With mainstay tighthead Zander Fagerson a doubt for the upcoming 2023 Six Nations competition due to a hamstring injury, Gregor Townsend must look for a new starting Scotland prop. Fagerson will be a big miss from the side, having played 54 times since his debut in 2016, making him one of Scotland’s go-to starters throughout the Townsend era. So, who are the candidates to fill the big shoes that the Glasgow Warriors front rower leaves behind?
First up on the list is South African-born, Edinburgh Rugby tighthead WP Nel. Nel has been part of the Scotland setup since 2015 and has since received 50 caps for his adopted rugby country. He has also racked up over 180 appearances for Edinburgh in the decade he has spent in the capital. Despite being just a few months shy of 37 years old, Nel remains a crucial member of his club’s squad and is still utilised by Edinburgh coach Mike Blair, having started the 1872 Cup game against Glasgow just last week.
— WP Nel (@WP_Nel) November 13, 2022
Nel was part of both the 2015 and 2019 World Cup squads and his experience in the game, especially at scrum time, could be what gives him that starting Scotland prop jersey. It is unlikely that he could manage a full 80 minutes, but in today’s rugby that is rarely what is expected of front-row players. Townsend could start games strong with Nel at 3, before bringing on some younger, fresher legs in the second half to see the match through.
Irvine-born D’Arcy Rae currently plays his club rugby in the Gallagher Premiership with Bath, having left Glasgow Warriors at the end of the 2020-21 season. Rae has played just once for his country previously, back in 2019 against Ireland in the Six Nations, but has come into good form for Bath of late, making 28 appearances since late 2021. The 28-year-old has been a Scotland prop right through the age groups, playing U17s, U18s and even making an impressive 18 appearances for the U20s.
At 6ft 1 and almost 130kg, Rae has the potential to be the effective scrummager and strong ball carrier that Zander Fagerson is. Additionally, the experience that he is getting in not only the Premiership but the EPCR Challenge Cup this season too could be vital in getting him ready for international rugby as Scotland prop.
The youngest player on the list, and the most recent player to be capped for Scotland, is 23-year-old Murphy Walker. Much like the Scotland prop he is looking to replace, Walker also went to Strathallan School, just outside of Perth, before signing for Glasgow Warriors at a young age. He previously played for Stirling County in the Super 6 and then made the step up to professional rugby, making his competitive debut for the club against the Sharks, giving him the title of Warrior #334.
Walker has played just 10 times in total for the club from Scotland’s biggest city, but that has been enough to catch the eye of Gregor Townsend, who handed him his first cap as a Scotland prop when he replaced Fagerson against Fiji in November 2022. One major advantage to having Walker in the squad is that he can play both sides of the scrum, giving the team more options and tactics to play around with. Walker may not be the ideal candidate to start for Scotland in the final Six Nations tournament before the World Cup, but he could certainly be a useful player to have in camp.
The final candidate most likely to fill the Scotland prop position for the next few months is Simon Berghan, a tighthead that has played at both of the Scottish professional rugby clubs. After seven years in Edinburgh, Berghan switched the capital for the west and moved to Glasgow in 2021. Following his 91 appearances for Edinburgh, Berghan made his debut for Glasgow in an away match to Ulster and has since played in another 13 contests.
Although born in Christchurch, New Zealand, Berghan is eligible for Scotland through his grandfather and has represented Scotland on 31 occasions between 2017 and 2020. At 6ft 4, he is a towering prop, with bags of experience in the Scottish game. He may not have played for the BT Murrayfield side for some time but his commitment and work ethic are always clear to see whenever he gets a chance to pull on that blue jersey.
Outside shouts for Scotland props that may be called in to replace Zander Fagerson include former Worcester Warriors and current US Montauban trialist Murray McCallum, loosehead and tighthead specialist Oli Kebble and young up-and-comer Dan Gamble. While the loosehead position is nicely stacked with the likes of Pierre Schoeman, Jamie Bhatti and Rory Sutherland, Scotland has not been blessed with depth in the tighthead position in recent years. This long-term injury to Zander Fagerson will have Gregor Townsend wondering who can step up and make that Scotland prop position their own. </span
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