As if Scotland, who have lost all three of their Six Nations games, did not have enough on their plate ahead of tomorrow's visit to Dublin, the Inter-national Rugby Board served up more misery yesterday by ruling against the London Irish midfielder Steve Shingler's bid to play for them.
Shingler was named in the Scottish squad for the tournament, only to run foul of eligibility regulations. It now appears he is either a Welshman or he is nothing.
Born in Swansea to a Scottish mother, Shingler played for Wales in an Under-20 match against France last year. While appearances in age-group fixtures do not usually prevent players switching allegiance at senior level, there are exceptions – and this, an IRB panel decided, was one of them.
"The panel accepted the evidence of the Welsh Rugby Union that although Shingler had not signed the union eligibility confirmation form, he had been fully informed that playing in the match would capture him for Wales," a spokesman for the governing body said.
The Scots pledged support for Shingler, and an appeal may be lodged once Murrayfield officials have considered the IRB's full written decision. Ironically, Wales and Scotland were the countries most implicated in the so-called Grannygate scandal in the late 1990s.
Ireland suffered a more prosaic blow when Sean O'Brien, the Leinster flanker, withdrew from the Scotland game after failing to recover from a skin infection. Peter O'Mahony of Munster will start in the back row, with Shane Jennings filling the gap on the bench.
Wales, hot favourites to give themselves a Grand Slam shot by beating Italy in Cardiff tomorrow, are confident that public expectation no longer preys on the minds of their players. "We're pretty grounded," said the Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies. "We all know there is a lot of expectation, but I think we can handle it.
"The main thing against Italy will be patience. People looking at the back line we'll have on the field might expect things to happen instantly, but we will need to build rather than force the issue. We want to keep the ball in play, maintain a high tempo, work the Italians and hope it bears fruit in the last 20 minutes or so."
Leicester, who play an LV Cup semi-final at Bath tonight, have passed up the chance to give the England fly-half Toby Flood a run. This week, the Tigers made it very clear that they felt Flood should have been picked to face France on Sunday. By leaving their best fly-half out for this game they have made the point again, even more forcefully.