Scotland have finalised a squad of 35 for the four-match Autumn Nations Cup but Sean Maitland’s return could be brief, and there will be no fans at Murrayfield during the competition.
As Gregor Townsend indicated earlier in the week, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne is the only addition to the original group named for the first two games of the autumn against Georgia and Wales, although Maitland is added after being left out for the Wales game, as the head coach had confirmed would happen.
Maitland was one of a group of players released by their respective nations to play for the Barbarians against England two weeks ago, but a number of them including the Scotland wing broke the coronavirus “bubble” protocols for the invitational side causing the game at Twickenham to be cancelled.
Disciplinary action against the players concerned is still pending, with the RFU presiding as the Barbarians come under their jurisdiction.
If Maitland is banned for any time as a result, Scotland would be obliged under World Rugby regulations to apply the sanction.
In the meantime there will be no “returns” policy between the national squad and the Edinburgh and Glasgow camps for the new tournament. Richie Gray, who returned to the squad after a two-year absence, has been returned to Glasgow – he’s currently dealing with a concussion injury – along with Rob Harley and wing Ratu Tagive.
Scotland will play Italy, France and Fiji on successive weeks in the Nations Cup, followed by a fourth game against opposition and at a location determined by the results of the first three games.
The French and Fiji games are at BT Murrayfield, but Scottish Rugby yesterday finally confirmed that there will be no spectators at the stadium for those games or the fourth game if it takes place in Edinburgh.
The governing body has been pro-active in trying to get fans into stadia for matches working in close consultation with the Scottish Government, and ran British sport’s first pilot scheme admitting just 1000 fans to Murrayfield for a game between Edinburgh and Glasgow back in September.
However, the re-imposition of restrictions aimed at stemming Covid-19 infection means that Scottish Rugby’s hopes of even a handful of fans – they’d originally hoped for up to 20,000 in the 67,000 seater stadium, although they say they’d budgeted for it to be empty – has dashed their plans.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting many aspects of public life in Scotland the move by the Scottish Government to a new tiered level of restrictions on travel and households meetings across the country means it will not be possible to host spectators at BT Murrayfield in Edinburgh for the Autumn Nations Cup in November,” said a statement from Murrayfield.
“Scottish Rugby has consulted with the Scottish Government regularly on this matter and they agree it will be unlikely crowds will be possible in the coming weeks, due to the restrictions now in place.
“We are disappointed supporters won’t be able to come to the stadium this autumn, but consultation continues with the Scottish Government in the expectation crowds can return at some capacity soon and specifically for the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, should the public health guidelines allow.”
Scotland squad: Forwards – Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Jamie Bhatti (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Cornell du Preez (Worcester Warriors), Matt Fagerson – (Glasgow Warriors), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs), Nick Haining (Edinburgh), Oli Kebble (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh), Blade Thomson (Scarlets), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh).
Backs: Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Exeter Chiefs), Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, capt), George Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), James Lang (Harlequins), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Steele (London Irish), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh), Duncan Weir (Worcester Warriors).