Scotland are preparing to face Australia in Sunday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final without forwards Ross Ford and Jonny Gray – despite lodging appeals against their controversial three-week bans.
The Scottish Rugby Union announced on Thursday it was challenging the punishments handed to hooker Ford and lock Gray for dumping Samoan Jack Lam on his head with an illegal two-man tip tackle during last weekend’s match.
But in a subsequent statement, the Dark Blues confirmed they are only appealing the length of the suspensions and not the finding of guilt itself.
With no precedent for a complete reversal of a ban, and the fact the team are now just two days away from taking on the Wallabies at Twickenham in their first quarter-final clash in eight years, it’s understood head coach Vern Cotter has already started planning for their absence ahead of Friday’s team announcement.
The SRU statement said: “Scottish Rugby will contest the length of suspensions given to the players following the Independent Citing Commissioner’s review of the final Rugby World Cup Pool B match versus Samoa on Saturday 10 October and subsequent ruling by Judicial Officer Christopher Quinlan QC.
“Both players have exemplary records and are widely acknowledged as model professionals who play the game in the right spirit. Their actions had no malice or harmful intention.”
Unless the Scots’ appeal is successful and they can then overcome the world’s No.2-ranked side, it appears both men’s tournaments are over.
For Ford, the decision looks especially harsh as it was Gray who lifted Lam’s legs, tipping the Samoan flanker on to his head.
While 21-year-old Gray will have opportunities in future to make amends, Ford – 10 years older – looks to have played his final World Cup match.
Teammate Finn Russell knows his colleagues are hurting but has vowed to use their pain as motivation when he runs out this weekend.
“We’re disappointed for the two boys but for the rest of us we’ve all got a job to do. Hopefully we’ll get it done this weekend,” he said.
“We’ve got to put that disappointment behind us and even use it as extra motivation. We need to go out and do it for the boys this weekend.”
The harshness of the sentences handed down to the Scotland pair has angered the Dark Blues camp, especially after a raft of similar challenges earlier in the tournament either saw smaller bans issued or the culprits go completely unpunished.
Australia flanker David Pocock, for instance, received only a warning despite thrusting a knee into Wales hooker David Baldwin’s midriff last week and is free to face the Scots.
Ireland’s Sean O’Brien was given a mere one-week ban for punching Pascal Pape of France, while South Africa’s JP Pietersen got off scot-free despite dropping Scotland’s Tim Swinson on his neck when the teams met two weeks ago.
Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson admitted he was concerned by the lack of consistency shown by World Rugby’s disciplinary panel.
“We hold Ross and Jonny in very high regard and as a result will be launching a robust appeal to challenge their suspensions, which we feel are unduly harsh,” Dodson said.
Scotland’s appeal comes after it emerged the referee in charge of their final Pool B fixture with Samoa, Jaco Peyper, told disciplinary bosses he did not feel the duo’s challenge merited further punishment.
The South African official saw the incident at the time but decided not to act.