Franco Smith is optimistic Glasgow pair Kyle Steyn and Jack Dempsey will be in contention for the start of Scotland’s Six Nations campaign, while he anticipates Rory Darge returning for “the back end” of the tournament.
Winger Steyn has been sidelined since late October with an ankle injury while back-row duo Dempsey and Darge have been sidelined since November and late December respectively with knee and face injuries.
All three remain absent as Glasgow face Exeter at Sandy Park on Saturday in a match crucial to their prospects of progressing in the Champions Cup.
But Smith hopes to have Steyn and Dempsey back for next Friday’s match at home to Toulon, three days after Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend names his Six Nations squad and a fortnight ahead of the opening match away to Wales.
The prognosis on Darge is better than initially suspected but he is not expected back until towards the end of February, a month in which Scotland will play three of their five Six Nations fixtures.
The matches away to Italy and Ireland in March appear more realistic for the 23-year-old, who missed the whole of last year’s tournament through injury.
“Jack has trained well this week, he came through everything,” Glasgow head coach Smith said on Friday. “He’s had a non-contact week leading into contact at the back end and next week he will be clear.
“Kyle is the same. He has had his first full week of training. They are now well prepared and I think both of them can be available for selection next week.
“With Rory, we had good news on his MRI. His prognosis is six to eight weeks from the injury, and two weeks of that has already gone, so I definitely think he will make it by the back end of the Six Nations but that will depend on Scotland’s involvement as well.”
Smith has made six changes to his side for the Exeter clash. Scotland back-rower Matt Fagerson returns after a month out with a facial injury but hooker Johnny Matthews – the top scorer in the United Rugby Championship – is rested as he recovers from a minor ankle issue.
Gregor Hiddleston, 22, will make his professional debut in place of Matthews in the number two jersey as Warriors bid to pull off an away win against their Gallagher Premiership hosts and remain in touch with top two Northampton and Exeter.
“I don’t want to add more pressure to what there already is,” said Smith. “We know the Champions Cup is tough and we know what needs to be done. We’re approaching it almost with a Test match feeling.
“There is not going to be much room for error with the way Exeter play. Our execution needs to go to the next level. As we’ve turned the page now and are into 2024, it’s important for us to get more cohesion and get a better outcome from our processes.”
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