Revivalists' opportunity to finish best of British

RUGBY UNION WORLD CUP 1995 HOME PROSPECTS; No 1: Scotland
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These have been a remarkably revivalist past six months for Scottish rugby and it is perhaps time to invite a sense of moderation, a tempering of elation as Scotland await their fate in Group D of the World Cup.

In which case there is no one better qualified than Jim Telfer, former captain and coach and latterly the Scottish Rugby Union's full-time director of rugby, to oblige: "We were never as bad as most people made us out to be, and we're nowhere near as good as those same people are now saying."

If the grudging Telfer and his typically hard-nosed remark do nothing else, they will ensure that the Scots appreciate they will need a performance at least as good as that which carried them to victory in Paris last season when they play the conclusive pool game against France in Pretoria on Wednesday week.

Whether they have it in them is arguable at best, not least because of the succession of training injuries that have afflicted them here in South Africa, and reliant at least as much on the unpredictability of the French as on their own, still uncertain quality. But the very fact that the Scots are given a chance now shows how far things have changed within six months.

This relates to the men as well as the mood. Last November Scotland's trouncing by South Africa at Murrayfield was their ninth successive game without a win and, having in the aftermath of that calamity said they stood by their dispirited players, the selectors then repudiated two-thirds of them the next time they had a choice to make.

What at the time smacked of panic became perfect perception when a team with 10 changes produced victories over Canada, Ireland, France and Wales. By the time of Scotland's Grand Slam decider at Twickenham the very least that could be said of them was that they had become highly committed and competitive.

Commonplace as these attributes may sound, they will prove - or should do, at any rate - substantial virtues in this World Cup, particularly as the French have no idea whether it will be their dark or their light side that is about to be exposed on the high veldt.

The dark is their dismal form of the Five Nations, the light the combination of vivacity - essentially Gallic - and unbendable determination - more Anglo-Saxon really - that carried them to their series wins in New Zealand last year and, a year earlier, here in South Africa. These were achievements that would be beyond the capacity of the Scots.

The pool runners-up can already confidently expect to meet New Zealand, rather than the preferred alternative of Ireland or Wales, in the quarter- finals and though France in the mood might just confound the All Blacks once more, this would be difficult to imagine of Gavin Hastings' side, rejuvenated as they may be.

That said, they have travelled a long way from the despair that prevailed before Christmas when even Tonga (though never the Ivory Coast, their first opponents on Friday) were starting to loom as an insurmountable obstacle. Douglas Morgan, the coach, has subsequently defended his selection but the 20/20 vision of hindsight shows that the team who crumbled against the Springboks were crucially weaker than they should have been.

You need only look at Rob Wainwright's influence during the Five Nations' Championship to realise that, if he was fit enough to be worth a place against South Africa for Scotland A (who won), then so he was for the Test itself. The Scots, with their limited player base, can scarcely afford to forgo any player whose presence has as powerful an effect on others as Wainwright's. The same might be said of big Gav himself.

Where Wainwright is strongest, at the tail of the line-out and leading a buccaneering back row with Eric Peters and Iain Morrison alongside, is where Scotland are too. But there are also weaknesses which will be proportionately more critical the longer they survive. For instance, the rest of their line-out will never provide an adequate supply of possession.

Time for gratitude, therefore, that France's line-out is no better and that neither the Tongans nor the Ivorians have the necessary height or expertise. But once they come up against the likes of England or Australia, or even New Zealand who compensate for lack of stature with a combination of efficiency and single-mindedness, an intrinsically difficult area will probably become impossible.

But then a few months back it would have been equally impossible to suggest even a modestly favourable World Cup. Times having changed, England's adverse draw - with species of fauna, either Wallabies or Springboks, to meet in their quarter-final - is such that Scotland could even end up, by reaching the semis, as the best of British Isles.

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