SCOTLAND appear to have given up hope of having Jonny Gray and Ross Ford available for their Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Australia on Sunday, despite lodging what they termed “a robust appeal” against the three-week suspension imposed on both players.

Although the two forwards pleaded their innocence when charged with foul play during the team’s last match against Samoa, the appeal, announced yesterday, was only against the severity of the sentence, not the finding of guilt. The decision to proceed on that basis was made after a close reading of the judicial officer’s 16-page judgement, and reflects the team management’s belief that a plea for mitigation has more chance of success than a forthright protestation of innocence.

The apparent acceptance that Gray and Ford will both still be banned even if that plea succeeds has also allowed head coach Vern Cotter to prepare his squad on the understanding that neither man will play any part in the match at Twickenham. There is another, optimistic reason for opting to pursue what the camp believes is a more profitable line of argument: if the suspension on either man is reduced, they will then - working on the presumption that Scotland beat the Wallabies - be available for the later stages of the World Cup.

“Scottish Rugby will appeal against the suspensions issued to both Ross Ford and Jonny Gray,” the national governing body said in a statement issued on Thursday morning. “It will contest the length of suspensions given.

“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. Ross and Jonny have both expressed their surprise and disappointment at the three-week suspension which has been handed down.”

Mark Dodson, Scottish Rugby’s chief executive, added: “We hold Jonny and Ross in very high regard, and as a result will be launching a robust appeal to challenge their suspensions, which we feel are unduly harsh. I have asked for consistency in how such incidents are punished.”

Last night Rugby World Cup had yet to announce it had received notice of the appeal. A hearing normally takes place within 48 hours of receipt. That could still happen before Sunday’s game, but the priority for Scotland is righting a perceived wrong, rather than attempting to rush through what has become a labyrinthine legal process.