Rugby Union: Purple sleeves but no patch

Simon Turnbull sees a patchwork Scotland undone by moment of class
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The Independent Online
WHEN Andy Leslie led the All Blacks to victory against Scotland at Eden Park in 1975 he famously described it as "one of the greatest moments in New Zealand swimming". Yesterday, with the assistance of Leslie's sons, there was no confusing the activity in which the Scotland team were engaged at Murrayfield. In the deep end against the world champions, they stayed afloat for longer than expected. Ultimately, however, they were drowning, not swimming.

The deluge of points in the Scottish Hydro-Electric International was not as great as it had been 11 months ago, when South Africa threatened to blow the fuses on the Murrayfield scoreboard with 10 tries and a record 68 points. There was only half a cricket score this time for Nick Mallett, the Springboks coach who once struck Ian Botham for three sixes in one over when batting for Oxford University against Somerset. The World Cup holders were simply too rusty to administer their expected malleting to the Scottish team - or to the Scotland team, to be more precise.

Scotland, clad in new purple-sleeved shirts labelled "shell-suit abominations" by their former captain David Sole, were not entirely Scottish. The back- row alone comprised a one-time England colt and two former England Under- 21 internationals. Then there were the All Blacks in sheep's shell-suits, the Leslie boys - John, at inside-centre, and Martin, a flanker who came on for the final half-hour. Scottish residents for less than a month, they were claimed for the national cause courtesy of their paternal grandfather, a Linlithgow man who played football for Hibernian.

The search for Antipodeans with Caledonian qualifications may yet lead the Scottish Rugby Union to the Hollywood door of old Braveheart himself, Mr Melvyn Gibson. But the SRU, having enlisted Budge Pountney on the strength of his grandmother's roots in Jersey really ought to fight for the services of Joost van der Westhuizen. The Springbok scrum-half does, after all, have a jersey connection - he is wont to wear one. And rumour has it that he partook of Scots Porridge Oats and perused the pages of the Broons Book on his last visit to Edinburgh.

That was four years ago, when the farmer's son from Northern Transvaal announced his arrival as a world-class talent with the two first-half tries that scythed the 1994 flower of Scotland at Murrayfield. The blistering blind-side break and the pimpernel prance through the middle, eluding seven of the Scotland XV in the process, bore the hallmark of half-back greatness and Van der Westhuizen has since established himself among the pantheon of all-time great No 9s.

His rare talents were instrumental in saving the Springboks from wails, and Wales, at Wembley last week. The sublime pass he delivered through his own legs launched Pieter Rossouw on the move that he himself finished for South Africa's first try. And it was his injury-time break that caught the Welsh napping and set up Andre Venter's match-winning try.

At 27, Van der Westhuizen is South Africa's record try- scorer, with 24 from 48 Tests - four more than Gareth Edwards managed in 53 internationals. Number 24 arrived six minutes into the second-half yesterday, a typically opportunist pick-up and scamper up the left touch- line after Rossouw lassoed Alan Tait on the halfway line. It was the pivotal point of the match, moving the Springboks into a winning position.

That apart, Van der Westhuizen was not the usual Bok of tricks. Like his colleagues, he looked in need of an end-of-season service for most of the game. Not that his opposite number was ultimately able to draw much satisfaction from that. Bryan Redpath did his best as the fifth Scottish skipper in two seasons. As his predecessors discovered, however, being captain of Scotland is rather like being Captain Edward J Smith, who endured the ultimate sinking feeling the night his beloved Titanic went down.

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