GORDON Bulloch will lead Scotland for the first time on Saturday, while Gregor Townsend and Brendan Laney are released from national duty to play for their clubs.
Bulloch has been overlooked for the skipper’s role in recent years, but with first-choice Bryan Redpath and his deputy Scott Murray both injured for the final World Cup warm-up match, against Ireland, coach Ian McGeechan has turned to the fiery Glasgow hooker to restore some pride in the team.
The coach stated: "He is a very important leader within the group and always has been. I want him there to take the lead in the way he plays."
In winning his 53rd cap, Bulloch became Scotland’s most-capped hooker in the match against Wales at the weekend, and against Ireland he will be the 104th man to lead Scotland out.
Bulloch admitted: "I am delighted. It’s a great honour to captain your country and, though inevitably, I’ll be a bit nervous, I’m looking forward to it. I’m now one of the most experienced players in the side, so this is a chance for me to prove what I can do in the captaincy role. We’ve got a point to prove against Ireland because they’ve had the upper hand on us in the last couple of years, so a performance is needed, but, more importantly, I think, a win is needed."
One of Scottish rugby’s most valuable players, Bulloch has grown in stature since returning from the British and Irish Lions tour in 2001 and has been one of the constants in a fluctuating period for Glasgow. The 28-year-old is now one of the most committed and respected figures in the national squad and so is a natural choice as Scotland bid to restore some pride after Saturday’s abject display in Cardiff.
He admitted: "The game against Wales set us back without a doubt - the confidence in some of the guys is certainly dented. We didn’t play well and had a lot of unforced errors, but we’ve watched the video and know what we did wrong on Saturday, and what needs rectified. We need more vigour, more aggression to really take the game to them.
"I plan to take a big lead this week, a very vocal lead, particularly on the pitch, to give us a performance that we desperately need. It’s the way I’ve always led a side, though this is obviously a huge step-up from captaining West of Scotland or Glasgow. We’ll have some hard sessions this week, but the guys are ready physically to be honest, it’s all about getting the minds right now."
His straight-talking will also please supporters, desperate to believe the Italy win was no one-off and looking for signs of optimism against an Ireland team flying high after topping 100 points from wins over Wales and Italy.
He added: "Although our game has come on a lot over the last four games, we’ve only won one of them, against an Italian side that wasn’t very good to be honest. We have to get the wins to hit home the confidence and self-belief.
"If you don’t win games then the confidence certainly lacks. That’s a fact in any side, in any sport around the world. When Manchester United win games they have confidence whatever game they go into. We have got a good group of guys and we have to believe in ourselves, and go at Ireland. It’s on our home pitch, it’s our last game before we go to the World Cup so it’s a tremendous challenge, but one I’m looking forward to."
Though Scotland’s team will not be announced until tomorrow, it became clear that McGeechan has opted to restore Gordon Ross to the stand-off berth, and reunite centres Andy Henderson and Andy Craig, when it was revealed that Townsend and Laney, as well as Dougie Hall and Andy Dall (both Edinburgh) and Glasgow wing Rory Kerr, are being released to play in the opening Celtic League matches on Friday and Saturday.
Townsend is likely to start on the Borders bench against the Celtic Warriors, with Clark Laidlaw having shown fine pre-season form in his absence, but all five are expected to be given game time.
Team manager Dougie Morgan stated that, unlike Clive Woodward’s decision to release eight England players for club duty this week and subsequently rule them out of the World Cup, this would not affect the Scots’ chances of being named in the World Cup squad, to be announced next Tuesday.
Injured trio Tom Smith, Bruce Douglas and Murray were all said to be improving hugely since suffering a broken thumb, twisted ankle and twisted knee respectively - none are considered doubts for the World Cup - with Russell and Kenny Logan both expected to feature in Saturday’s game.