Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has lamented the loss of Richie Gray for Saturday’s Test against Argentina just as the veteran lock was starting to re-establish himself in the national team.
The 33-year-old made his first start for his country in five years against Fiji a fortnight ago and then retained his place for last weekend’s agonising 31-23 defeat by New Zealand.
However, Gray was cited retrospectively for foul play in a ruck or maul against the All Blacks and subsequently handed a three-match ban by an independent disciplinary panel following a lengthy hearing on Wednesday, much to the bemusement of the Scotland camp.
His place will be taken by his younger brother, Jonny, for Saturday’s match against the Pumas.
“I’ve gone into hearings before feeling confident that what we’ve seen were rugby incidents, or incidents that don’t merit red cards or whatever,” said Townsend.
“But in the last couple I’ve ended up not even thinking about what the outcome could be.
“It lasted four-and-a-half hours. It started before we began training and it was still going on after we’d finished.
“They must have deliberated long and hard. I know Richie had no intent in his actions, he’s never been red-carded or cited in his career.
“It’s a blow for him and it’s a blow for us because he has been playing so well. It’s an opportunity for his brother to come in.”
The addition of the younger Gray brother is one of two enforced changes to the XV that started against the All Blacks, with Jack Dempsey coming in for his first start in place of the injured Hamish Watson.
Townsend is glad to have maintained an element of consistency in his starting line-up after what he felt was one of the team’s best performances in recent times last weekend, but has challenged his players to be more ruthless when they get into dangerous areas.
“There was a period of the game where we put together some of the best rugby we’ve played over the last two years,” he said. “That was against very high opposition.
“The sense of occasion and the atmosphere was special, so there were a lot of positives to take. But at the end of the day, it was a missed opportunity and there’s no getting away from that.
“The missed opportunity didn’t just result from how we played in that closing 15 minutes, but from the period when we did have that domination.
“We were close to the try-line, if not over the try-line, on four occasions (and didn’t score). The goal this week is to score more points when we have those opportunities.”
Townsend is hoping Scotland can round off a mixed 2022 on a high note by putting Argentina to the sword.
“The last game of any campaign is one you want to win because we won’t have the opportunity, as coaches certainly, to go again next week,” said the head coach.
“I’m sure the players are determined to finish with the best performance of the campaign and the season.”
Scotland played Argentina three times on their summer tour of South America, with the Pumas edging the series 2-1. Townsend expects a tough match.
“They were really good in the summer and they’ve carried that form on into the Rugby Championship,” said Townsend. “They obviously had that cracking win against England a few weeks ago.
“They are a quality side, one of the best teams in world rugby right now.”