – although Sean Maitland, fit again after missing the Wales match, is more likely than Hoyland to come onto the wing if Seymour is out. Hogg, who left the field after a head knock in an incident which might easily have seen an England player penalised, looks the most likely of the three HIA cases to be passed fit. Glasgow back-row forward Rob Harley is in the wider squad and could cover for Wilson, while Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis and Grant Gilchrist are there as second-row cover.
“We’ve always run the beginning of the week with the same 30 players and we’ll assess and make a decision at the end of the week in terms of who’s available and who’s not,” Humphreys explained. “When you get to this stage of the tournament there are always a few people you have to nurse through.
“Going into this game you’re generally not changing a lot. You want to get people back to full fitness so they’ve got as much energy as possible going into the last game.”