Rugby Union: Armstrong misses out on finale: Scots lose scrum-half and French coach in danger of losing post

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The Independent Online
GARY ARMSTRONG, the driving force behind Scotland's post-All Black improvement, will be missing when they conclude the Five Nations' Championship against France at Murrayfield on Saturday week - a game that could well cost Pierre Berbizier his position as French coach if his team lose.

Armstrong yesterday had an operation to tighten slack tendons in a hand, the product of a dislocated thumb 20 minutes from the end of last Saturday's 6-6 draw in Ireland. The reluctant scrum-half, who had to be persuaded back into international rugby after the Scots' 51- 15 defeat by New Zealand in November, will have the hand in plaster for four weeks and be out of rugby for eight.

Armstrong began the season playing anywhere but scrum- half, and his form since his return to his familiar position has suggested that the break had done him a power of good. The likely alternative is Bryan Redpath, of Melrose, who has twice won caps as a temporary substitute and was on the bench in Dublin.

Meanwhile, Berbizier acknowledged that defeat at Murrayfield on top of last Saturday's by England would probably end his coaching tenure. In the fall-out from England's 18-14 victory even one of Berbizier's co-selectors has expressed his doubts publicly.

The old No 8, Andre Herrero, said yesterday: 'Undeniably there is a gap between Pierre's team talks and what some players are able to deliver. It is starting to get serious. Pierre must take the necessary decisions now if he wants to retain his credibility.'

This implies significant team changes, and Berbizier has already as good as dismissed the half-backs who flopped against England, Alain Penaud and Fabien Galthie. 'I know my job is at stake but that is a risk every French coach takes,' Berbizier said. 'I am not the one who is demanding; it is the game itself.'

No such worries for the England coach, even if tries have dried up over the past five matches. Dick Best yesterday placed the blame for this entirely on England's rascally opponents: 'If the other sides had not repeatedly offended we would have claimed two or three tries at least.

'Often we have had our momentum really going until we were stopped. Sides know we want quick ball at second and third phase and have prevented us getting that ball illegally. We have no option then but to shrug our shoulders and let our kickers take the three penalty points.'

In Wales, Swansea are likely to cite the player responsible for putting Aled Williams out for the season with a fractured cheekbone against Bridgend. At the time, the referee spoke to the Bridgend forward Nigel Spender. Cardiff are to study video evidence before deciding whether to cite a Neath forward for an incident which caused Mike Budd to have 18 stitches in a head wound.

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