Rugby Union: Scotland try the Anglo touch

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND had to begin rebuilding for the next World Cup as soon as the last one finished 15 months ago but, even so, the new era was more obviously launched yesterday, when four more new caps were named for the Five Nations opener against Ireland at Murrayfield on Saturday week.

In addition, Doddie Weir will play in his club position, No 8, for the first time after 14 caps at lock and Graham Shiel, the reserve World Cup stand-off, will make his championship debut, partnering Scott Hastings at centre.

There were four debutants this time last year and another five, none of them in the current selection, during Scotland's summer tour of Australia. The latest quartet include the fastest man in Scottish rugby plus three Anglos of varying Caledonian provenance.

The Bristol prop, Alan Sharp, for example, made a straight choice between the lands of his and some of his ancestors' birth - and chose the former, touring Spain with England B and playing in the international in Madrid. Subsequently, Sharp has been in various kinds of bother, joining Clifton and rejoining Bristol while his England prospects were dwindling, and finally disappearing.

The fact remains that three years ago, when 21, he was described by his captain at Bristol, the ex-England flanker Andy Dun, as 'the best prop prospect I have ever seen'. The Scots are not ones to look such gift-horses in the mouths; hence, too, the elevation of the 6ft 7in Andy Reed, who used to be thought of as a Cornishman but has a Scottish mother and had the good fortune one day to be spotted wearing a Heart of Midlothian scarf on the touchline at Plymouth Albion.

Reed's dominant trial display was crucial in winning him a second-row place while the Christmas A-team match against Ireland was the main argument in Iain Morrison's favour, though the 30-year-old London Scottish flanker hardly has to delve for his roots. Formerly of Linlithgow, West Lothian, he was a contemporary at Glenalmond School of the retired David Sole.

The fourth new cap, Derek Stark, has a 10.6sec best for the 100 metres, which makes him faster than Martin Offiah and Rory Underwood. Stark has decisively benefited by joining Boroughmuir from Ayr, his new club's coach Bruce Hay refusing to let his sprightly wing risk playing in Saturday's league game against Edinburgh Academicals whether he wants to or not.

Sharp's omission by Bristol was a formality because they have no league fixture (he missed Scotland training last night for treatment on a shin injury) and it is a moot point whether Reed would have made the Bath side against Rugby.

No such qualms for Morrison, who specifically requested inclusion against West Hartlepool. 'It's very important for the club and Scottish rugby that we remain in the First Division,' he said yesterday. 'I'm arrogant enough to believe my presence might make a difference.'

Which will inevitably bring back memories of the flanker Wat Davies, whose name should be imprinted on the consciousness of new Scottish caps. Twenty years ago Davies was injured playing for Hawick a week before he was due to face Wales. So Jock Millican made his debut instead, victory ensued, and the ill-starred Davies never did play for Scotland.

SCOTLAND (v Ireland, Murrayfield, 16 January): G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); A Stanger (Hawick), S Hastings (Watsonians), G Shiel (Melrose), D Stark (Boroughmuir); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Jed-Forest); A Sharp (Bristol), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Burnell, D Cronin (London Scottish), A Reed (Bath), D Turbull (Hawick), G Weir (Melrose), I Morrison (London Scottish). Replacements: K Logan, I Jardine (Stirling County), A Nicol (Dundee HSFP), P Wright (Boroughmuir), I Corcoran (Gala), S Reid (Boroughmuir).

Jim Staples, the Irish international full-back, will miss London Irish's Courage League game against Gloucester on Saturday because of an injured right knee, which threatens his place against Scotland on 16 January.

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