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Scotland boss Vern Cotter handed squad fitness boost

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter has been handed an RBS 6 Nations fitness boost after a clutch of his struggling players declared themselves fit to face Wales.

Cotter has been left sweating since losing skipper Greig Laidlaw and back-rower Josh Strauss for the remainder of the tournament.

Both men were hurt during last week's 22-16 loss to France, a bruising affair that also saw flanker John Barclay, his replacement John Hardie and hooker Fraser Brown exit after suffering head knocks.

But Cotter feared insult had been added to injury when Sean Maitland and Mark Bennett suffered blows at the weekend.

Saracens wing Maitland trudged off clutching his ribs midway through his club's clash at Gloucester on Friday night, while centre Bennett was left spinning with a possible concussion during Glasgow's defeat to Ulster in Belfast the following day.

However, both players rejoined Cotter's squad at their training base on the outskirts of Edinburgh on Monday morning and, while they sat out training, they are expected to be part of the Kiwi's plans for Saturday's clash with Wales.

And there is further good news after Barclay, Hardie and Brown, as well as Ryan Wilson, who missed the France clash through illness, also reported back for duty.

Number eight David Denton, meanwhile, made his return for Bath at the weekend after spending five months out with a hamstring tear.

He will not be considered for the showdown with Rob Howley's team but could make a return next month when the Scots round off their campaign against England and Italy.

Defence coach Matt Taylor said: "They've all come into training today and they are being looked at by the medical staff.

"Neither Mark nor Sean trained today but we hope they will be right tomorrow."

That should cheer Cotter after the disappointment of losing his influential skipper.

Laidlaw suffered ankle ligament damage during an accidental clash with team-mate Alex Dunbar, who has himself shaken off a head knock suffered during the defeat in Paris.

His pin-point goal-kicking and cool-headed decision-making during the heat of battle have made the Gloucester scrum-half a key figure for the Scots in recent years.

But Taylor insists there no shortage of contenders ready to take on the mantle of leadership.

"We haven't made a decision on the captaincy yet but we have a number of leaders within the group," he said.

"Jonny Gray captains Glasgow and John Barclay captains the Scarlets, so we have a lot of guys who help Greig out.

"We will be looking for that again this weekend."

Laidlaw's number-nine jersey is now up for grabs, with the Glasgow pair of Ali Price and Henry Pyrgos the two leading candidates.

Price climbed off the bench at the Stade de France when Laidlaw limped off but that was just his second Test appearance.

Pyrgos has 18 caps under his belt and a wealth of experience skippering Warriors in domestic and European competition, but is only just back to full fitness after a troublesome knee injury.

Whoever gets the call to start this weekend, though, Taylor insists they will not let Scotland down.

"We have a plan we want to execute but Henry and Ali have different strengths," he said.

"Ali is very exciting with ball in hand while Henry is good with his organisation and kicking. Both will have big parts to play.

"Vern has sat down with the leaders and talked about their roles. Rugby is a game where people get injured and the next person has to step up. We are looking to them to come to the fore.

"Both nines have been in the squad since the start so they know the systems and they know the rest of the guys well. Both will be important whether they start or finish."

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