No regrets for Peters on Caledonian road

Barrie Fairall reports on the Bath rugby union forward who takes his fi rst steps for Scotland against Italy today
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The Independent Online
Any Scotsman worth his salt may be wondering how long it will be before the Scottish rugby selectors come up with a team composed entirely of players who, besides not taking porridge regularly for breakfast, would never dream of reaching for the salt cellar, even on the rare occasions when consuming the national dish. They have a point.

While raids across the border used to be of the claymore-and-take-no-prisoners variety, the latest object of the exercise is to return with a prize worth the taking, namely a player from a leading English club. The accent may grate somewhat but, in timesof hardship, anyone with Scottish connections is made to feel at home, and little old Scots grannies have never enjoyed such importance.

Well, after further Scottish homework, now there is another from the south taking the high road that, with luck, leads to a full cap. Eric Peters, though, does not have to scour the family tree before spotting a Scots grandmother lurking in the branches,his qualifications for tomorrow's A team to play the Italians at Perth being quite impeccable.

The former Saracens and now Bath back-row forward may have had an English education, and indeed played for the England Under 21s, Universities and Students, but while he takes the field at No 8 at McDiarmid Park, he does so on the strength of a true calling. "I was born in Glasgow," he said, "and both my parents hail from Dumbarton, so there's a strong Scottish link."

And the sort of strong link in a playing sense that the Scots cannot ignore. Peters, at 6ft 5in and pushing 17 stone, is just the big, mobile, modern-day forward selectors drool over, and sterling performances for the Scottish Exiles in their march to the Inter-District title have landed him where he is now.

"My parents had been trying to get me to go the Scottish way for quite some time," he said. "But while the Exiles approached me two or three years ago, I wanted to complete my student days, settle down at Bath and then go for it."

Educated at Brentwood School, his studies continued at Loughborough and Cambridge, where he finished up leading the side to their 1992 victory over the Dark Blues at Twickenham.

"Winning the Varsity match as underdogs when I was captain was my biggest game to date. It was something I worked for all year." But then a successful game against the Italians could lead to a Five Nations call and the world cup beyond. "Yes, there are big things ahead if you can perform. The Italian match is a great opportunity. It's all about making sure that they feel it was a good choice to have played me. I'll really give it a go because these chances don't come up that often."

Peters, described as a "late-boy, scruff-bag" in that Twickenham programme of '92, but "ideally suited, however, to his job as a publican on going down from Cambridge," has, in fact, ended up as a surveyor within striking distance of the Rec.

"It was on Jack Rowell's advice that I came to Bath," the 25-year-old said.

Rowell, now England manager, looked after the English Students." He was very good," Peters said. The learning curve has continued under Brian Ashton, Rowell's successor at Bath. "I've also found that Al McHarg has got the right sort of balance on the coaching front. He's done a very good job with the Exiles - a simple game plan that worked well. He's also a good motivator."

And Peters is always willing to learn: "I think every player has bits of his game that need improving, and Dave Egerton's given me a lot of help at Bath."

Egerton, the former England back row, has now retired because of shoulder problems, which means that Peters, whose first-team appearances have been limited, can concentrate on his favourite position.

"You can almost be too tall at No 8 because you've got to be able to explode and go forward. I think I am the perfect height, but different people have different ideas. I'll be playing at No 8 tomorrow, which is the position I've played in all the time so far with the Scots."

Peters recognises he might have to be as flexible in the Scottish set-up, as has been Ben Clarke, another Bath man who has been called upon in all three back-row positions, for the England team. "While No 8 is my favourite position, I've played at No 6. I don't normally miss tackles and I am quite mobile.I'd like to think I was a rounded player."

Which could prove useful. "There are various combinations the Scots can play by the time it comes round to the Five Nations. Rob Wainwright, for example, will obviously be in the back row.Then there's Ian Morrison and Dody Weir. It's going to be very competitive and everyone will be champing at the bit."