The Wales head coach, Warren Gatland, has spent much of the past few months either fielding teams seriously weakened by the absence of injured front-line personnel or losing the services of brilliant operators in the opening few minutes of major Test matches: think Adam Jones, the sport's best tighthead prop, and Sam Warburton, the form openside flanker in the international game, in the initial stages of last autumn's World Cup semi-final meeting with France. Fortunes changed yesterday when Gatland was able to announce – ahead of schedule – the return of two influential forwards for this weekend's Six Nations contest against Scotland at the Millennium Stadium.
Gethin Jenkins, the Lions loosehead prop and occasional national captain, will be back in the front row after recovering from a wrenched knee suffered on Heineken Cup duty with Cardiff Blues last month. Similarly, the highly-regarded Newport Gwent Dragons blindside flanker Dan Lydiate has shaken off an ankle problem and made himself available. Both men might easily have missed the bus for this one, as might Warburton, who lasted only 50 per cent of last weekend's compelling victory in Ireland before giving best to a leg injury. He too is fit to resume.
"Dan's return is timely," said Gatland, who took the opportunity to push the back-rower Ryan Jones up into the second row, thereby minimising the disruption caused by Bradley Davies's seven-week suspension. "As for Gethin, he brings a wealth of experience to the team."
The coach stressed that Rhys Gill of Saracens, who played in Jenkins's stead against the Irish, was unlucky to miss out. Gill cannot even make the bench, thanks to Paul James's ability to function on either side of the set piece.
Ireland, meanwhile, have made just one change to their starting line-up as they prepare for a crunch game with France, the title favourites, in Paris tomorrow evening. Keith Earls, the fleet-footed Munster back who missed the opening round of Six Nations business when his new-born baby daughter was admitted to hospital, replaces Fergus McFadden in midfield.
"Keith is buzzing," said the Ireland coach, Declan Kidney, indicating that things had taken a happy turn for the better on the family front.
Not that the Irish are in a particularly joyous place in the rugby sense, annoyed as they are about the deeply debatable late penalty awarded against the flanker Stephen Ferris that cost them victory over Wales.
"There's nothing to be gained from having feelings of grievance," Kidney said. "We can't do anything about it, we have a responsibility to the game and we have to move on. That's how life is."
In other words: "We wuz robbed."
France will take the field without Dimitri Yachvili, the cleverest game manager currently playing at Test level. The Biarritz scrum-half is suffering from aches and pains in his lower back, so the Clermont Auvergne goal-kicker Morgan Parra is promoted to the starting line-up with Julien Dupuy of Stade Français filling the vacancy on the bench.