Tony Ward: I haven't enjoyed this year's Six Nations - Independent.ie Rugby Panel
Tony Ward says he expected Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt to make even more changes to the Ireland line-up against Scotland while Neil Francis has welcomed the inclusion of Luke Fitzgerald.
The reigning Six Nations champions travel to Murrayfield with a championship on the line, as Wales and England level with Ireland on six points.
Points difference is likely to determine the championship and Schmidt has made two changes to the side that lost to Wales last time out, with Luke Fitzgerald replacing Simon Zebo on the wing and Cian Healy getting the nod ahead of Jack McGrath.
Tony Ward believes that while Zebo was unlucky to miss out, it is the right call from Schmidt.
There is not a lot of room for manoeuvre when you have a seven-day turnaround and you are going for a championship," he told the Independent.ie Six Nations rugby panel. "Ideally I would like to see a lot more changes with a view to the bigger picture – the World Cup.
"But I think, under the circumstances, he has got it right. Tough call on Zebo, he hasn’t played particularly badly but Fitzgerald is always threatening and the wing is probably the most competitive area at this point in time on the Ireland team.
"Cian Healy needs game time badly, tough call on Jack McGrath, he hasn’t been playing badly, but right in the circumstances."
Francis agrees that Fitzgerald deserves his chance, though he feels Ireland would be better served if he was given the number thirteen jersey.
"Zebo didn’t have a particularly good game against France and was poor against Wales, I thought. I think Fitzgerald, I am not sure if it would have been a better idea to bring him in at outside centre."
"I am surprised because he could just as easily left the team as it was and no-one would have complained. I think Fitzgerald deserves his chance and I think we need a cutting edge.
The other thing is has Zebo been used fully? Have they brought him in off the wing? Have we played to his strengths? I don’t think we have. We play a kicking game and I would say, marginally, Fitzgerald is a better kicker."
Ward added that while it is a great achievement to be in the hunt for back-to-back championships, the quality of play in the Northern Hemisphere this year has left a lot to be desired.
"I haven’t enjoyed it," he admitted. "We need tries at the weekend and we need to create. Again looking at the World Cup and what lies ahead, I am not sure we are there yet. We had two thirds of the possession against Wales and we didn’t create anything at all and that has to be a concern."