Hastings out to restore Scots' pride

FIVE NATIONS FOCUS: Saint-Andre has introduced discipline and self-cont rol into his team while Irish face an unfancied Scotland

Do you not think, Gavin Hastings was asked, that the Five Nations' Championship has split into a first division and a second? "No." It was one of the more elaborate answers at a press conference yesterday that lasted all of eight minutes.

Hastings, who today against Ireland sets a Scottish record with his 53rd appearance, has become an honours graduate in the school of hard knocks and the potential author of a guide on how to survive on the streets of Edinburgh. After the debacle against South Africa - victory over Canada two weeks ago ended a run of nine defeats - the view that Hastings was past his best grew into a chorus.

Earlier in the week Hastings was less monosyllabic on television and in a ghosted newspaper column. He revealed that he is still suffering from the effects of a long-standing back injury and added: "Anyone who knows me as a person will realise that I will respond in the only way I know how and that's in a positive fashion. I have tremendous belief and confidence in myself and that's why I make myself available for selection. Not for Gavin Hastings but because I can do a job for Scotland."

As an employee with Carnegie, an Edinburgh-based management company, the Scotland captain, 33 last month, is also doing a job for the Scottish RFU, selling debentures to help pay for Murrayfield's £45m stadium. And it needs the hard sell.

The previous record for caps was held jointly by Jim Renwick and Colin Deans but Renwick, for one, will not be at Murrayfield today. "I won't go back until the team changes its approach," he said. Renwick, who was an incisive centre and who is now assistant coach at Hawick, saw enough when Scotland, in a particularly unimaginative display, were beaten by France in Edinburgh last season.

With tickets and a meal, the day cost Renwick about £100, money he did not consider well spent. "The players I admire are the ones who can change the pace of a game, whether its rugby or football," he said. Scotland have to get the ball in the first place, and Renwick remarked: "We don't seem to breed big lads to dominate the line-out. We have about 15 to England's 100. Perhaps it's in the genes."

Like most countries Scotland have adopted a modern approach to the game, employing weight trainers, sprint coaches, psychologists and nutritionists. A fat lot of good it has done them. Perhaps they should stick to haggis and tossing the caber. When PeterClohessy, the Irish prop, was suspended for 10 weeks last season did he go weight training? Not at all. He went to Moscow to put up ceilings in the White House.

Scotland, bottom of the table last year, gained a solitary point with a draw against Ireland. Both countries have made wholesale changes this season, Scotland after being outplayed by the South Africans, and Ireland following their defeat to England in Dublin. The Irish have not won here since 1985 and only two members of that side, Brendan Mullin and Michael Bradley, are playing today.

"There is a feeling abroad that Scotland are not a very good team," Gerry Murphy, the Ireland coach, said. "But we'd be very foolish to take anything for granted." The feeling is more at home than abroad. A rugby presentation in the window of a stationer's in Leith did not say "Good luck Scotland". It said: "Good luck Scotland A." The shop is owned by the father-in-law of Scott Hastings, one of eight players dropped after the South Africa game and who was yesterday playing for the A team against IrelandA.

Tony Stanger, whose try against the Springboks made him Scotland's second leading try-scorer, asked not to be considered on the wing against Canada and he, too, was dropped. Stanger wants to play at centre and the selectors will not have it, yet, strangely enough, they are prepared to accommodate a stand-off, Gregor Townsend.

If Scotland, who travel to France in two weeks' time, are to regain any credibility they have to beat Ireland (the Scots might say that the feeling across the water is that Ireland are not a very good team) and Hastings (488 points) will have to do a jobfor them.

The crowd at Murrayfield has been accustomed to seeing the Princess Royal, Scotland's patron, being presented to both teams. Not today. She suggested she should stay in the stand for the good of the teams after noticing that before the game against Canada the players' teeth were chattering as the royal hand was extended in its line of duty. Not only that but the wee Scottish mascot, a young lad wearing only a rugby jersey against the cold, was in danger of hypothermia.

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