Scott Johnson has left the door open for Kelly Brown to make a return to the Scotland fold after being dropped from the side to face England at Murrayfield tomorrow, but the interim head coach hinted yesterday that the 31-year-old flanker might decide to call time on a Test career that has brought him 61 caps over the past nine years.
The news of Brown's omission sent shockwaves through Scottish rugby after it was revealed by Herald Sport yesterday morning. The Scottish forwards came in for heavy criticism after their 28-6 defeat by Ireland in Dublin on Sunday, but few sides have ever ditched their captain after just one game in the RBS 6 Nations.
Johnson said: "We have told Kelly the areas of his game we want him to work on, and if his form warrants him coming back then I'd want him there. He's a special person and this is not the end of the road for Kelly unless he chooses otherwise. I can't control that."
Brown, whose place in the side will be taken by Glasgow Warriors debutant Chris Fusaro, has already returned to his club, Saracens. The captaincy role in the Calcutta Cup match will be taken by Greig Laidlaw. Two other changes to the team mean that Tommy Seymour is chosen on the right wing in place of the injured Sean Maitland, and fit-again Matt Scott is preferred to Duncan Taylor at inside-centre.
On the bench, Scott Lawson takes over from Pat MacArthur as cover at hooker, while 19-year-old Jonny Gray displaces his brother Richie, Scotland's only current Test Lion, as the second-row replacement.
While Johnson has held out the olive branch to Brown, his own role in the player's apparent demise is bound to be questioned. To most eyes, Johnson inherited an outstanding blindside flanker, turned him into a modest openside flanker, and then dropped him from the side.
However, the coach was bullish on that point. "For Kelly to make the team it will be at seven [openside] unless we have a massive number of injuries," he said. "Kelly is not a big ball-carrier or an explosive type of player. He isn't that type. He isn't a dominant lineout player. I like fast and explosive sixes and eights. All successful teams appear to have that."
For his part, Brown accepted his fate with characteristic dignity. "Obviously gutted to be missing out on the Calcutta Cup on Saturday, but that's sport," he announced on Twitter. "Really hope the lads will go well."