It would appear to be first blood to Ireland as they prepare to renew rivalry with the auld enemy in their first match of the new eight-team round-robin Inter-Continental Cup which gets under way at Stormont on Thursday (11am).

Scotland have lost no fewer than half of the original 16-man squad selected for the game and with Ireland missing only Boyd Rankin from their first choice line-up, it is little wonder that Trent Johnston believes 'Scotland are there for the taking'.

The Ireland skipper makes no secret of his preference for the four-day game, as opposed to the hurly-burly of the one-day arena and, although there were rumours of him quitting the international scene following the World Cup, it was the lure of the Inter-Continental final in May which kept Johnston going.

Three months on, the man who has led Ireland since their first I-Cup success in Namibia, in October 2005, is as keen as ever and looking forward to making a winning start to their second successive defence of the trophy.

'It my first four-day game at Stormont - I missed our previous game there against Holland in August 2005 - so not sure what pitch will greet us but I'll be doing a lot of looking and talking tomorrow, to Phil McCormick (the groundsman) and it would be nice to win another toss.'

Johnston is a on a roll at the moment after a long losing sequence with opposition captains in the World Cup. But he won all three in the recent quadrangular series and in the two most recent I-Cup matches he also called correctly.

The final, against Canada, was over in two days after Johnston took four wickets for 12 runs at Leicester to set up an innings victory and Ireland also had a day to spare in Abu Dhabi in the semi final, when they made their highest total in 650 matches, the little matter of 531 for five declared.

Eoin Morgan scored 209 not out in that game and the best news for Ireland is that the Middlesex batsman flies in tomorrow morning after playing in tonight's televised Pro40 game against Yorkshire at Headingley.

Also in an Ireland four-day line-up for the first time since the teams' last meeting, in Aberdeen last August, is Niall O'Brien, currently out of favour with Northamptonshire but he has scored two 50s in his last five ODIs and he hit an undefeated century in the first innings of the 2005 final against Kenya .

The final choice in the Ireland 12, after a look at the pitch, is likely to be between leg spinner Greg Thompson and seamer Thinus Fourie and if it is the latter he will consider himself very unlucky after taking three wickets in the final at Leicester - his Ireland debut - and, just for good measure, almost forcing an Ireland win in the three-day ĎA' game against MCC at Malahide last week with second innings figures of five for 28.

National Coach Phil Simmons missed most of Thompson's first innings bowling in the same game but the figures show he took four wickets in the match and to win four-day games, a team needs to take 20 wickets. If there is any hint that the Stormont surface will turn later in the match, Thompson seems certain to play for the first time since the I-Cup semi final against UAE in Namibia, when he took two of the 18 wickets.

The Scots arrive in Belfast on the back of an innings victory against the Dutch, the game ending on Saturday in Aberdeen with a day to spare, but they have only five of that team this weekend, although two of them, captain Ryan Watson and Neil McCallum, scored centuries and four others are with English counties.

Ireland never have an 'easy game' against Scotland and it will be no different over the next four days but Ireland should win, even if they have to take the novel approach and actually bat twice, something they did only once - chasing 54 - in their last successful campaign.

Ireland (from): T Johnston (captain), A Botha, A Cusack, T Fourie, D Langford-Smith, E Morgan, K McCallan, K O'Brien, N O'Brien, W Porterfield, G Thompson, A White.