Rugby Union: Scotland game overshadowed by Irvine and Jeffrey

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SCOTLAND EXPECT to romp to an easy win against Portugal in their World Cup qualifying match at Murrayfield today, but even a thrashing of the under-strength minnows will do little to lift the gloom surrounding the game in the country.

An alarming decline in standards on the pitch has now been matched by chaos off it as Andy Irvine and John Jeffrey, two of the most respected figures in the game and both co-opted members of the Scottish Rugby Union, have resigned from the governing body after the union refused to take on board their blueprint for the future of the game in Scotland.

Irvine, who was not even allowed to speak at the SRU meeting which rejected his plan, was hugely disappointed: "I framed what I thought was a sensible way forward after consulting with a wide range of people in rugby. The SRU felt unable to back it so I resigned as a matter of principle."

And, with the SRU pounds 17m in debt, Irvine condemned the way it is run: "No longer can a business the size of the SRU, with a turnover approaching pounds 20m, be run by a group of well-meaning amateurs."

Jeffrey was similarly disillusioned after the SRU changed the structure of the Super Districts concept without consulting him. "I spoke out once or twice but thereafter I was effectively gagged by the Union and told to speak through the SRU's media officer," he said. "Then, this month, I was acutely embarrassed by the lack of spectators for the South African match at Firhill. There was a crowd of less than 1,000 to watch the world champions and less than 30,000 at Murrayfield last Saturday."

Jeffrey is likely to be disappointed again today, when the visit of lowly Portugal is unlikely to attract fans who were not interested in watching the Springboks. Portugal were always unlikely to offer any real test to the Scots, but the visitors will be fielding a weakened side following the refusal of French clubs to release Portugal's leading players.

"It's unfair that Brive will release Gregor Townsend to play for Scotland but will not allow Cecil Leite to play for Portugal," said the Portugal coach, Joao Paula Bessa. "I'm fed up with this kind of treatment."

Portugal have delayed naming their team for the first meeting between the two countries, but the side is expected to be made up mainly of players in their early 20s - raw in experience but eager to move the ball if given the chance.

"That's a skill we get from sevens rugby. It's a very good school for the XVs game," Bessa said.

Scotland have the chance to experiment with a number of moves, and the head coach Jim Telfer said: "I'd like to think we can build on what we've been doing in the last few weeks."

John Rutherford, the assistant coach, said: "Without sounding arrogant, we will be favourites for the match but we know that they will raise their game. Our first priority will be to win."

SCOTLAND: G Townsend (Brive); K Logan (Wasps), J Mayer (Edinburgh Reivers), J Leslie (Glasgow Caledonians), C Murray (Edinburgh Reivers); D Hodge (Edinburgh Reivers), B Redpath (Edinburgh Reivers, capt); T Smith (Glasgow Caledonians), G Bulloch (Glasgow Caledonians), D Hilton (Bath); S Murray (Bedford), D Weir (Newcastle Falcons); M Leslie (Edinburgh Reivers), E Peters (Bath), B Pountney (Northampton). Replacements: S Longstaff (Glasgow Caledonians), A Tait (Edinburgh Reivers), G Armstrong (Newcastle Falcons), R Wainwright (Glasgow Caledonians), S Grimes (Glasgow Caledonians), P Burnell (London Scottish), S Brotherstone (Edinburgh Reivers).

PORTUGAL: To be announced.

Referee: G Morandin (Italy).