Robinson's surprise as John Barclay bombed for Ross Rennie
Wednesday 01 February 2012
South of the border at least, it will have come as a bombshell five days out from the Calcutta Cup collision in the west end of Edinburgh. There they have been down in red rose country, making do and mend without a specialist openside flanker, and there was Andy Robinson at Murrayfield yesterday, dropping John Barclay to bench duty.
Magnificent at seven in Scotland's narrow defeat at Twickenham in last season's Six Nations, Barclay might have been considered a banker for selection in many eyes but the Glasgow player – not quite at his best since the World Cup – makes way for Edinburgh's Ross Rennie in Saturday's championship opener.
"This is Ross Rennie's time," Robinson, Scotland's head coach, said. "It's time to give him that spot. He's slightly different to John. In terms of the speed of game we want to play, I think he'll quicken it up. That's the reason for selecting him ahead of John.
"Ross was unlucky at the World Cup and since coming back from New Zealand he's played well for Edinburgh in the games he's started. He's performed as an international rugby player."
It will raise English eyebrows all the more that Rennie could not even get a starting spot on the open-side flank in Edinburgh's Heineken Cup victory against London Irish 10 days ago, losing out to Roddie Grant. Still, the 25-year-old has been highly regarded by Robinson since his time coaching Edinburgh, and as a former England and Lions No 7 Scotland's head honcho knows a thing or two about the No 7 role.
Rennie made his debut against Ireland in the 2008 Six Nations but then spent the best part of two seasons battling to overcome knee problems. He made the Scotland squad for the World Cup last autumn but was given just the one start, against Georgia.
Robinson has made eight changes from the starting XV beaten 16-12 by England in Scotland's final pool game at Eden Park on 1 October. Another of them is in the back row, Rennie's Edinburgh team-mate Dave Denton claiming the No 8 jersey following a series of dynamic displays in the Heineken Cup.
Capped off the bench against Ireland at Murrayfield in August, Denton narrowly missed the cut for Scotland's World Cup squad and was playing for Edinburgh Academicals a year ago. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, he has a Scottish mother and his uncle Johnnie Cole-Hamilton is an executive directive of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
"David was unlucky not to go to the World Cup," Robinson said. "He has forced his way into the team – with his ball-carrying, with his defensive ability and his enthusiasm for the game, which is abundant."
At 6ft 5in and 17st 11lb, the mobile Denton will add further size to the Scotland pack. At 5ft 11in and 13st 9lb, Lee Jones, the sole debutant, will bring pace and proven try-scoring ability to the right wing but can be sure of being tested by a Charlie Hodgson bomb or two.
With Ruaridh Jackson on the injured list and, as expected, Dan Parks getting the nod at fly-half, England can expect to encounter some aerial stuff themselves. Robinson, however, bridled at the suggestion that Parks' inclusion meant his team would be playing "a limited game". "You think about the way we played against Wales two years ago when everybody said we were going to kick the ball," the Scotland coach said. "You think about the way that Glasgow played when they ran Toulouse off the field two years ago. Dan was the fly-half both times."
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