SCOTLAND cap Gordon Simpson was at the centre of a double fitness scare yesterday - and revealed his fear of missing the start of the Six Nations Championship, writes David Kelso.

In the short-term, the Glasgow Caley back-row man is battling to shake off the effects of the flu bug before Friday's crucial Heineken European Cup clash with Leinster in Dublin. However, his prime worry is the nagging foot problem which has failed to clear up since the World Cup.

As his Reds team-mates headed for Wales for today's Celtic League encounter against Ebbw Vale, Simpson confessed: ''Having missed out on last season's Five Nations triumph, it was always going to be a big deal for me to be involved this time round.

''But this persistent injury is beginning to worry me a bit and time is getting pretty short before the first match against Italy in Rome.

''It doesn't bother me when the match is up and running and I am into my rhythm, but the problem is during the warm-up when it is painful.''

Simpson added: ''The medics seem to think it happened away back in August during the World Cup warm-up game against Romania at Hampden Park, so it has been hanging around for a long time.

''My immediate concern, however, is getting rid of this terrible flu to enable me to play in Dublin. I was confined to bed for several days after Christmas and, although I am up and about, I am still feeling quite weak.

''Friday will be a tremendous occasion and we know that, if we can win over there, we would have a good chance of making it into the knock-out stages as group winners. I really want to be part of that scene.''

Meanwhile, another Kiwi stricken by the sniffles, Caley assistant coach Gordon MacPherson, has issued a challenge to the fringe players in the squad who have been recalled for today's match at Eugene Cross Park.

MacPherson declared: ''Our defeat by Ebbw Vale at Ayr in September was undoubtedly one of the low points of our season and we badly want to avenge that result.

''Their pack took us apart that night and, if we don't get our act together up front this time, then the same could happen.

''The last time we were in Wales we were also routed by Pontypridd when our minds were definitely on other things, but we have definitely learned a lesson from that as well.

''Sure, we have a huge game in Dublin just five days away - but the guys will be focused only on Ebbw Vale for the time being. Progressing in Europe is obviously the target, but we also want to climb the Celtic League and this is the sort of game we have to win in order to achieve that.

''It is sure to be a 'roll-your-sleeves-up' type of match and, with some of our bigger names absent, it is a great chance for the so-called lesser lights to prove that they should be in the top team by right.''

MacPherson was backed up by centre Alan Bulloch, who also desperately wants to wipe away the memory of that miserable defeat at Millbrae.

He insisted: ''There will be no difficulty whatsoever in getting into the correct frame of mind. We are back at work earlier than most people after New Year, but the minute we turn up at the ground, the blinkers will be on.''

As expected, head coach Richie Dixon has handed a recall to stand-off Craig Chalmers - whose last ill-fated appearance for Caley was in that disastrous match against Vale at Ayr, when he sustained a cheekbone injury.

There is also a welcome return to action for another Test veteran, centre Ian Jardine, in the wake of a long-term calf problem.

Bulloch said: ''Having Craig and Jardy back in the side will definitely be a calming influence for the younger lads. Nothing gets them flustered and they are exactly the type of players you need when the pressure is on.

''Tommy Hayes has some great moments at No.10, but Craig's coolness and tactical awareness will be a real bonus.''

Ebbw Vale coach Leigh Jones will not decide on his starting line-up until just before kick-off.

Manager Doug Taylor said: ''For the first time in ages we have a full-strength squad to choose from and it will be a tough task to whittle them down to a final 15.

''The punters down here are looking forward to seeing Glasgow in action live, having seen them on TV playing so well against Leicester in the European Cup.''

The Caley team will be : B Irving; S Longstaff, A Bulloch, I Jardine, J Craig; C Chalmers, F Stott; D Hilton, G Scott, A Watt, S Griffiths, S Campbell, M Waite, J Petrie, D McFadyen. Replacements: W Anderson, G Bulloch, D Burns, R Reid, G Beveridge, T Hayes, I McInroy. qClive Woodward has stressed his commitment to fulfil his contract by coaching England through the Six Nations campaign and beyond.

Woodward, who has been linked with an imminent switch from his coaching position to a management role, insisted he is not considering a job change in the near future.

However, he conceded that new arrangements will need to be made after the Six Nations following the departure of assistant coach John Mitchell and, after the summer, he will be prepared to work for the good of England's rugby team in whatever capacity he and the Rugby Football Union decide is appropriate.

''My contract finishes in August and it is up to the Rugby Football Union to decide whether they want to keep me on in either a management or coaching role,'' said Woodward.