The British and Irish Lions expect injured Scotland forwards Zander Fagerson and Hamish Watson to be fit for the opening match on South African soil after they were ruled out against Japan.
Fagerson suffered a back spasm while scrummaging that prevented him from training on Thursday and Watson was withdrawn 24 hours earlier after being concussed during an accidental collision on the practice field.
It reduces the Scottish representation in the starting XV for Saturday’s pre-tour curtain raiser in Edinburgh from four players to two – wing Duhan Van Der Merwe and loosehead prop Rory Sutherland – with scrum-half Ali Price featuring on the bench.
Warren Gatland originally picked a large home contingent as a nod to the fixture being staged at Murrayfield, where a crowd of 16,500 will be present for only the Lions’ third match on these shores.
“It’s bad luck for Zander and Hamish given the Lions are playing in Scotland for the first time ever, but I’m sure they’ll be raring to when we get to South Africa,” attack coach Gregor Townsend said.
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“You do have to feel for them. At least they’re not missing out on a tour or a Test match. Those are the big ones.
“Obviously this means a lot to the players selected, especially with the fact we have a crowd this weekend in Scotland.
“I’m sure the silver lining is that they’re not serious injuries and are not missing that plane for the Lions. They’re in good hands to be ready for our next game.”
The Lions will play the first of eight fixtures in South Africa against the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg on July 3 when Fagerson and Watson, the current Guinness Six Nations player of the year, could make their delayed debuts.
Tadhg Furlong takes Fagerson’s place at tighthead prop, creating a vacancy for Kyle Sinckler on the bench, and Justin Tipuric comes in as a straight replacement for Watson at openside flanker.
“We were still hoping this (Thursday) morning that Zander would be able to turn it around,” Scotland head coach Townsend said.
“Both him and the medics have been working really hard to get him fit for this weekend, but it wasn’t worth pushing because he still felt some pain today.
“It’s the first game on tour and we obviously have three tightheads on tour. The best decision for the tour party and for Zander is for him not to play this weekend.
“It’s disappointing for him, and for Hamish too. Hamish was on the bike today, so that means he’s on the return to play protocols, so you just hope that goes smoothly.”
The Lions arrive in Edinburgh on Thursday evening having spent the last 11 days at a training camp in Jersey preparing for their first meeting with Japan and improving overall conditioning for the tour.
South Africa has seen a rising number of coronavirus cases and has entered a form of lockdown, meaning the Lions will soon face greater restrictions.
“We’re aware of the situation. We’ve talked a lot about the protocols we have to follow while we’re here in Jersey,” Townsend said.
“When we go to Scotland, they’re going to be that little bit stricter. We’re aware in South Africa it will be different conditions.
“I’m sure our bubble will be much tighter than it has been here. We’ll be staying in hotels on our own. It’s what we must do to play for the Lions and deliver a winning Test series.”
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