O'Gara returns with a dive into Murrayfield's deep end

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The Independent Online

In his playing days as a wing with Garryowen, Eddie O'Sullivan played in a back division marshalled by Tony Ward. Ireland's richness in outside-halves is nothing new to their national coach. At Murrayfield today, O'Sullivan welcomes back Ronan O'Gara, one half of the latter-day equation that harks back to the time when Ward and Ollie Campbell were two world-class acts vying for the one No 10 shirt.

O'Gara returns to action in Ireland's final World Cup warm-up match, his first game since fracturing a wrist in Tonga in June. With O'Sullivan watching from the west stand and David Humphreys sitting on the replacements' bench, it promises to be a crucial examination for the Munsterman. He will need to make an instant impact if he is to head for Australia as Ireland's No 1 No 10.

"It's his first game in a long time and it's an international against Scotland and at Murrayfield - that's never easy," O'Sullivan said yesterday. "But he's had the all-clear and he needs a game. He might as well be thrown in at the deep end."

Humphreys has been in pole position since Ireland's visit to Edinburgh in the Six Nations' Championship in February. Standing in for the injured O'Gara that day, the Ulsterman orchestrated Ireland's first win at Murrayfield since 1985, plundering 26 of his team's points in a 36-6 victory.

"We do have an embarrassment of riches at out-half," O'Sullivan mused. "I have two world-class players in that position and when they're both on their game there's barely a whisker between them. I must be the envy of every coach in the world."

Certainly, Ian McGeechan has reason to cast an envious glance in a sideways direction this afternoon. The Scotland coach makes a change himself at outside-half, though not out of luxury. Gregor Townsend's pedestrian display in the 23-9 loss to Wales last Saturday has opened up the pivotal position with just five weeks to go before their World Cup opener against Japan in Townsville.

Despite the Caledonian clamour for Chris Paterson to fill the vacancy, McGeechan has chosen to keep his speed merchant on the wing and given Gordon Ross the chance to stake a definitive claim. Two weeks ago the dimunitive Leeds Tyke had a big game in Scotland's record 47-15 demolition of Italy.

"I've got to use this game to try and impose myself more," Ross said. At least he can play without the fear of his rival waiting in the wings, Townsend having been released for club duty last night. But it hardly helps that the pack in front of him has been shorn of Scott Murray, Jason White, Tom Smith, Bruce Douglas and Gavin Kerr. They have all joined Bryan Redpath, the scrum-half and captain, on the injury list.

Scotland: G Metcalfe (Glasgow); C Paterson (Edinburgh), A Craig (Orrell), A Henderson (Glasgow), K Logan (Wasps); G Ross (Leeds), M Blair (Edinburgh); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), G Bulloch (Glasgow, capt), G McIlwham (unattached), S Grimes (Newcastle), N Hines (Edinburgh), R Beattie (Gwent), A Mower (Newcastle), S Taylor (Edinburgh). Replacements: R Russell (Saracens), M Proudfoot (Glasgow), J Petrie (Glasgow), I Fullarton (Sale), G Beveridge (Glasgow), J McLaren (Bayonne), S Webster (Edinburgh).

Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); A Horgan (Munster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster), K Maggs (Bath), D Hickie (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), P Stringer (Munster); M Horan (Munster), K Wood (Munster, capt), R Corrigan (Leinster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), D Wallace (Munster), E Miller (Leinster), V Costello (Leinster). Replacements: S Byrne (Leinster), S Best (Ulster), S Easterby (Llanelli), K Dawson (London Irish), G Easterby (Rotherham), D Humphreys (Ulster), G Dempsey (Leinster).

Referee: N Whitehouse (Wales).