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Good news for Scotland head coach Cotter gives him an option ahead of crunch tie

Published 17/10/2015

Scotland's Blair Cowan claims his side are preparing for the biggest match of their lives when they face Australia in the World Cup quarter-finals
Scotland's Blair Cowan claims his side are preparing for the biggest match of their lives when they face Australia in the World Cup quarter-finals

Vern Cotter must decide if he is going to rejig his Scotland side with just 24 hours to go before facing Australia after forwards Ross Ford and Jonny Gray received a World Cup reprieve.

Hooker Ford and lock Gray thought their tournament was over after they were punished for a two-man tip tackle on Samoa's Jack Lam with three-match bans.

But they are now free to face the Wallabies in Sunday's quarter-final clash at Twickenham after winning a shock appeal.

The Scots lodged their challenge on Friday but Cotter was so pessimistic about their chances that he went ahead and named his side to face the Aussies without them.

However, in a surprise move, World Rugby disciplinary bosses have now overturned the suspension.

Now, though, having prepared all week with Ford's understudy hooker Fraser Brown and back-up second-rower Tim Swinson in his starting line-up, Cotter faces a difficult choice as he ponders recalling experienced number two Ford and Gray, a man already tipped as a potential future Scotland captain.

A spokesman for the Dark Blues would only say: "Both Ross and Jonny are available to play and the Scotland team are considering their options."

Ford and Gray were found guilty by independent Judicial Officer Christopher Quinlan QC of a dangerous challenge which saw Lam's head driven into the ground at a ruck clear-out during last weekend's final Pool B match in Newcastle.

Quinlan raised eyebrows, though, when he chose to ignore the views of match referee Jaco Peyper, who saw the incident live but decided it did not pose a risk to the Samoan flanker.

The decision to ban the duo angered the Scotland camp, with chief executive Mark Dodson labelling the punishment "unduly harsh".

However, when they announced their decision to appeal, the SRU made it clear they were only challenging the length of the punishment.

But there was better news when a World Rugby disciplinary panel led by South African Justice Lex Mpati announced their appeal verdict on Saturday afternoon following a hearing in central London, reversing the original decision completely.

In a statement, the governing body said: "Ross Ford and Jonny Gray (Scotland) are free to resume playing with immediate effect after successfully appealing against their three-week suspension for acts of foul play contrary to Law 10.4(j) (dangerous tackles).

"Having conducted a detailed review of all the evidence, including new submissions from the players and their representatives, along with all available camera angles, the Appeal Committee dismissed the finding that the players had committed an act of foul play as the player had not been dropped or driven and therefore the tackle was not dangerous.

"The players are therefore free to play again immediately."

But despite getting pre-match boost, Dodson is angry the Scots have been made to fret on the case all week.

He said: "We are delighted to see justice has been done. Ross and Jonny are now free to rejoin the tournament, ahead of the biggest game for Scottish Rugby in recent years.

"We find it hugely disappointing they were put in this position by a judicial process, which is inconsistent and unfair. Justice delayed is justice denied.

"It is regrettable that this has overshadowed a massive week for the sport and our focus continues to be on the match against Australia."

Even with Ford and Gray back in their line-up, flanker Blair Cowan admits the Dark Blues have never faced a bigger challenge.

The Scots will march into London looking to claim a semi-final slot for the first time in 24 years.

But to take that giant next step they will have to fight off a side which Cotter believes are favourites to go all the way.

However, London Irish back-rower Cowan - also given a second chance when he was called in to replace the injured Grant Gilchrist after missing out on the original squad - insists he will not blink as he stares down the Wallabies.

He said: "I'm very aware that this is probably the biggest game of my life. At the same time I've got a job to do and processes I need to go through before the game and I want to stay on task for that.

"We are aware that everybody is writing us off but if you don't have self-belief that you can genuinely win then there's no point going out ."

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