Ireland and Scotland will both be hoping to get their Six Nations campaigns back on track when they meet at Croke Park.
Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan is confident Brian O’Driscoll will be fit for Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash with Scotland.
Preview courtesy www.scrum.com.
O’Driscoll’s calf tightened up in training this morning and a clearer picture of the severity of the problem will emerge over the next two days.
Leinster’s Luke Fitzgerald has remained with the senior squad to cover for the Ireland centre in case his condition deteriorates.
But O’Sullivan is convinced his skipper will be available for the Croke Park showdown against Frank Hadden’s Six Nations strugglers.
”We expect Brian will be fine but as a precaution I’m holding onto Luke Fitzgerald, who would have been playing for the A team,” he said. ”When a player gets a niggle early in the week it’s a concern, but it’s only Tuesday and the match is Saturday, so I’m confident he’ll be fine.
”However, it’s Six Nations rugby and you have to cover the doomsday scenario in case Brian doesn’t make it. Having Luke there is just a precaution and I’m
not worried. We’ll be better equipped to make a judgment tomorrow and the day after.
”Brian is a power runner and he does pick up the odd tweak, but the doctor is very confident.”
Should O’Driscoll be forced out against the Scots, Shane Horgan will be promoted from the bench to centre with Fitzgerald plugging the gap among the substitutes.
As it stands, Horgan must watch from the sidelines for the second successive Six Nations match after Tommy Bowe was catapulted straight into the starting line-up.
The clamour for Bowe’s inclusion, which has gathered momentum on the back of his dazzling form for Ulster this season, could no longer be ignored by O’Sullivan.
The Ospreys-bound 23-year-old won his 10th cap in last August’s World Cup warm-up against Scotland but lost out on selection for the tournament to Brian Carney.
Andrew Trimble, Geordan Murphy and Rob Kearney have since been preferred in the Six Nations to date but Murphy’s fragile display against France has opened the door.
”Tommy is playing really well and has forced his way into the team,” said O’Sullivan. ”Geordan has sustained a knee injury. It’s a nasty knock he suffered on Sunday while playing for Leicester.
”He would have been very doubtful for Scotland but to be up front about it, he would not have made the 22 anyway. Geordan had a difficult match against France. You have to weigh that up against someone like Tommy, who has really been putting his hand up.
”Geordan is an experienced player and has a lot of talent but Tommy has put pressure on me to include him in the team.”
Vice-captain and Munster lock Paul O’Connell features on the bench after recovering from his back injury with Mick O’Driscoll replacing the axed Malcolm O’Kelly in the starting line-up.
O’Driscoll’s elevation alongside Munster colleague Donncha O’Callaghan is the second and final change to the side edged 26-21 by France.
”It was a tough call on Malcolm but Mick’s form when he came on as a substitute in Paris justifies his inclusion,” said O’Sullivan.
”There is an issue over Paul’s match fitness and I wouldn’t want him to start a Six Nations game, but I’m happy with what I’ve seen of him so far.
”The injury is not a problem any more and he has been training very well. He has a load of work under his belt and I’m comfortable with him being on the bench.
”If we need him he can come off the bench and have an impact on the game. Mentally he’s jumping out of his socks right now.”
Substitute prop Tony Buckley will undergo a fitness test on his thumb injury later in the week.
Hooker Jerry Flannery is definitely unavailable for a further two weeks after sustaining a hamstring problem.
White has been ruled out of the side to play at Croke Park on Saturday, because he has not yet fully recovered from his head injury.
Blair has been given the opportunity to captain his country for the first time, and Hadden is confident he has chosen the right man.
”Mike has grown into a leadership role with his club,” said the coach.
”He has some experience of captaincy. I remember appointing him captain of Edinburgh many years ago for a couple of matches, and he’s also played outstandingly well this season – so we had no hesitation in offering him the captaincy.”
As for White, Scotland decided to make an early decision.
”I was at Jason’s fitness test this morning, and he is still getting headaches when exercising,” Hadden reported.
”Therefore he is unable to play this weekend. We decided to rule him out today and not wait until the last minute on medical advice.”
Hadden chose not to ask regular deputy Chris Paterson to stand in as captain – because his switch from the wing means he will already have much to think about.
”I felt that with him coming in at stand-off and being the main goal-kicker, he had more than enough on his plate,” he explained.
Hadden decided it was worth the risk trying Paterson at half-back, even though the 29-year-old has relatively little recent experience of playing there and did not excel for Gloucester in that position at the weekend.
”He was always going to be a bit rusty,” said Hadden, in attendance for that club match.
”The important thing is that he looked sharp and fresh and threatening, and there was enough in his performance and in what he said during the long chat we had afterwards to make me confident about making this decision.”
Alasdair Strokosch has been brought into the side as a direct replacement for White, and Hadden is confident the big flanker is a worthy replacement.
”It’s a like-for-like switch with Alasdair and Jason,” he said.
”We were delighted that he was starting to put some pressure on Jason with the quality of his performances at club level – and he played well coming off the bench on Sunday.”
Flanker John Barclay will miss the clash with Ireland on Saturday due to the freak hand injury he sustained at the weekend.
Barclay suffered his injury at a dinner party, when a friend sat on a glass he was holding in his hand.
Head coach Frank Hadden delayed a decision on Barclay’s involvement when announcing his team yesterday, but came to the conclusion after a further training session that the 21-year-old would have to miss the Dublin game.
Allister Hogg will feature at number seven, in Barclay’s absence, with Kelly Brown at number eight and uncapped Edinburgh flanker Ross Rennie, 21, named on the bench.
”It’s bad luck for John and we wish him a speedy recovery,” said Hadden.
”While the door closes for one, it opens for another.
”It’s a golden opportunity for Ross Rennie who has consistently put his hand up and demanded to be considered by the quality of his performances.”
Barclay is not the only player to have suffered misfortune at dinner – Simon Taylor having had food poisoning before a club fixture last weekend and therefore short of match fitness, so not called upon to replace White.
Scott Macleod has replaced Jim Hamilton in the second row.
In the backs, apart from Paterson’s selection at stand-off, the major talking point is at outside centre – where Simon Webster has been named ahead of Nick De Luca.
”This doesn’t mean we have lost faith in Nick, because he is still on the bench,” Hadden points out.
”We think his time will come again and we’re delighted to have him in the squad.”
Webster is primarily a winger, but Hadden believes he can be effective for Scotland in the centre.
”Simon has experience of playing there during the World Cup,” the coach recalled.
”It looks a very strong-running back line, a dangerous back line – and we obviously hope that will be the case this Saturday.”
On the challenge facing his team at Croke Park, Hadden said: ?We are determined to give our supporters something to smile about this weekend. There is a strong collective desire to produce a performance that will lead us to a win.?
Ireland: G Dempsey (Leinster); T Bowe (Ulster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster, captain), A Trimble (Ulster), R Kearney (Leinster); R O’Gara (Munster), E Reddan (Wasps); M Horan (Munster), B Jackman (Leinster), J Hayes (Munster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), M O’Driscoll (Munster), D Leamy (Munster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: R Best (Ulster), T Buckley (Munster), P O’Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli), P Stringer (Munster), P Wallace (Ulster), S Horgan (Leinster).
Scotland: Southwell (Edinburgh); Walker (Ospreys), Webster (Edinburgh), Henderson (Glasgow), R Lamont (Sale); Paterson (Gloucester), Blair (Edinburgh, capt); Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Ford (Edinburgh), E Murray (Northampton), Hines (Perpignan), MacLeod (Scarlets), Strokosch (Gloucester), Brown (Glasgow), Hogg (Edinburgh).
Replacements: F Thomson (Glasgow), Kerr (Edinburgh), Hamilton (Leicester), Rennie (Edinburgh), Cusiter (Perpignan), Parks (Glasgow), De Luca (Edinburgh).Tweet