Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Survival struggle for Scotland and Wales: Paterson rejects talk of crisis north of the border

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The Independent Online
WHEN Wales and Scotland open the Five Nations' Championship at the Arms Park this afternoon, their match will be known as the Scottish Life Challenge. This is no joke, though the tormented reaction to the Scots' 51-15 defeat by New Zealand has questioned whether there is such a thing as Scottish rugby life any more.

What with the new distraction of Craig Chalmers and his unauthorised injection on top of that record- breaking Murrayfield result, recent times have sometimes seemed as dark as the All Blacks' jerseys. 'We've got a job to do and we'd like to be left to get on with it,' Duncan Paterson, the team manager, pleaded.

In view of the foregoing, yesterday's training session in the shadow of the Severn Bridge came as light relief, though the mere fact of getting away from Scotland - which in this context is as good as getting away from it all - may prove of even greater assistance to Gavin Hastings's team.

Mind you, Wales are in much the same boat after their own humbling experience, home defeat by Canada, and it is scarcely surprising that there are a few patronising Englishmen gloatingly calling today's game the wooden-spoon decider. Will Carling's hyped-up team do not commence for another three weeks - at Murrayfield.

The depths of both countries' difficulties depend on who you listen to. Finlay Calder, the former Scotland and Lions captain, may anticipate a whitewash because the Scots are 'in disarray' but the latest issue of Scottish Rugby magazine has the headline 'Crisis] What crisis?' trailing an interview with Paterson in which he puts a perversely positive gloss on a fraught situation.

Memories being short, what a difference a win in Cardiff would make - and that applies as much to Wales as to Scotland. The habit of home victory which Wales established when they were unbeaten in the championship in Cardiff from 1967-82 was kicked an awfully long time ago, so much so that of the 21 internationals they have played there since the 1988 Triple Crown there have been only six wins against 14 losses and one draw.

So when Paterson says: 'Their big threat is that they are playing at home in Cardiff', it must be his nostalgia talking. When he made his one appearance there as a player in 1972 Wales won 35-12, his opposite number - one Gareth Edwards - scored one of international rugby's best-remembered tries, and Paterson never played for Scotland again.

In fact the Arms Park has latterly become a millstone round Welsh necks, its febrile atmosphere accentuating the negative just as it used to accentuate the positive when times were happier. 'What we need to develop in the team is confidence, and that comes from winning,' Alan Davies, the Wales coach, said. 'Once they have the confidence, the players will relax and perform to their best.'

Unfortunately for Davies, given that he needs a win to secure his position, relaxation is one thing the great ground is never liable to induce, though it remains pleasant to hope. 'The secret is to push the pressures to one side and let the talent come out,' he confided.

In fact there is more than enough talent in Ieuan Evans's side, even without the cruelly injured Scott Gibbs, to see off the Scots today, though so much depends on Wales's performing not only better but also more intelligently that one hesitates to hazard this as an outright prediction.

If it happened, it would emphatically not imply the terminal decline of Scottish rugby. Indeed, in a broader sense than this match or this season's matches, Scotland are already winning their own Scottish life challenge hands down. The outward and visible sign is the magnificent new Murrayfield, whose capacity will be up from 36,500 against New Zealand to 53,000 against England and a final 67,500 for the South Africa match next November.

Bearing in mind that Scottish football does not have a national stadium, that sponsors are queuing up to become involved in Scottish rugby when the Scottish Football League cannot find one, that those rugby players who complete a full season of internationals will make around pounds 5,000 each from ancillary ventures where their footballing counterparts get pounds 150 a match, the game north of the border is in ruder health than was obvious when the All Blacks were running up their half-century.

On the other hand, this does not mean Scotland - or Wales - will win any trophies, whether mythical like the Triple Crown or actual like the Five Nations' Trophy which now exists. 'We can go into the championship with confidence,' Paterson insisted, adding that there was an 'unexplained feeling' about Scotland's build-up, 'almost similar to four years ago, though we probably shouldn't think like that'.

As Scotland - the Scotland of Calder, Jeffrey, Sole et al, that is - famously did the Grand Slam four years ago, they definitely should not think like that.

Dynasty gives Quinnell strength,

Clohessy's chance, page 22

---------------------------------------------------------------------- WALES v SCOTLAND (At Cardiff Arms Park) ---------------------------------------------------------------------- A Clement. . . . . . . .Swansea 15 G Hastings. . . . . Watsonians (capt) I Evans. . . . . Llanelli, capt 14 A Stanger. . . . . .Hawick M Hall. . . . . . . . . Cardiff 13 G Townsend. . . . . Gala N Davies. . . . . . . .Llanelli 12 I Jardine. . . . . .Stirling County N Walker. . . . . . . . Cardiff 11 K Logan. . . . . . .Stirling County N Jenkins. . . . . . Pontypridd 10 C Chalmers. . . . . Melrose R Moon. . . . . . . . .Llanelli 9 A Nicol. . . . . . . Dundee HSFP R Evans. . . . . . . . Llanelli 1 P Wright. . . . . . .Boroughmuir G Jenkins. . . . . . . .Swansea 2 K Milne. . . . . . . Heriot's FP J Davies. . . . . . . . . Neath 3 P Burnell. . . . . . London Scottish P Davies. . . . . . . .Llanelli 4 N Edwards. . . . . . Northampton G O Llewellyn. . . . . . .Neath 5 S Munro. . . . . . . Glasgow High/ Kelvinside E Lewis. . . . . . . . Llanelli 6 D Turnbull. . . . . .Hawick S Quinnell. . . . . . .Llanelli 8 R Wainwright. . . . .Edinburgh Academicals M Perego. . . . . . . .Llanelli 7 I Morrison. . . . . .London Scottish ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Replacements: 16 R Jones, 17 M Replacements: 16 D Stark (Boroughmuir) Rayer (Cardiff), 18 Barrie 17 D Wyllie (Stewart's/Melville FP), Williams (Neath), 19 H 18 B Redpath (Melrose), 19 G Weir Williams-Jones (Llanelli), 20 H (Melrose), 20 A Sharp (Bristol), 21 Taylor (Cardiff), 21 A Copsey 21 K McKenzie (Stirling County) (Llanelli) ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Referee: P Robin (France). Kick-off: 2.30pm. TV: Live on BBC1. ----------------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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