Rugby -Five Nations Championship: Telfer sees chink of light shining on Triple Crown

The Five Nations' Championship could yet prove competitive, starting with Wales v Scotland today. Chris Hewett reports
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The Independent Online
EUROPEAN rugby is not so much a funny old game as a celebration of the absurd, a fact highlighted not only by the on-going farce starring Clive Woodward and the English clubs but also by this afternoon's exercise in private Celtic grief involving Wales and Scotland. The Scots go into the game on the back of three record Murrayfield defeats in as many matches, yet a successful outcome from today's piece of Five Nations business would make their next home appearance a Triple Crown affair.

Team sport simply does not get much more bizarre, especially as Jim Telfer, the Scottish coach, conceded yesterday that the only Sassenach he definitely expected to recognise in Edinburgh in a fortnight's time was Woodward himself. It would be stretching a point to suggest that Telfer was glorying in England's present political crisis, but there were definite signs of a smirk on the old granite features.

"I haven't thought that far ahead, but there is an incentive there in the sense that we still have something tangible to play for in this championship," he agreed. "I've heard all the comment about the Five Nations and the gap between England, France and the rest. But if you look at the Welsh and look at ourselves, there are high-class players on both sides.

"People seem to have forgotten last summer's Lions tour and the fact that there were nine Celts in the side that won the Test series. Now, that was a good few months ago and it's true to say that many of the Lions who performed so outstandingly against the Springboks have under-performed during the current British season. But I still stand by the fact that the Celtic nations have made a tremendous contribution to rugby in these islands for many, many years and will continue to do so."

Nothing would reinforce Telfer's deeply held faith in the broad church of northern hemisphere rugby more strongly than an explosion of Celtic craft and colour in the unfamiliar surroundings of Wembley this afternoon. The omens are good; Wales-Scotland matches are firmly rooted in the harum- scarum tradition and, while both countries lack the physical clout to mix it with the big boys, the opportunity to revel in each other's mutual deficiencies usually guarantees a spectacle of sorts.

"The Welsh have made a large number of changes and they've made them for a reason," said the Scottish coach. "How do those changes impact on us? We'll have to see. It seems to me that they've gone for a livelier, more mobile pack, but the imagination, the heart of their operation, remains with the half-backs and centres, all of whom I enjoyed working with on the Lions tour. I admire those players and, in a way, I fear them for the things I know they can achieve.

"For all that, I consider us to be a very fit side with the ability to last the full 80 at a fast pace. Although we didn't do ourselves justice against the French a fortnight ago - we were tactically poor and we leaked three or four soft tries as a result - I'm happy that we can do the job this time. I must admit that a Triple Crown game with England would have plenty to recommend it from our point of view."

The Scots suspect that some of the personnel changes implemented by Kevin Bowring, the Welsh coach, have a lingering capacity to backfire in a big way. Arwel Thomas, such an inspired tormentor at Murrayfield last year, is no longer around to pull the strings for Scott Gibbs and Allan Bateman and there are serious question marks over the balance of the Dragons' reshaped back row - a traditional area of strength for the Scots.

Bowring has tinkered with the front row, too; having spent all week bemoaning the lack of passion and discipline shown by his team at Twickenham a fortnight back, his solution centres on a recall for the Swansea hooker, Garin Jenkins. No one doubts Jenkins' phenomenal reserves of pure, undiluted passion, but discipline? Crikey. The selectors might as well have picked little Arwel for his muscle or Shirley Bassey for her stoicism. Jenkins and discipline go together like bread and blancmange.

We should, however, have a genuine scrap on our hands whatever the outcome and, heaven knows, the championship needs it. As Finlay Calder, the former Scotland and Lions captain, remarked this week, no one enjoys parting with pounds 30 to watch a turkey shoot rather than a rugby match.

Unlike today's alleged contest between France and Ireland in Paris, this one is too close to call with any confidence. The weather has turned nicely for the Scots, however, and if they scrummage their weight and hit Doddie Weir in the line-out, a most unlikely Triple Crown will still be a possibility come 5.30 this afternoon.


at Wembley Stadium

K Morgan Pontypridd 15 D Lee London Scottish

W Proctor Llanelli 14 T Stanger Hawick

A Bateman Richmond 13 G Townsend Northampton

S Gibbs Swansea 12 A Tait Newcastle

G Thomas Cardiff 11 S Longstaff Dundee HSFP

N Jenkins Pontypridd 10 C Chalmers Melrose

R Howley Cardiff, capt 9 G Armstrong Newcastle, capt

A Lewis Cardiff 1 D Hilton Bath

G Jenkins Swansea 2 G Bulloch West of Scotland

D Young Cardiff 3 M Stewart Northampton

M Voyle Llanelli 4 D Cronin Wasps

A Moore Swansea 5 D Weir Newcastle

R Appleyard Swansea 6 R Wainwright Dundee HSFP

K Jones Ebbw Vale 7 A Roxburgh Kelso

C Charvis Swansea 8 E Peters Bath

Referee: J Dume (France) Kick-off: 4.00 (BBC1)