Rugby Union: Armstrong poised for return: Scots drop Chalmers for Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WITH a fine sense of irony, the Scotland selectors yesterday left a place open for Gary Armstrong to face England at Murrayfield on 5 February at the same time as dropping, for the first time, Craig Chalmers, Armstrong's half-back partner since 1989.

Chalmers makes way for the up-and-coming Gregor Townsend; Armstrong needs to prove his fitness at the weekend before the choice is finalised between him and Andy Nicol, who has a rib injury as a legacy of Scotland's 29-6 defeat by Wales. That dismal performance has prompted another bout of selectorial claymore-wielding. Nine changes for the Welsh match are followed by seven this time.

Having been thrashed by New Zealand and trounced by Wales, Scotland are now seeking inspiration from Robert the Bruce as well as Gary Armstrong. The team announcement, brought forward 10 days, was made in the Bannockburn Room at the Peebles Hydro Hotel, where the manager, Duncan Paterson, was surrounded by wall-paintings of Englishmen being hammered by Scots in 1314.

Bruce's latest successors include two new caps, both Anglos: the prop, Alan Sharp, and the flanker, Peter Walton. Anglo-Scottish allegiance has become so catching that yesterday David Egerton, who won seven caps in the England back row from 1988-90, declared for Scotland, citing not one but two Scottish grannies. These days, though, he is only a humble Bath reserve.

Yet another Anglo, the Caledonian Cornishman, Andy Reed, who has played hardly any rugby this season, returns at lock and Scott Hastings, fit again, at centre alongside Douglas Wyllie. Out with Chalmers go Jardine, Wright, Edwards, Turnbull and probably Nicol.

As for Armstrong, after withdrawing from last summer's Lions tour to New Zealand, the reclusive scrum-half gave up international rugby and tried to begin afresh with his club, Jed-Forest, first in the centre and then at outside-half.

As he showed when playing for the Barbarians against the All Blacks last month, he has lost none of the scrum-half skills that made him one of the world's best and provided he establishes his fitness in Jed's game with Gala tomorrow he will almost certainly fill the space that was left yesterday. In which case the Calcutta Cup match would bring Armstrong his 29th cap.

Meanwhile, South Wales Constabulary yesterday decided to take no action on the complaint made to them by an Edinburgh lawyer alleging that punches repeatedly thrown by the Wales hooker, Garin Jenkins, at Derek Turnbull last Saturday amounted to assault.

SCOTLAND (v England, Murrayfield, 5 February): G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); A Stanger (Hawick), S Hastings (Watsonians), D Wyllie (Stewart's Melville FP), K Logan (Stirling County); G Townsend (Gala), A N Other; A Sharp (Bristol), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Burnell (London Scottish), S Munro (Glasgow High / Kelvinside), A Reed (Bath), P Walton (Northampton), G Weir (Melrose), R Wainwright (Edinburgh Academicals). Replacements: D Stark (Boroughmuir), I Jardine (Stirling County), A N Other, I Smith (Gloucester), A Watt (Glasgow High / Kelvinside), K McKenzie (Stirling County).