SCOTLAND’S new interim head coach Scott Johnson has been handed his first real selection headache after Nick de Luca withdrew from consideration for the RBS Six Nations Championship through injury.
Johnson is already preparing to start the championship without experienced campaigners Mike Blair, Chris Cusiter, Rory Lamont, Allan Jacobsen and Ross Rennie due to retirement or injury, and while he is looking to blood younger players, De Luca – at 28 years old and with 38 caps – was one of his most experienced backs and a likely starter in the key defensive position of outside centre, particularly against an England side that boasts one of the world’s leading attackers in Manu Tuilagi in the 13 jersey.
Edinburgh revealed yesterday that De Luca had been forced to undergo an operation to correct a fractured eye socket he suffered in training last month. His head caught the knee of young prop Lewis Niven after a tackle in a training session just days before the first 1872 Cup clash with Glasgow.
The club medics had hoped that the injury might heal itself in time, but decided this week that there had not been sufficient improvement and so he went under the knife.
He now faces eight weeks out of the game, which makes a return to fitness and form before the end of the championship unlikely.
Johnson’s obvious option will be to restore Sean Lamont or Max Evans to the outside centre berth, with Lamont currently nursing an injury, while Matt Scott is another capped contender. Ben Cairns is another internationalist back in harness this weekend, and while it would be a major challenge for the Edinburgh centre to regain the fitness and form required at Test level inside a few weeks, after an 18-month lay-off, one would not bet against him making a case for a recall at some point in the coming championship.