Wayward Scotland pass poisoned boot to Paterson

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The Independent Online

Chris Paterson was yesterday handed the least popular job in Scotland – goal-kicker in tomorrow's daunting Six Nations match against Italy here at the Stadio Flaminio, taking over the unenviable and onerous task from the unfortunate Duncan Hodge.

In the two years since Italy joined in the championship, the Scots have had the poorest kicking success rate in the Six Nations, a modest 61 per cent, and in that time they have used four kickers, Hodge, Paterson, Kenny Logan (on the bench, but not as a kicker this time) and Gregor Townsend. Ominously for them Italy, courtesy of Diego Dominguez, top the lot with a phenomenal 82 per cent, ahead of England (81 per cent), France (79 per cent), Ireland (77 per cent) and Wales (75 per cent).

But Paterson accepted this "poisoned chalice" with all the equanimity of the modern professional. "I just see kicking as being the same as any other task you have to do in the game," he said. "Obviously what has happened in the last two or three years means that the kicking role has gathered some sort of momentum. It seems to have become more and more difficult to do and the focus has become even sharper. There is clearly added pressure."

Paterson was last burdened with the role against the All Blacks last November, when he achieved a 50 per cent success rate, although his overall recent record stands at a more impressive seven penalties from nine attempts.

He is quite open about the effect that a missed kick or two can have on a player. "A player would be lying if he said he forgot about a missed kick and concentrated on the next one. You are well aware of your record coming into a match and during a game; each miss is always there at the back of your mind, you have to try to analyse where you went wrong and try to avoid the same mistake next time."

For poor Hodge there were four "next times" in the Calcutta Cup, but the fact that he has been kicked out of Scotland's starting line-up – Townsend steps into the fly-half berth for this match as part of a reshuffle of the threequarter line – apparently has nothing to do with his Murrayfield misadventures.

The Scotland coach, Ian McGeechan, insisted that Hodge's demotion to the bench and Andy Henderson's elevation to his first senior start in the centre was more to do with overall strategy.

"Quite a lot of thought and debate went into Hodge's selection, but it was ultimately tactical, it had nothing to do with his Calcutta Cup performance," he said. "We are trying to bring in other elements of Gregor's play, what he can bring us particularly at outside-half."

Townsend's move to No 10 from centre created the ideal opportunity to give the exciting Glasgow centre Henderson his first start and his fourth cap.

Henderson, who was 22 earlier this month, made a try-scoring debut against Ireland in the autumn and McGeechan is justifiably proud of the way he has developed over the last year: "We are delighted with his step up. His work rate is very high and he has been extremely confident in what he has been doing in training. Getting someone like that in the middle just helps the whole side by bringing a freshness and a confidence to try different things."

Henderson is just happy to get his first start. "It's good to be playing alongside James McLaren," he said. "He has helped me a lot this season and we know each other's game pretty well."

The only other change to the team that lost to England is in the back row and that was forced on them by Budge Pountney's torn abdominal muscles, but Newcastle's Australian-raised open-side Andrew Mower is not a bad stand-in. Saracens' Robbie Russell has been able to train all week despite sporting a few stitches after his brush with Martin Johnson last weekend. "We have a replacement hooker, that is all that bothers me," added a relieved McGeechan. Now all he wants to do is to find out if he has a winning team.

ITALY: P Vaccari (Calvisano); R Pedrazzi (Viadana), Mirco Bergamasco (Padova), C Stoica (Castres), D Dallan (Treviso); D Dominguez (Stade Français), A Troncon (Montferrand); F Pucciariello (Gloucester), A Moscardi (Treviso, capt), G De Carli (Calvisano), S Dellape (Viadana), C Checchinato (Treviso), M Bortolami (Padova), M Phillips (Viadana), Mauro Bergamasco (Treviso). Replacements: A Moreno (Worcester), A Lo Cicero (Toulouse), M Giacheri (Sale), A Persico (Viadana), J-M Queirolo (Dax), R Pez (Rotherham), L Martin (Northampton).

SCOTLAND: B Laney (Edinburgh); G Metcalfe, J McLaren, A Henderson (all Glasgow), C Paterson (Edinburgh); G Townsend (Castres), B Redpath (Sale, capt); T Smith (Northampton), G Bulloch (Glasgow), M Stewart (Northampton), S Murray (Saracens), S Grimes (Newcastle), J White (Glasgow), S Taylor (Edinburgh), A Mower (Newcastle). Replacements: R Russell (Saracens), G Graham (Newcastle), M Leslie (Edinburgh), J Petrie, G Beveridge (both Glasgow), D Hodge (Edinburgh), K Logan (Wasps).