Rugby Union: Nicol gets the nod to lead Scotland in absence of Wainwright

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Andy Nicol will lead Scotland against Australia at Murrayfield on Saturday week. The Bath scrum-half was yesterday handed the captaincy in Rob Wainwright's absence for the first in an autumn double-header against two of the leading southern hemisphere nations.

South Africa also come to Edinburgh, on 6 December, and, despite leading out the Scotland tourists against some of that country's provincial sides last summer, Nicol is relishing the prospect of his first international in charge. "I have been lucky enough to play for the national side before and now I regard myself as very fortunate in that I am realising a lifetime goal," he said.

The former Dundee HSFP dynamo would undoubtedly have won more than the eight caps he has managed since making his debut against England five years ago, but for a chronic run of injury problems. However, after regaining his best form since his elevation at the Recreation Ground earlier this season, Nicol got the nod once he had beaten off fierce competition from Gary Armstrong and Bryan Redpath for the No 9 berth.

"He was the clear-cut choice as captain once we had made that decision," confirmed the coach, Richie Dixon, who named four new caps for the Wallabies' visit.

Glasgow's James Craig was rewarded for his try-scoring prowess in the district's European Cup campaign, although he will start on the right rather than his favoured position on the left.

Edinburgh's Grant McKelvey completes a remarkable recovery just four games into his comeback from a persistent back injury by claiming the hooker's spot ahead of Gordon Bulloch, who is on the bench.

The other newcomers in the pack are the Kelso and Scottish Borders flanker Adam Roxburgh, who has finally started to fulfil his potential this year, and the 21-year-old Bedford lock, Scott Murray.

The British Lion Gregor Townsend gets the chance to show off his mercurial talents from his favoured stand-off position despite some erratic form for Northampton recently.

The backs coach, David Johnstone, said: "Gregor showed in South Africa that he has the ability to be a good team man, and he is also a big game player. I am confident he will show his Lions form for us."

Townsend will have fellow tourists Alan Tait and Tony Stanger outside him in a strong centre partnership, with Kenny Logan and Rowen Shepherd completing an attack-minded back line.

Scotland's director of rugby Jim Telfer, who helped guide the Lions to their success, is optimistic of a positive start to the international season at home in contrast to previous years.

He said: "We should be better prepared than we have been in the past in that the players are performing in a higher level of rugby with the European Cup and the advent of the districts."

SCOTLAND (v Australia, Murrayfield, 22 November): R Shepherd (Melrose), J Craig (West of Scotland), T Stanger (Hawick), A Tait (Newcastle), K Logan (Wasps), G Townsend (Northampton), A Nicol (capt, Bath); D Hilton (Bath), G McKelvey (Watsonians), M Stewart (Northampton), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), S Murray (Bedford), A Roxburgh (Kelso), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Moseley). Replacements: C Joyner (Leicester), C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Newcastle), A Reed (Wasps), G Graham (Newcastle), G Bulloch (West of Scotland).

NEW ZEALAND (v Ireland, Lansdowne Road, Dublin, Saturday): C Cullen (Manawatu), J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce (North Harbour), A Ieremia (Wellington), G Osborne (North Harbour), A Mehrtens (Canterbury), J Marshall (capt, Canterbury), C Dowd (Auckland), N Hewitt (Southland), O Brown (Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), R Brooke (Auckland), T Randell (Otago), A Blowers, Z Brooke (both Auckland). Reserves: S McLeod (Waikato), J Preston (Wellington), J Kronfeld (Otago), C Riechelmann (Auckland), M Allen (Manawatu), A Oliver (Otago).