The Six Nations mind games have started - with the Scotland coach, Scott Johnson, never slow to play the psychology card, singling out his own captain, the Saracens flanker Kelly Brown, for special attention.
Johnson selected the Glasgow open-side specialist Chris Fusaro, uncapped but very much in form, in a 36-man training squad ahead of the meeting with Ireland in Dublin on 2 February and then indicated that Brown's position was far from secure.
"I've told Kelly to his face – and there's no use in running away from it – that if he's good enough to get in the starting XV he'll lead the team, and that if he's not we'll look for someone else," said Johnson, who will hand over to Vern Cotter, currently coaching at the crack French club Clermont Auvergne and a fellow Antipodean, at the end of the season.
"We are viewing Kelly as a No 7: we will leave the remaining back-row roles to other people because we have some good athletes coming through in those positions and we need to compete athletically against the bigger nations," added Johnson. "Kelly fits a different mould. He's done really well for Saracens at No 7 over the last five or six weeks so moving down the path, that will be his spot."
Brown, now 31, has performed the breakaway duties for the Premiership leaders in the absence of the Namibian forward Jacques Burger and the highly-regarded English prospect Will Fraser. Whether he is equipped to hold off Fusaro and the talented Edinburgh flanker Ross Rennie for the duration of the Six Nations remains to be seen.
Johnson is certainly taken with Fusaro, describing him as "an interesting one" who has shown "great resolve" in improving on specific areas of his game since failing to feature in last year's competition.
Johnson also called up a rookie of the wing variety in Dougie Fife of Edinburgh. Three of the bigger names in Scottish rugby – the wide man Tim Visser, the prop Euan Murray and the lock Alastair Kellock – were not considered because of injury.
In England, Sale's rugby director Steve Diamond confirmed two of his brightest young forwards, the tight-head prop Henry Thomas and the multi-purpose forward James Gaskell, would head for pastures new at season's end. Thomas is assumed to be joining Bath while Gaskell has been linked with Wasps.Reuse content