Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Watt power fuels Scots' ambitions: Johnson has to follow in giant footsteps while Ireland look to new stand-off Malone for inspiration

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IN HIS new position as captain of Scotland, Gavin Hastings has been giving some thought to sport in general and the conclusions he has reached would almost certainly be beyond the ken of the Scottish Rugby Union.

'Actually,' Hastings said, 'I wish we could just scrap the terms amateur and professional. There is no such thing as an amateur sport any more. Not that I'm asking to be paid to play rugby. It's just that these terms are outdated.

'The money that is pouring in will eventually take sport full circle and we'll be back in the Victorian situation where only the rich can afford to participate. Any sport can only develop so far, then the public switch off and without the public there is no way the interest can be sustained. I believe that in about 20 years sport as we know it is going to go phut.' Crikey.

This is not at all what the SRU, which is among the first to man the ramparts against professionalism and which is in the process of investing pounds 37m in the Murrayfield 'megadome', has in mind.

Hastings, who is an executive with the Carnegie partnership, an Edinburgh-based sports management company, said in last night's Edinburgh Evening News: 'The captaincy, with its high profile, does me no harm jobwise. I'm a great admirer of the American concept of marketing sport. If there is one other sport I'd love to play it is American football. Their season runs for six months during which they play 16 games. They train for four months and have the other two off. I can't remember when I had two months off and I'm a supposedly amateur sportsman with a job to consider.' As Bill McLaren might have put it, they'll be spluttering into their 10-year-old malt in Craigellachie over that one.

Should Scotland lose to Ireland today, Hastings might be advised to take himself off to the Dallas Cowboys. With everybody, it seems, now true believers in the invincibility of England, the match at Murrayfield, of course, carries limited ambition, like avoiding the wooden spoon. If the perception is that England have turned the Five Nations' Championship into a one-horse race then similarly Ireland are looked upon among the also-rans as the novice contender for the glue factory.

Both Scotland and Ireland are the poor relations, their modest populations plagued by the recruitment of soccer and Gaelic football but it is the Irish who have a season ticket to the pawnbrokers. Ireland have gone 11 championship games without a win; they have won only four of their last 24 and their last victory was against Wales in 1990.

Whitewashed last season, Ireland's best chance of avoiding a repeat lies against Scotland. What they really needed was to play Scotland and Wales in Dublin but they are away to both and home advantage against France and England may count for nothing.

Scotland and Ireland are going through a rebuilding but nobody is quite sure whether they are using the right materials. An indication of Scotland's problems is that Damian Cronin is the only member of the pack to take the field against Australia for the second Test last June who is retained in the same position. The performance of Alan Watt, who has come in at loosehead prop for the injured Alan Sharp, could be crucial. Watt, 6ft 5in and 20st, has been converted from lock to tighthead to loosehead.

They also have a new wing in Derek Stark, a converted sprinter, a new flanker in the 30-year-old Iain Morrison, who was a contemporary at Glenalmond School of the immediate past Scottish captain David Sole (now retired) and a new lock in Andy Reed, a converted Cornishman. Such is Scotland's intelligence network that Reed is the man who was spotted wearing a Heart of Midlothian scarf in Plymouth. The Scots never mention that he was wearing shoes made in Northampton and a tweed jacket from Donegal in the lapel of which Reed sported a daffodil.

In contrast to England, Scotland have been denied a full autumn international by the remodelling of Murrayfield, something which went against the grain of the coach Ian McGeechan. 'I have been concerned all the way through that we weren't getting a couple of matches under our belt,' he said. 'You really have to have a professional approach to preparation.'

While England and Wales touched down at Lanzarote, Scotland and Ireland favoured trials. The Scottish one was unsatisfactory, while the Irish trial, under the new coach Gerry Murphy, gave Niall Malone, the 21-year-old Oxford University stand-off, the opportunity to display his gifts. If Ireland can gain parity in the line-out, and it is a big if, Malone could have a rare influence today in a match which threatens to be dominated by the foulest of weather.

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