There was a sharp intake of breath around the lochs and glens of Scotland yesterday lunchtime when a certain Kenneth McKerrow Logan was named in a revamped 24-man squad for the Six Nations meeting with Italy in Rome on Saturday week. "Hell's teeth," whispered the kilted brethren, in unison. "They're asking Kenny to do the goal-kicking again. We'll never beat the Italians now."
At which point, Ian McGeechan calmed things down by indicating that the popular but notoriously inconsistent Wasps player had been included as a wing, not a marksman. Duncan Hodge may have cost the Scots any chance of a Calcutta Cup victory last weekend with his repeated failures from in front of the sticks, but if Logan faces the Azzurri at the Stadio Flaminio – the scene of one of Scotland's more humiliating defeats during the 2000 tournament – he is unlikely to be lumbered with anything more complicated than putting himself on the end of whatever attacking moves Gregor Townsend can instigate in midfield.
Logan is one of four players promoted to the senior party as a result of the record defeat by England at Murrayfield. Graeme Beveridge has replaced his fellow Glasgow scrum-half, the former national captain Andy Nicol, and will understudy Bryan Redpath in Rome. Up front, two Edinburgh tight forwards have been added to the mix: the prop Craig Smith, who was close to a full cap during last autumn's international series, and the lock Nathan Hines, who once played a good standard of rugby league in Australia with North Sydney.
On the face of it, Logan has every chance of adding to his 53 caps: having left him out of the second-string A squad on the basis that they knew everything there was to know about his strange and occasionally inspirational ways, the selectors can scarcely have included him in this select gathering with the intention of dumping him almost as abruptly. It appears that McGeechan wants at least one specialist wing in Rome, rather than a back three made up entirely of full-backs. If that is the case, Glenn Metcalfe's off-colour performance against England might count against him.
The French have also been busy on the selection front, although their tinkerings have more to do with an ever-lengthening casualty list than any inability to kick straight. Having lost the Toulouse full-back, Nicolas Jeanjean, and the Montferrand wing David Bory to injury, the Tricolore coach, Bernard Laporte, has called two beautifully balanced attacking runners, Jimmy Marlu and Nicolas Brusque, into his party for next week's game with Wales in Cardiff. In addition, Fabien Galthié of Stade Français is back as senior scrum-half after recovering from the minor knee problems that prevented his playing against Italy last weekend. The final call-up goes to the uncapped Pau No 8, Imanol Harinordoquy.
Assuming Laporte picks Galthié ahead of Frédéric Michalak, the versatile teenager from Toulouse, the 32-year-old veteran of three World Cup campaigns will captain the side. Olivier Magne, the Montferrand flanker who stood in as captain last Saturday, has been banned for three weeks for stamping on the head of the Italian wing Denis Dallan, and will not feature again until England visit Paris on 2 March.
Talking of Frenchmen, the Test hooker Olivier Azam is likely to play a part in Gloucester's Premiership match with London Irish at Kingsholm this weekend, six weeks after the almighty bust-up with Newcastle that saw him both sent off for fighting and publicly accused of racially abusing Epi Taione, the Falcons' Tongan flanker. Azam, who has always denied the abuse allegations, was suspended for five weeks for punching and spitting at Taione. The Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel that convicted him of those offences did not consider the more serious allegations, which are now the subject of an independent inquiry.
Philippe Saint-André, the unnsettled Gloucester coach, is keen to involve Azam at the earliest opportunity. Were Saint-André to leave his countryman to fester in the depths of the second team – or, worse still, not play him at all – Azam's international aspirations might be fatally compromised. As things stand, he remains a live contender for a World Cup place next year, but he needs some top-level activity, and needs it soon.
Meanwhile, the general committee of the Welsh Rugby Union gathers in Cardiff tonight for one of its most pressurised meetings in years. The national team's desperate performance against Ireland in Dublin four days ago is not an agenda item, but the match – and, by extension, the future of Graham Henry as head coach – is certain to be raised, not least because the WRU's vice-chairman, Les Williams, has called for Henry's departure.
Henry is a resilient customer: during last summer's Lions tour of Australia, he revealed a skin of purest armadillo. But he has been on the wrong end of some serious stick over the last 72 hours, and even if he lasts out the current Six Nations, he is not thought likely to continue into the summer.
Six nations squads
Scotland squad (v Italy, Rome, 16 February): Backs: G Beveridge (Glasgow), A Henderson (Glasgow), D Hodge (Edinburgh), B Laney (Edinburgh), K Logan (London Wasps), J McLaren (Glasgow), G Metcalfe (Glasgow), C Paterson (Edinburgh), B Redpath (Sale), G Townsend (Castres). Forwards: G Bulloch (Glasgow), G Graham (Newcastle), S Grimes (Newcastle), N Hines (Edinburgh), M Leslie (Edinburgh), S Murray (Saracens), J Petrie (Glasgow), B Pountney (Northampton, capt), R Russell (Saracens), C Smith (Edinburgh), T Smith (Northampton), M Stewart (Northampton), S Taylor (Edinburgh), J White (Glasgow).
France squad (v Wales, Cardiff, 16 February): Backs: F Galthié (Stade Français, capt), P Mignoni (Béziers), F Michalak (Stade Toulousain), G Merceron (Montferrand), F Gelez (Agen), D Traille (Pau), T Marsh (Montferrand), A Rougerie (Montferrand), J Marlu (Montferrand), N Brusque (Biarritz), X Garbajosa (Stade Toulousain). Forwards: J-J Crenca (Agen), P De Villiers (Stade Français), J-B Poux (Narbonne), R Ibanez (Castres), Y Bru (Stade Toulousain), D Auradou (Stade Français), O Brouzet (Northampton), F Pelous (Stade Toulousain), D Privat (Béziers), S Hall (Béziers), S Betsen (Biarritz), E Vermeulen (Montferrand), I Harinordoquy (Pau).Reuse content