Rugby Union: Maggs promoted to centre as injury forces D'Arcy out

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THE FORMERLY dashing Mr D'Arcy extended his sincerest apologies yesterday, but regretfully he would not be able to attend this afternoon's little engagement at Murrayfield. Instead of taking a turn about the Edinburgh pitch with his emerald-costumed companions, he would be back home in Dublin, endeavouring to recover not from some common or garden ague, but from his sorely hamstrung state.

"You've got to dance with the ladies at the ball, I guess," the Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan was left pondering in a Murrayfield suite, after relaying the news that Gordon D'Arcy had failed to negotiate a morning fitness test and after announcing a subsequent change in midfield partners for his team's Six Nations test against the newly-inspired Caledonians this afternoon.

Colin Firth may or may not have come under consideration for D'Arcy's central role, but O'Sullivan has chosen Kevin Maggs to fill the breach left by the star turn of last season's championship. Maggs, of course, has spent the bulk of his professional playing career in Bath, with all of its Jane Austen Regency-age splendour, although his particular talents have been refined from those of a building labourer to those of a no-nonsense midfield demolition man.

Shane Horgan boasts similarly prosaic qualities and the 6ft 4in Leinster battering ram has been moved to the outside-centre berth vacated by Brian O'Driscoll. Girvan Dempsey has been promoted from bench duty to the right-wing.

O'Sullivan was quick to stress that D'Arcy and O'Driscoll - another hamstrung casualty of Ireland's struggle to win their Six Nations opener at the Stadio Flaminio last Sunday - are both expected to be back for the visit of England to Lansdowne Road on 27 February. "They weren't too far away from making this match," he said, "but there was a risk element, considering it's the second game of the championship and we have three more games to come after this weekend. I think it's sensible to err on the side of caution here."

And there Ireland were at Murrayfield yesterday, going through their pre-match paces with Maggs and Horgan in place of the fantasy partnership that had the Emerald Isle dreaming of Grand Slam glory just a week ago. "They're two world class players," O'Sullivan said, assessing the loss of his centres of supreme excellence. "It's a fairly serious setback. Losing two players of that calibre does change the dynamics of our back- line. It's up to us to address that and get it right."

And Scotland, for their part, will have to counter the reshaped Irish midfield dynamics. They might not have to fear the quicksilver running of D'Arcy and O'Driscoll, but they will need to find a way of containing the directness of Maggs and Horgan, and the greater scope Geordan Murphy is likely to have for thrusting a cutting edge from the nominal position of full-back.

That is, of course, presuming the Irish manage to gain a decent platform up front. In Rome, they were found wanting in the front-row and on the fringes. In Edinburgh, they have Johnny O'Connor back to forage from the openside flank - plus Paul O'Connell promoted to captain, in the absence of O'Driscoll, and Malcolm O'Kelly eclipsing Mike Gibson's all- time Irish cap record on his 70th appearance.

It remains to be seen, though, whether Scotland can pick up where they left off in the Stade de France last Saturday - where they left off in the 78th minute, that is. Matt Williams might have left Paris cursing Simon McDowell, the flagging Irishman who scuppered Ally Hogg's try-scoring intentions, but ultimately it was the momentary dallying of Simon Danielli and Hugo Southwell that cost Scotland and their Australian coach a prized draw, if not a famous victory. The great Scottish rugby recovery mission will require more of the same basic strategic stuff that had the French rattled for so long.

Fourteen months and 13 games into his tenure as Scotland coach, Williams has yet to preside over a positive result at Murrayfield. He has yet to win a Six Nations game too. It was different in his time as a coach in Ireland, when he led Leinster to the Celtic Cup - with a little help from O'Driscoll, and from the dashing young Mr D'Arcy.


Kick-off 4.0pm today (Live BBC1/BBC2)


C Paterson (Edinburgh) 15 G Murphy (Leicester)

S Danielli (Borders) 14 G Dempsey (Leinster)

A Craig (Glasgow) 13 S Horgan (Leinster)

H Southwell (Edinburgh) 12 K Maggs (Ulster)

S Lamont (Glasgow) 11 D Hickie (Leinster)

D Parks (Glasgow) 10 R O'Gara (Munster)

C Cusiter (Borders) 9 P Stringer (Munster)

T Smith (Northampton) 1 R Corrigan (Leinster)

G Bulloch (Glasgow, capt) 2 S Byrne (Leinster)

G Kerr (Leeds) 3 J Hayes (Munster)

S Grimes (Newcastle) 4 M O'Kelly (Leinster)

S Murray (Edinburgh) 5 P O'Connell (Munster, capt)

J White (Sale) 6 S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets)

J Petrie (Glasgow) 7 J O'Connor (Wasps)

A Hogg (Edinburgh) 8 A Foley (Munster)

Referee: J Jutge (France)

Replacements: 16 R Russell (London Irish), 17 B Douglas (Borders), 18 N Hines (Edinburgh), 19 J Dunbar (Leeds), 20 M Blair (Edinburgh), 21 G Ross (Leeds), 22 B Hinshelwood (Worcester).

Replacements: 16 F Sheahan (Munster), 17 M Horan (Munster), 18 D O'Callaghan (Munster), 19 E Miller (Leinster), 20 G Easterby (Leinster), 21 D Humphreys (Ulster), 22 G Duffy (Harlequins).