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Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw admits he has been too busy trying to plot how to down Australia to comfort banned duo Ross Ford and Jonny Gray.
The Scots will battle the Wallabies for a place in the World Cup semi-finals at Twickenham on Sunday (Monday morning AEDT) but will have to do without hooker Ford and lock Gray.
Both men have been handed three-week bans for an illegal two-man tip tackle on Samoa’s Jack Lam.
Big moment: Willem Nel and Greig Laidlaw celebrate the win over Samoa. Photo: Getty Images
An appeal against the “unduly harsh” suspensions will be heard at 10am on Saturday morning in London but it appears head coach Vern Cotter has given up hope of having either available for the Aussie duel the following day after calling in Fraser Brown and Tim Swinson to take their slots.
There was further bad news on Friday morning with confirmation that inside centre Matt Scott had failed a fitness test after straining his back, with the Edinburgh man replaced by Glasgow’s Peter Horne.
With Australia heavy favourites to march on into the last four, the harsh reality is that all three may have played their last match at England 2015.
Banned: Scotland hooker Ross Ford is a huge loss for his side. Photo: Getty Images
Laidlaw is hurting for the distraught trio but admits he has yet to attempt to lift their spirits with the more pressing business of trying to find a way to upset those odds currently occupying his time.
The Gloucester scrum-half said: “We can probably do nothing at the minute to lift the boys. We need to focus on the game in hand. We will then pick these boys up later on if and when they get back.
“Unfortunately we’ve had to park that situation. Clearly we feel sorry for them but we have to concentrate on playing in the quarter-final of a World Cup.
“My job has been pretty easy getting the boys up for the match as they are desperate to play.
“Do we need to come out fighting after losing the three guys? We’d need to come out fighting regardless. We’re in the quarters on merit and deserve our place – we’re not just here to make up the numbers.”
With no precedent for a complete reversal of a suspension Cotter has gone ahead and planned for Ford and Gray’s absence.
There remains bitterness at the length of the punishments given to the Scots compared to the way other cases of a similar nature have been handled.
But Cotter is keen to re-focus on the Aussies.
“We’re used to these sorts of things,” the Kiwi insisted. “We just adapt and move on. We anticipate these problems even though we don’t like them.
“We’re obviously disappointed for the two players suspended but that’s politics and we don’t worry about [the way the citing was handled].
“We’ve got a very important game to look forward to and our chief exec Mark Dodson is looking after the other side of it.”
The fourth change to Scotland’s line-up sees Blair Cowan replace Ryan Wilson.
The Aussies have made the most of using two openside flankers Michael Hooper and David Pocock during the tournament but with the latter ruled out due to a calf strain they will revert to a traditional six-seven partnership after Ben McCalman was promoted from the bench.
Cotter, though, has decided to copy the Wallabies tactic after matching up London Irish’s Cowan with specialist seven John Hardie in a new-look back-row.
“We did that in the first of our warm-up games and we feel Blair is a cross-over,” explained Cotter. “He’s as good a six as he is a seven.
“We’re playing a team that likes front-foot ball and are impressive going forward. Having two people on the paddock who are quick and will anticipate and shut down some of their initiatives may help.”
Committed: Coach Vern Cotter. Photo: Getty Images
While Australia have shipped just one try so far during the tournament, the Scots have leaked nine – including four to Samoa in last weekend’s thrilling clash in Newcastle.
But Cotter admits his side cannot afford to switch off like they did at St James’ Park if they are to have any chance.
He said: “Australia haven’t lost a game yet so they are the form team. They are favourites not only to beat us but to go on and win the World Cup.
“They are a team which I feel is most dangerous at the end of the game.
“They have pulled away from good teams right at the end so we will pay the price for even the smallest lack of concentration.
“The big focus is maintaining pressure, getting a grip on them, play our game but stay with it for 80 minutes. We need to play right to the end. If we can start well we can keep with them. Then anything can happen.”