Scotland coach Frank Hadden believes competition for places in his squad is more intense than it has ever been during his two-and-half years in charge of the national side.
Hadden named his team on Wednesday for Scotland’s RBS 6 Nations curtain-raiser against France at Murrayfield on Sunday, and he has caused a stir by leaving out a number of senior players.
The two most notable omissions from the team are last year’s captain Chris Paterson, Scotland’s most experienced back, and versatile back-rower Allister Hogg.
Paterson is likely to feature from the bench on Sunday, while Hogg has missed out on the squad altogether.
Other Scotland regulars from recent seasons who have missed out on the starting 15 include Gavin Kerr and Hugo Southwell, while Scott Murray missed out on the RBS 6 Nations training squad altogether.
“There have been more people in the mix and more genuine competition for places than I’ve ever come across before,” said Hadden.
“We’ve had to make the sort of decisions which are normally reserved for the English coach in terms of the options available.
“I’m not saying we’ve got as many options as he has, or the French indeed, but I would say we have as many options as the Welsh and Irish now, and that’s a nice place for us to be.”
Hadden was confident he has managed to shake things up in the Scotland camp without going too far.
“The most important thing is to get the balance right between continuity and change - you have got to be careful not to go too far one way or the other,” he continued.
“When it came to selecting the team for this game we sat down and assessed a number of issues, and the number one thing we thought about was how to win the match.
“Then there is a huge number of other factors - like whether the game is home or away, the pitch conditions, the referee, the opposition and what they are likely to do, current form and how much game time people have had.
“We are going into this game with a number of guys who haven’t had a lot of game time and a number of guys who have maybe had a little bit too much - so you are always trying to find a balance between the energy of not having played enough and the consistency of having played continuously.”
Hadden’s opposite number, Marc Lievremont, has been even more adventurous in his team selection, with only six players from last year’s World Cup making it into the French line-up.
Hadden has a reputation for being meticulous in his preparation before every match, but he has admitted that his research ahead of this encounter has been limited by the uncertainty which surrounded Lievremont’s first team selection since taking over from Bernard Laporte as head coach of Les Bleus last October.
“Normally we spend a lot more time talking about what we expect from the opposition, but in this case we have had to focus far more on what we want to do ourselves,” said Hadden.