Rugby Union: Scots casting for net gains

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The Independent Online
'A TRIAL,' Ian McGeechan once said, 'solves problems only if you think you have problems to solve.' The Scotland coach was speaking when continuity was the constant theme of his selection but this season, with the Scots' Five Nations opener against Ireland a fortnight away, he already knows continuity is not an option.

Which gives this afternoon's trial at Murrayfield greater validity than it ever would have had in the recent days when most of the Scotland team was a forgone conclusion. This time, farewell having been bade to Sole, White, Lineen and Tukalo, there are places to be won, and it is possible we will see the biggest influx since the Hastings brothers, David Sole and Finlay Calder came in together in 1986.

The trial choices suggest as much, though if the Reds, with their 12 capped players, should get the better of the senior Blues, who have seven uncapped, the outcome might not after all be so dramatic. Having said that, if changes are to be made, better to make them now, with the next World Cup still more than two years distant.

Whether a trial is the ideal place to resolve such matters is, well, another matter. England and Wales have given up the idea in favour of sunshine weekends in Lanzarote and, though the Irish too have their trial today, the Scots themselves have already cancelled next year's after the tour by the All Blacks is over. This could be the last time.

They already have a new captain, Gavin Hastings, but they have had to wait to build a new team because an autumn international was rendered impossible by the reconstruction of Murrayfield. Three A-team matches provided inconclusive evidence, though the makings of some future internationals have been discerned.

For instance, Scotland have scoured the land for such forwards as Dale McIntosh, a New Zealander who plays in Wales but has the right surname; Andy Reed, a Cornishman caught wearing a Heart of Midlothian scarf in Plymouth and found to have a mum from Edinburgh; and Alan Sharp, a Bristolian who has played for England B but also has a Caledonian ancestry.

All are in today's senior team. A fellow player in the Blues band, Ian Morrison, is more obviously the genuine article even if his arrival at the threshold of international rugby has been long in coming. The 30-year-old London Scottish flanker was a contemporary at Glenalmond School of the immediate past Scotland captain Sole - and Sole has just retired. Morrison played alongside Rob Andrew for Cambridge in the University match as long ago as 1983 and '84.

In England, the Courage Championship will begin its intermittent awakening from hibernation next Saturday, the New Year weekend being spared for the national squad to visit Lanzarote. In Wales, it is straight back to reality with the Heineken League in which Cardiff, the leaders, will be without the Olympic hurdler Nigel Walker when they play at Pontypridd.

Walker has an ankle injury which he does not wish to risk a week before the Wales squad fly to the Canaries. Swansea, behind Cardiff on try count, may restore the Wales full-back Tony Clement after a six-week absence against Maesteg. Llanelli, at Bridgend, have six leading first-teamers missing, including Moon, Copsey and Phil Davies, all casualties in Monday's East v West Wales non-trial.

MURRAYFIELD TEAMS: Blues: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); D Stark (Boroughmuir), G Townsend (Gala), S Hastings (Watsonians), M Appleson (London Scottish); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Jed-Forest); A Sharp (Bristol), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Wright (Boroughmuir), A Reed (Bath), D Cronin (London Scottish), D Turnbull (Hawick), D McIntosh (Pontypridd), I Morrison (London Scottish).

Reds: K Logan (Stirling County); A Stanger (Hawick), I Jardine (Stirling County), D Wyllie (Stewart's Melville FP), J Kerr (Haddington); G Shiel (Melrose), A Nicol (Dundee HSFP, capt); A Watt (Glasgow High/Kelvinside), I Corcoran (Gala), P Burnell (London Scottish), C Gray (Nottingham), G Weir (Melrose), D McIvor (Edinburgh Academicals), S Reid (Boroughmuir), I Smith (Gloucester).

Referee: J Fleming (Boroughmuir).