HE may be big, hard and the kind of guy who shrugs off the sorts of collisions which would have most people in hospital for a week, but Tim Swinson's tough-guy image takes a knock when doctors and needles are in the offing.

That would seem a bit unfortunate last week when a clash of heads in training left him with blood streaming down a cheek.

The pain is all part of being a professional player and all of the trauma - with the treatment more of an ordeal than the original injury - would be rewarded when he saw off the challenge of Richie Gray and Grant Gilchrist to win a place in the Scotland side facing Ireland this weekend.

Loading article content

"I was a bit annoyed," he said of his face, damaged in a clash of heads with Geoff Cross. "I don't like getting needles, injections or being stitched, but I knew it was coming. Thankfully, it wasn't too bad - just five stitches. I've had enough stitches on my face, it's up to about 80 now throughout my career.

"He came off worse, he looks like Harry Potter, with a nice scar on his forehead. I thought my cheekbone might have been broken but thankfully it is harder than Geoff's forehead."

Not that it will make any difference come Sunday, when he takes to the field to tackle the Irish pack, Paul O'Connell and all. Swinson may be happy to joke about his aversion to needles and the effect of a duelling scar on his appearance - "If I had to rely on my looks I'd be screwed!" - but Sunday is when the humour ends and the serious stuff begins.

For many people he was a surprise choice, since Gray had been the only Scot to win a Test cap in the British and Irish Lions tour in the summer, but there is a compelling logic to Swinson's selection. He was the stand-out forward when he made his Scotland debut in South Africa in the summer, was solidly impressive in his second game and was not only man of the match but also singled out for special praise by Scott Johnson, the head coach, after his third cap. It is only three games but it is hard to think of a Scottish forward who has been more consistently impressive.

This, though, is a whole new level. After winning his first cap on tour, he made his home debut in November and this is his first experience of Six Nations competition. "It seems every time I come in here I get told it's my second debut, my third debut," he said. "I haven't really thought about that. Playing for Scotland is a huge honour and something you shouldn't ever expect to do.

"Ireland are a good pack and have a lot of good lineout forwards. They try to pride themselves on a good set piece, it's where they score a lot of their points. We also have a good set piece, we're all confident at lineouts. We've got a great forward pack and have got to play the physical style of rugby we're showing at Glasgow and Edinburgh."