Injuries force Hadden into major reshuffle
When the fog cleared around Murrayfield yesterday and Frank Hadden came to reveal his team for Saturday's Six Nations Championship encounter in Dublin, Scotland's head coach was accompanied by his two assistants, Alan Tait and George Graham. David Bowie might have been a more appropriate companion, because "Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes" was very much the theme of the late-morning announcement in the Hawthorn Suite.
After striking a couple of bum notes in their opening two games, losing to the tune of 27-6 against France in Edinburgh and 30-15 against Wales in Cardiff, Scotland will have a new captain, a new outside-half and a minimum of four changes in personnel when they run out for the first time at Croke Park. They could yet have more reinforcements in their ranks, because the naming of 13 players yesterday was not a cunning plan of Baldrickian dimensions (with the possible intention of luring the hosts into a false sense of security) but a temporary measure while Hadden and his assistants assess their back row options following the latest freak accident to befall the jinxed rear-gunners in their pack.
Jason White has already been ruled out of selection in that department, having failed to recover from the knock on the head that he suffered in the early exchanges at the Millennium Stadium 11 days ago. His role as captain has been passed to scrum-half Mike Blair, who has led by shining example when called upon to lead Edinburgh this season. White's place as blindside flanker has been given to Alasdair Strokosch, who has distinguished himself in the Gloucester No 6 shirt this season.
A former Scotland age-group karate international, Strokosch has only one cap, courtesy of a 10-minute cameo against the Wallabies at Murrayfield in 2006. John Barclay is a veteran of three Scotland appearances but the Glasgow player's selection as openside flanker depends on how he recovers from a spot of domestic bother that left him with nine stitches in a finger wound. "He was having dinner with friends, holding a glass in his hand on a chair, when somebody sat on the glass," Hadden reported. "Sadly, there was no damage to the person's rear end."
By unhappy coincidence, a bout of food poisoning forced Simon Taylor out of the Stade Français starting XV last weekend and, given that he is still coming back from a thumb injury, the Scot with the Wilkinsonesque medical record has been ruled out for the numbers seven and eight spots to be decided after Hadden and his staff assess Barclay's handling in training today.
The other changes resolved yesterday brought Scott MacLeod in for Jim Hamilton in the second row and Simon Webster in for Nick De Luca at outside centre while Chris Paterson switches from the left-wing to replace Dan Parks at outside-half and Rory Lamont returns after injury to fill the No 11 jersey vacated by Paterson's move. Only time will tell whether it has all been an exercise in deckchair rearrangement, although the object, naturally, is to raise the Scots from the depths of two abject performances.
"We know exactly what we need to do to fix the problem," Hadden maintained. "We're expecting a much more vigorous performance. We're expecting to make it much more difficult for the Irish defence than we did for the Welsh defence."
It remains to be seen whether that Irish defence will include Brian O'Driscoll. The Ireland captain suffered a tightened calf muscle in training yesterday but was still named at outside-centre in a starting XV featuring two changes to the team beaten 26-21 in Paris the Saturday before last: Tommy Bowe for Geordan Murphy on the right wing and Mick O'Driscoll for Malcolm O'Kelly in the second row. "We expect Brian will be fine," Eddie O'Sullivan insisted, though the Ireland coach has kept Luke Fitzgerald with his squad in case Shane Horgan is required to step up from bench duty.
Saturday's Dublin teams
15 G Dempsey (Leinster)
14 T Bowe (Ulster)
13 B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt)
12 A Trimble (Ulster)
11 R Kearney (Leinster)
10 R O'Gara (Munster)
9 E Reddan (Munster)
1 M Horan (Munster)
2 B Jackman (Leinster)
3 J Hayes (Munster)
4 D O'Callaghan (Munster)
5 M O'Driscoll (Munster)
6 D Leamy (Munster)
7 D Wallace (Munster)
8 J Heaslip (Leinster)
Replacements: 16 R Best (Ulster), 17 T Buckley, 18 P O'Connell (both Munster), 19 S Easterby (Scarlets), 20 P Stringer (Munster), 21 P Wallace (Ulster), 22 S Horgan (Leinster).
15 H Southwell (Edinburgh)
14 N Walker (Ospreys)
13 S Webster (Edinburgh)
12 A Henderson (Glasgow)
11 R Lamont (Sale)
10 C Paterson (Gloucester)
9 M Blair (Edinburgh, capt)
1 A Jacobsen (Edinburgh)
2 R Ford (Edinburgh)
3 E Murray (Northampton)
4 N Hines (Perpignan)
5 S MacLeod (Scarlets)
6 A Strokosch (Gloucester)
7 AN Other
8 AN Other
Replacements: 16 F Thomson (Glasgow), 17 G Kerr (Edinburgh), 18 J Hamilton (Leicester), 19 AN Other 20 C Cusiter (Perpignan), 21 D Parks (Glasgow), 22 N De Luca (Edinburgh).
Kick-off: 5pm (BBC 1), Referee: C Berdos (France)
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