Prime time for the nines

Rugby Union: World Cup; Owen Slot looks at the contrasting styles of the scrum-halves in opposition today
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THERE were two moments in Scotland's game against France last weekend when Bryan Redpath realised he had the French worried. "Benetton, the No 8, picked up from behind a scrum and was about to run but I got round to him, grabbed him and managed to bring him down," the Scots' scrum- half recalled. "I then tried to rip the ball off him and he wouldn't release it. But I knew that I could get to him and I knew also that he was thinking about me." Philippe Benetton soon went off injured to be replaced by Marc Cecillon. "And I caught Cecillon, too," Redpath added. "Exactly the same way. These things give you a real boost."

For all the heartbreak of Scotland's last-second defeat at Loftus Versfeld, they were able to find comfort in Redpath's performance, which had just about everything - including the beautiful, instinctive behind-the-back pass to Gavin Hastings which made Scotland's try and the assaults on the back of the opposition scrum which are almost a lost art for players in his position. "If you can stop the ball at source, then why not?" he said. "Not many of us seem to do it any more. Bachop does - which should make it interesting today."

This afternoon, Redpath will be at Loftus Versfeld again and Graeme Bachop will be his opposite number. If Joost van der Westhuizen, with his stunning performance against Australia, may have laid his claim to being the most complete scrum-half in the tournament, then Bachop, the All Black No 9, can at least claim to be the most immaculate distributor of the ball, and Redpath, as is his wont, is mounting a determined challenge with his all-round talent.

It makes for a fascinating contest in today's quarter-final, says Michael Bradley, the Irish scrum-half who has played against them both this year. "I've never seen anyone with a pass like Bachop's - it's unique and so effective. He's a passer and a thinker, whereas Redpath is head down most of the time, always in the action, very fast and low to the ground and, in the same mould as Roy Laidlaw and Gary Armstrong, very difficult to get on the ground." His verdict on the two? "Bachop is a world-class player. Redpath has the potential to be one."

Though they will dominate the world stage today, a year ago neither player was even on it. Redpath was Scotland's third-choice scrum-half behind Armstrong and Andy Nicol, and Bachop was anywhere between the second and fourth choice of his national coach, Laurie Mains. Bachop was one of the many players who lost his place in the selection merry-go-round that Mains has conducted since he became the New Zealand coach after the last World Cup, even though Bachop was one of the few players who impressed in the 1991 campaign.

His elder brother, Stephen, played in that World Cup for Western Samoa - regarded then as the New Zealand B team - but Graeme, only 24, was an established All Black first-choice having already become an international two years earlier. He proved in 1991 that he was the ideal link man for Grant Fox and, in Bradley's view, was one of the best scrum-halves in the world. "I rated him up there with Nick Farr-Jones. There was no one else."

Mains, however, wanted more, and a succession of players - Stu Forster, John Preston and Ant Strachan - took turns to fill the shirt. Bachop was so certain that his international career was over that last year he accepted a job in Japan. However, a smart decision a couple of years earlier meant that as the merry-go-round kept on spinning, Bachop's name came up for selection again. Bachop had changed clubs, moving to High School Old Boys where Andrew Mehrtens was beginning to establish himself. "I could see that Andrew was going to be one of the players of the future," Bachop said, "so it would obviously be good to be playing with him."

Mehrtens was soon alongside him at Canterbury, his provincial side, and when the young outside-half got the call-up for the All Blacks' winter training camps, Bachop was given leave from Japan to join him. Mehrtens is now one of the stars of the World Cup but is never slow to attribute his success to Bachop: the understanding between them, Bachop's advice on decision-making and, of course, that silver service.

While Bachop was coming back for New Zealand, Redpath was coming through for Scotland. He had made his debut in 1993 against the All Blacks as a temporary replacement when Scotland were thrashed 51-15, and has struggled to be seen as anything but a temporary replacement since. "From the start, there have been questions over whether I could fill Armstrong's shoes, and if not his, then Nicol's," he said. "People get so wound up over what Gary's done. But he does things I'll never do."

Only in this year's Five Nations' Championship, with Armstrong and Nicol injured, did Redpath have a chance to settle in the national side, a process which was also helped by having his club stand-off outside him. "Craig [Chalmers] would shout and swear at me and tell me exactly what he wanted. But he was also good in letting me do more and more," Redpath said. "When I first played for Scotland, I was just the link, but I've got a wider role now."

He made that clear against France. What is also clear is that Redpath fits easily into the scrum-half mould. "You have to be a chopsy, dominant character," Steve Smith, the former England scrum-half, said. "The fact that you are probably 11 to 13 stone [Redpath is 11st 4lb] and you are bossing around the pack, blokes who are probably 15 to 19 stone, means you've got to have confidence."

Scrum-halves are always talking, normally to their forwards, but sometimes to each other. "I've never played against a good scrum-half who's quiet," says Smith, hitting on a weakness of Bachop's. One of the reasons Bachop was dropped was because Mains didn't think he communicated enough with his forwards. "I'm a quiet person off the field," Bachop said. "So on it, this was something I have made an effort to change." So who is the better - Redpath or the new, all-talking Bachop? Bradley goes for Bachop, Smith for Redpath, saying that Bachop does not run enough: "It's all right having a nice service, but if you don't run occasionally and engage the opposition back row, they'll think of you as no threat and move straight to the fly-half."

Smith's all-time best scrum-halves are Gareth Edwards, Dave Loveridge, Sid Going and Terry Holmes, "and of the modern guys, Van der Westhuizen. These guys were always the first threat. You couldn't leave them alone until they had passed the ball."

In the gospel according to Smith, then, Redpath has more chance of joining such exalted company than Bachop. But, as Bradley points out, "a scrum- half is only a reflection of the rest of the side. It all relates to the quality and quantity of possession." So while Bachop may be flicking out his wonderful pass relentlessly today, the chances are that we will see that other side to Redpath, the man who can bring down players the size of Benetton and Cecillon and is forced to use defence as the best form of attack.

Scotland v New Zealand

at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

G Hastings Watsonians, capt 15 J Wilson Otago

C Joiner Melrose 14 M Ellis Otago

S Hastings Watsonians 13 F Bunce North Harbour

G Shiel Melrose 12 W Little North Harbour

K Logan Stirling County 11 J Lomu Counties

C Chalmers Melrose 10 A Mehrtens Canterbury

B Redpath Melrose 9 G Bachop Canterbury

D Hilton Bath 1 R Loe Canterbury

K Milne Heriot's FP 2 S Fitzpatrick Auckland, capt

P Wright Boroughmuir 3 O Brown Auckland

D Cronin Bourges 4 I Jones North Harbour

G Weir Melrose 5 R Brooke Auckland

R Wainwright West Hartlepool 6 M Brewer Canterbury

E Peters Bath 8 Z Brooke Auckland

I Morrison London Scottish 7 J Kronfeld Otago

Referee: D Bevan (Wales) Kick-off: 2.30 (ITV)

Comments