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Comment: Throwing recovering Furlong back in for Saturday's Six Nations tie is a risk not worth taking

By Tony Ward

Much has been made of Scotland's away form, or, more accurately, the lack of same. It is fair motivation for a proud rugby playing nation and a professional game on the rise. I know I am far from alone in wanting Scottish rugby to return to its former glory as a consistently competitive force on the global stage.

Signs are that, under a bold and exceptionally astute head coach, it is happening. Mention, too, of Dan McFarland and his ever growing influence since leaving Connacht to join up with Gregor Townsend at Glasgow and now with the Scottish national side.

What we witnessed in the Calcutta Cup match, particularly in the opening half at Murrayfield, was pretty much the complete team performance whereby the undeniably talented individual components equalled the sum of the parts. Save for the final quarter against the Welsh on the same day, we weren't too shabby ourselves.

Piece all that together and what we have now is two beautiful rugby minds fronting up. Townsend v Joe Schmidt and with little psychological nastiness, a la Warren Gatland or Eddie Jones, in the build up. It won't quite make for the beautiful game, given the enormity of the outcome for both, but we'll handle that.

A Scottish win and, with the Italians in the final game, a possible first Six Nations title is on the cards. An Irish win in what is to all intents and purposes a home semi-final and it's on to Twickenham for the mother and father of all Anglo/Irish battles. It freaks me even mentioning that possible scenario as this is a massive battle for both Celtic nations in itself.

While they didn't quite flood the breakdown against the cagey English rugby league style defending, they did commit more to the tackle area aided and abetted by Nigel Owens' ongoing insistence on open competition in that key area.

Either way, in terms of crucial turnovers at critical times the entire Scottish back-row but most particularly skipper John Barclay (the last of the 'Killer Bs' still standing) was outstanding.

Much will be made of the Johnny Sexton/Finn Russell head-to-head in the coming days and understandably so but in all honesty it is difficult to look beyond the Barclay/Dan Leavy clash as the most likely key (depending on conditions) to the ultimate outcome. Leavy may be a relative rookie but much like the master that was Richie McCaw he is growing exponentially in savvy in an area where impostors fear to tread.

We will look at this again in greater detail later in the week. By then both teams will have been announced with greatest interest focusing on how Schmidt manages his walking wounded in the interim. Like any coach at any level he wants to field what he perceives to be his strongest line-up at this point in time.

To that end were the three Lions forced out through injury against the Welsh fit and firing, it is most likely that Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson would replace Chris Farrell (were he still available), Andrew Porter and Devin Toner respectively. James Ryan has now established a second-row place in his own right and will be picked accordingly and I fully support that. If you're good enough you're old enough.

The head coach has extended the 'must train full-on' deadline to this morning but from the outside looking in, I would worry greatly about Furlong irrespective of how he trains in Carton House because of the nature of the injury.

Schmidt selects on a 'horses for courses' basis and nobody but nobody can argue with that given that it is the chosen 23 and management alone who know the plan of action.

That said, the 'ain't broke, don't fix it' mantra might also have a relevance. Weighing all things up and with both Henshaw and Farrell (outstanding in his three appearances to date) ruled out long-term, then Garry Ringrose will return. He is short on game time for sure but top heavy on rugby sense as well as out and out pace down that 13 channel.

Judging by the head coach's comments, Henderson should be fit to return and I believe he will alongside Ryan with Toner providing the more complete cover package ahead of Quinn Roux's scrummaging off the bench.

As regards tight-head, I would allow Furlong time to recover even further, still leaving Porter in situ and Ryan again in reserve.

You can only fully test a damaged hamstring in the white heat of battle and for the New Ross man to pull up lame would damage the psychological advantage even more than including him in the first place. A risk of necessity back in the John Hayes days but not now.

I would again start Cian Healy at loose with Jack McGrath in reserve and part of a replacement bench with changes at lock (Toner for Roux) and utility back (Jordan Larmour for Fergus McFadden). I still have concerns about Joey Carbery being called in early as a straight swap for Sexton should that need arise but Larmour can cover both wings, outside centre and full-back with relative ease.

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