Chastened Scotland opt for Townsend

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Gregor Townsend will get a belated opportunity to prove himself the most exciting outside- half in British rugby when a chastened Scottish side take on England in the Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham on Saturday week.

The versatile but often miscast Northampton playmaker replaces Craig Chalmers in the pivot position following the Scots' underbaked display against Wales at Murrayfield last weekend. Equally significant are two other changes to the middle five positions. Bryan Redpath gets the nod over Gary Armstrong at scrum-half while Ian Smith, the Gloucester flanker, returns on the open-side after missing the Wales match with a broken thumb. Murray Wallace steps down from the back row to make way for his more experienced rival.

The selection makes rather more sense this time around, even though Rob Wainwright, the captain, once again occupies the No 8 position rather than his more effective blind-side role. Richie Dixon, the chief coach, and his colleagues have sensibly decided to use last year's Five Nations as a template. On that occasion, the back row and half-backs made light of shortcomings elsewhere to take the Scots to within 80 minutes of an unexpected Grand Slam.

Repercussions from the Welsh defeat have also been felt in the front row and the threequarter line. Dave Hilton, the prop forward from Bath, is relegated to the replacements' bench as Tom Smith, the uncapped Watsonian, earns a debut at loose head while the centre Scott Hastings, a try-scorer last Saturday, is dropped for the second time this season.

Ronnie Ericksson of London Scottish returns at centre and is joined by Tony Stanger, who moves inside from the right wing. Derek Stark, a genuine speed merchant from Melrose, gets his first start in the No 14 shirt since 1993, when he played in all four Five Nations games.

Surprisingly, there is no room for Alan Tait, the former rugby league centre who shone for Scotland A in their 50-point victory over Emerging Wales in Edinburgh last Friday. Indeed, the selectors have declined to promote any of the second-stringers, preferring to make full use of the existing senior squad.

Townsend's performance at Twickenham will be of intense interest to two Scots who are more acutely aware of his talents than most: Ian McGeechan, the Lions coach for this summer's tour of South Africa, and Jim Telfer, his No 2. Both men have worked closely with the mercurial 23-year-old in recent years - McGeechan is Towns-end's club coach at Franklins Gardens - and if the Lions rumour mill is up to speed, they are looking at the Edinburgh-born Saint as their first-choice stand-off.

One player who might have something to say about that is Arwel Thomas, who played so brilliantly at Murrayfield while Townsend was struggling to stamp some authority on events from the less influential position of inside centre. Thomas and the rest of his buoyant countrymen face Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday week and the selectors, who name their side tomorrow, are expected to leave well alone.

SCOTLAND (v England, Calcutta Cup, Twickenham, 1 February): R Shepherd (Melrose); D Stark (Melrose), A Stanger (Hawick), R Ericksson (London Scottish), K Logan (Stirling Co); G Townsend (Northampton), B Redpath (Melrose); G Smith (Watsonians), G Ellis (Currie), M Stewart (Northampton), G Weir (Newcastle), A Reed (Wasps), P Walton (Newcastle), R Wainwright (Watsonians, capt), I Smith (Gloucester). Replacements: S Hastings (Watsonians), C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Newcastle), S Munro (GHK), D Hilton (Bath), S Brotherstone (Melrose).

Free-thinking Lions, page 24