Rugby Union: Scotland clear-out fuels Irish optimism

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Rugby Union

STEVE BALE

The Irish consider they have an outstanding chance of improving their dire recent record against the Scots and yesterday's selection of most of the Scotland A team who lost to Italy for the Five Nations opener at Lansdowne Road on Saturday week will not have affected that mood.

It is based on the decent showing of the Irish provinces, notably Leinster, in the inaugural European Cup as well as the elevated level of competition this has given the leading players. The Scots, on the other hand, chose to stay out of Europe this season and were lucky to draw with Western Samoa before their Italian misadventure.

The glaring problem of last Saturday's 29-17 defeat in Rieti has been addressed by restoring Michael Dods on the wing, to kick the goals that Rowen Shepherd has been missing rather than as a runner-in of tries. Other changes bring the restoration of Doddie Weir at lock and Ian Smith at open-side flanker with the captain, Rob Wainwright, reverting to blind side.

"The selectors wanted to give most players another chance," Jim Telfer, Scotland's team manager and director of rugby, said yesterday. This means no place for the Lions stand-off Craig Chalmers, whose recall had been anticipated with Gregor Townsend returning to outside centre. Instead Townsend, Dods' team-mate at Northampton, continues in his original position.

More striking than the changes from the A game, which was a full Test in all but name, is the clear-out since the Samoans were at Murrayfield in November with only eight of that team playing in Dublin.

Telfer justified the midfield reselection of Townsend, Ian Jardine and Scott Hastings by pointing out that the Italy match had been their first in each other's company. "Hastings is the best defensive centre we have," the manager said. "It was a new back division that faced Italy and the half-backs took time to settle down."

The Irish in contrast have been sparing in their changes with just a couple of those who beat the US Eagles at the weekend in Atlanta missing out. Peter Clohessy returns at prop in place of Paul Wallace while Jeremy Davidson comes in at blind-side flanker.

Rather more interesting, and intriguing, is the selection of John Gallagher in the centre for the A team against Scotland A on 19 January. After a less than successful career in rugby league, the former All Black full- back returned to union this season and has played for Harlequins and the Irish Exiles.

IRELAND (v Scotland, Dublin, 20 January): J Staples (Harlequins, capt); R Wallace (Garryowen), J Bell (Northampton), K McQuilkin (Bective Rangers), S Geoghegan (Bath); E Elwood (Lansdowne), C Saverimutto (Sale); N Popplewell (Newcastle), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Clohessy (Young Munster), G Fulcher (Cork Constitution), N Francis (Old Belvedere), J Davidson (Dungannon), D Corkery (Cork Constitution), P Johns (Dungannon). Replacements: M Field (Malone), P Burke (Cork Constitution), N Hogan (Terenure College), D McBride (Malone), A Clarke (Northampton), H Hurley (Old Wesley).

SCOTLAND: R Shepherd; C Joyner (Melrose), S Hastings (Watsonians), I Jardine (Stirling County), M Dods; G Townsend (Northampton), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K McKenzie (Stirling County), P Wright (Boroughmuir), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), D Weir (Melrose), R Wainwright (West Hartlepool, capt), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Gloucester). Replacements: K Logan (Stirling County), C Chalmers (Melrose), D Patterson (West Hartlepool), P Burnell (London Scottish), J Hay (Hawick), S Murray (Edinburgh Academicals).

Ireland A team, Sporting Digest, page 23

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