Rugby Union Commentary: Scots display shortcomings

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The Independent Online
AT MURRAYFIELD a magnificent new stadium is rising - almost as 'magnificent' (the official description) as the calendars the Scottish Rugby Union was so persistently trying to flog to the folk who made Saturday's national trial a virtual sell-out.

Yes, Murrayfield will be modern, and magnificent, but it will not be the same and that is a matter of as much regret as pleasure. We have seen the same at Cardiff Arms Park and are seeing it too at Twickenham. And yes, the place was nearly full to see the senior Blues pull rank on the junior Reds by 29-6.

Full, that is, as far as the SRU would allow. Only the West Central stand (capacity 7,000) was open and it needed appeals for those in their seats to move along before all of the 6,500 could get in. By then a desperate, typically tribulatory trial was half an hour old; the late-comers were probably the lucky ones.

Scottish trials usually attract around 3,000, so not only was the SRU secretary Bill Hogg 'astonished' by the turn-out but there is clearly intense interest out there in the make-up of the team to play Ireland on 16 January, when all of the new Murrayfield - currently 54,000 - will be full to bursting. The reconstruction of the North and South ends of the ground has been an engineering masterpiece.

Its punctuality may have had something to do with penalty clauses but the real penalty may be against the Scotland team themselves. The frantic building programme, going on since last spring, meant there was no autumn international - a dire state of affairs when you consider that England, Five Nations champions and favourites, have had two and right now are working out together in Lanzarote.

No amount of A-team matches (the Scots have had three) or squad training can compensate for the absence of the real thing, which was probably why Ian McGeechan, the Scotland coach, and Duncan Paterson, the manager, afterwards identified 'a competitive match' as the main benefit of the trial. After all, there was precious little else.

Now if England can arrange to play Canada at Wembley while Twickenham was a building site, surely the Scots could have done something similar. This was certainly what McGeechan wanted. One hesitates to suggest any team of his being cobbled together, but it is almost as if he admits as much himself. 'I've been concerned all the way through that we weren't getting a couple of internationals, simply because of the stadium,' he said.

Later, the reproach implied in McGeechan's description of modern rugby trends was unmistakable. 'International sides are getting like club sides,' he noted, suggesting his own had been put at a considerable disadvantage. 'You really have to have a professional approach to preparation and management of players and teams to produce any consistent and high- quality teams at this level.'

For the Scots the identification and exploitation of limited resources have never been more crucial, nor perhaps as difficult, and McGeechan needs all the help he can get from his own administrators. 'It doesn't get any easier for the likes of ourselves. That doesn't mean you opt out and say it can't be done, but you have to have it right all the time now.' Jim Telfer, his coaching predecessor and colleague, used to call it 'running to stand still'.

Unfortunately most of the running in Saturday's trial was aimless, most of the handling thoroughly disjointed. An archetypal trial, in fact. The more experienced Reds pack were a dismal disappointment, ineffective in the line-out and achieving even less continuity than the Blues, which took some doing. It was as if the new laws, love 'em or loathe 'em, had never happened.

Three of the four Blues tries came as presents seasonally gift- wrapped. Derek Turnbull and Scott Hastings were beneficiaries of charged-down kicks by Graham Shiel and Kenny Logan. Dale McIntosh was the recipient of a dreadful defensive line-out deflection by the Reds. Lastly, Damian Cronin was driven over in a tap- penalty move. Creativity had apparently gone out with the old year.

The selection to be announced on Wednesday could be a source of pride to the Celtic fringe, by which I mean of course Cornwall, Andy Reed having impressed with his ball-winning and mobility. Less conclusive was another West Country claim, that of the Bristol prop Alan Sharp, though the very idea that the Scots could contemplate choosing a player who calculatedly preferred England to Scotland in 1989 would be incredible if it were not the case.

England, as Sharp's altered allegiance shows, are no longer interested. His scrummaging is held to be in his favour, though Alan Watt, the barn-door lock Scotland tried to make a tight-head prop before switching him to the loose head, gets the ball in his hands more often in the modern way. Whatever, the turnover will be high - even if McGeechan claims it will not be unusually so.

'People don't particularly realise that we have rebuilt twice since 1985 - totally,' he said. To which the positive response is that it is better now with three full championships before the next World Cup. Even so, the retired Sole, White, Lineen and Tukalo have left a chasm rather than a hole.

Rebuilding, then, is the watchword at Murrayfield, of both the team and the ground. Once the World Sevens are over in April work will resume, this time on the West stand - and the stadium, pounds 37m sunk into its redevelopment and too many debentures still to sell, will ultimately house 67,000. Oh, and next year Scotland really will have an autumn international: against the All Blacks.

Blues: Tries Turnbull, McIntosh, S Hastings, Cronin; Conversions G Hastings 3; Penalty G Hastings. Reds: Penalties Willie 2.

BLUES: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); D Stark (Boroughmuir), G Townsend (Gala), S Hastings (Watsonians), M Appleson (London Scottish); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Jed-Forest); A Sharp (Bristol), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Wright (Boroughmuir), A Reed (Bath), D Cronin (London Scottish), D Turnbull (Hawick), D McIntosh (Pontypridd), I Morrison (London Scottish). Replacements: G Shiel for Townsend, 24; G Weir for McIntosh, 40.

REDS: K Logan (Stirling County); A Stanger (Hawick), I Jardine (Stirling County), D Willie (Stewart's/Melville FP), J Kerr (Haddington); G Shiel (Melrose), A Nicol (Dundee HSFP, capt); A Watt (Glasgow High/Kelvinside), I Corcoran (Gala), P Burnell (London Scottish), C Gray (Nottingham), G Weir (Melrose), D McIvor (Edinburgh Academicals), S Reid (Boroughmuir), I Smith (Gloucester). Replacements: A Donaldson (Currie) for Shiel, 24; S Munroe (Glasgow High/Kelvinside) for Weir, 40.

Referee: J Fleming (Boroughmuir).