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Gregor Townsend braced to lose Lions star

By PA
Gregor Townsend - PA

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is braced for the possibility of losing Zander Fagerson for at least a portion of the World Cup after his red card in Saturday’s exhilarating 25-21 warm-up victory over France.

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The Scots produced a magnificent second-half fightback to overturn a 21-3 deficit at the break and record a morale-boosting 25-21 victory despite having the Glasgow prop sent off following a high challenge on Les Bleus hooker Pierre Bourgarit in the 50th minute.

Fagerson was initially yellow carded before having his punishment upgraded to a red a few minutes later after a review via the newly-implemented bunker system.

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With just two warm-up matches remaining – away to France and at home to Georgia – the Scots fear any suspension for Fagerson could carry over into the World Cup.

“Yes, of course there’s concern when someone picks up a red card,” said Townsend. “It’s a difficult one. The contact area is so fiercely competitive.

“France are a team that like to jackal and the hooker that Zander collided with is one of the best jackalers in world rugby.

“If it’s a timing issue or a height issue, yes, we have to make sure that we don’t get those head knocks, head collisions but there was no malice or foul play. It’s more from the rugby incident of mistiming on a ruck clear so we just have to hope that the judiciary see it the same as what we see.”

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Fagerson was handed a four-game ban after being sent off following a similar incident against Wales in the 2021 Six Nations, but Townsend does not believe this offence was as severe.

“I’ve seen the incident again and he does adjust his feet,” said the head coach. “The one from the Wales game he comes in very quickly and at the time it was very understandable because someone else hadn’t gone to the ruck clearance so he knew if he didn’t come in quickly, Wyn Jones would have got the jackal.

“On this occasion he did adjust his feet so there’s nothing reckless in wasn’t as much speed, it wasn’t reckless, he just didn’t get underneath the French hooker’s chest area which can happen in all the 200 ruck clears there are in a game.

“What I hope for Zander and for us as a team is that they see there is nothing reckless in there, nothing was out of control, it’s just a timing issue that he couldn’t get underneath the jackaller.”

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Townsend expects to find out Fagerson’s fate before their rematch against the French in Saint-Etienne next Saturday.

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“Automatically any red card would go to a hearing and we’d expect that to be done by Tuesday or Wednesday,” he said. “It would affect our plans for next weekend and our World Cup squad is announced a week on Wednesday so we’ll need to know before then.”

Scotland lost another key man in the shape of Ben White, who limped off in the first half with an ankle injury, but Townsend is hopeful that it will not cause the scrum-half to miss the World Cup.

“He’s much more positive now,” said the head coach. “He got his foot trapped under him when they kicked through, he got high tackled and got his foot trapped under him.

“It was an area where he had an issue at the beginning of our World Cup camp but he’s been training fully now for the last six weeks and in initial testing (after the game) it seems OK.

“He’s off to hospital just to make sure there’s nothing in the scan so fingers crossed that he’s OK. It might be that he struggles to train this week but hopefully he’ll be available for the World Cup.”

Gregor Townsend
PA

Townsend was proud of the way his 14-man team recovered to win the second half 22-0 after being outclassed by a second-string French side in the first half.

“Even though these are not Six Nations or World Cup games, it is a Test match in front of almost 60,000 people, so we know our job is to win,” he said.

“And when you are defending your line at the end, thoughts go through your head about whether we are going to hold out for the win.

“It was such an encouraging second-half performance and victory that it would have been a big blow if we hadn’t got that win.

“We showed much more of who we are in that second half, both in attack and defence. To do it with one less player for the majority of the second half is going to be really positive for the players’ level of belief.”

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