Rugby Union: Scottish revival needs a Sharp edge

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The Independent Online
THE pounds 67m rebuilding of Murrayfield is beginning to look a minor task in comparison with the work undertaken by Scotland's selectors in the six weeks since humiliating defeat was inflicted by the All Blacks.

Scars cut deep, none more so than the suggestion that while the All Blacks had a player, Michael Jones, who refused to play on Sundays, Scotland had a complete team who could not play on Saturdays.

Such jibes, though, have served to provoke an almost fanatical response and in a climate of introspection a series of A matches against Italy and Ireland have identified fresh faces capable of restoring Scottish pride in Wales on 15 January. Tomorrow's international trial - arranged only after Spain opted out of another A international - should provide further evidence of the revival and ultimately throw up as many as four new caps.

Three of the reinforcements in question are the Bristol prop Alan Sharp, the Glasgow High/Kelvinside second row Shade Munro and the Northampton flanker Peter Walton, all of whom may enhance a pack in which only the hooker Kenny Milne is likely to be retained in the role he occupied in that 51-15 defeat by New Zealand.

Behind the scrum, the Gala full-back Mike Dods could be given the chance to fill a problem position at left-wing. It is at stand-off, however, that the most fundamental change threatens to be made with the 20-year-old Gregor Townsend, capped as a replacement last season, usurping Craig Chalmers, a fixture in 33 of Scotland's past 34 internationals. Townsend, especially since returning from playing with the Sydney club Warringah, offers the instinctive flair the Scotland team manager, Duncan Paterson, feels to be lacking.

Paterson has been putting himself firmly on the line, apologising publicly to the Scottish rugby union committee for the All Blacks result, virtually accusing senior players of complacency.

'There is a real danger we are forgetting how to play rugby,' he insisted. 'There are a lot of negative things around. Clubs are worried about league reconstruction and the effect it will have on their sponsorships.

'I can understand their concerns and appreciate how easily some of it rubs off on players who see the way to avoid mistakes as putting the ball up into the air.

'But this negativity is something Scottish rugby must address and come through to be stronger.'