Hastings seeks to realise final playing ambition

Rugby Union: Bill Leith on a restructured Scottish League with a cosmopolitan flavour
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Poor Watsonians. Gavin Hastings' club have to embark on a radically altered Scottish League programme with only one World Cup captain in their line-up this afternoon.

Edinburgh's rugby scene has been awash with speculation that Hastings would be playing alongside his All Black counterpart, Sean Fitzpatrick, this season. Hastings kept quiet until, a few days ago, he finally confessed to having made an approach to Fitzpatrick. "When I spoke with Sean I was under the impression he would be retiring from internationals, but any chance of him joining Watsonians disappeared when he decided to make himself available for the All Blacks' tour of France," he said.

Into the vacancy reserved for `Fitzy' against Gala today will step either Grant McKelvie, from Haddington, or the former New Zealand Under-21 hooker, Si Farland.

Hastings, adamant he has retired from internationals, makes it clear his remaining rugby ambition is to help Watsonians capture the title for the first time. Their fate will be known by Christmas under their new format based on four Premier divisions of eight clubs, meeting home and away, backed up by national leagues. An official Scottish Cup is also on the agenda for the first time.

Although Gary Armstrong will make his competitive return after 18 months out injured in the Second Division with Jed-Forest, attention will focus on eight leading teams of whom only the defending champions, Stirling County, come from outside Edinburgh and the Borders, a polarisation provoking much concern.

Stirling, strengthened by the arrival of the international prop, John Manson from Dundee, are aware of extra pressures and already psyching themselves up. Their coach, Brian Edwards, has been muttering darkly about what he sees as a lack of proper representation in the latest 47-strong Scotland squad.

Should the going get tough, it will be interesting to see whether home- spun Stirling send abroad for reinforcements since clubs have successfully fought off the Scottish Rugby Union's attempts to introduce a qualifying period for non-nationals. Two overseas players per team is still being permitted and the leagues will shortly have a cosmopolitan flavour.

Hawick and Gala have each signed two South Africans, the favourites Melrose have lined up a flanker of Tongan descent, while Heriot's and Boroughmuir will have a New Zealand influence.




P W D L F A Pts

Stirling Co 13 11 1 1 234 162 23

Watsonians 13 9 0 4 296 212 18

Edinburgh Acs 13 7 2 4 214 141 16

Hawick 13 7 2 4 215 199 16

Boroughmuir 13 7 1 5 325 226 15

Heriot's FP 13 7 1 5 199 195 15

Gala 13 7 1 5 226 245 15

Melrose 13 7 0 6 308 261 14

Glasgow HK 13 6 1 6 226 183 13

Jed-Forest 13 6 0 7 221 256 12

West of Sco 13 5 0 8 16 233 10

Dundee HSFP 13 3 1 9 200 264 7

Currie 13 3 0 10 188 280 6

Stewart's Mel 13 1 0 12 158 321 2