Rugby Union: Seniors ensure their places

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The Independent Online
Blues. . .29

Reds. . . .6

THIS was less of a trial, more of a tribulation. Of the seasonal tidings there was small comfort and precious little joy for the selectors who can only hope that all will come well on the day two weeks hence when Scotland play their opening championship game against Ireland in the impressively reconstructed ground now almost unrecognisable as Murrayfield.

That there is a dearth of top-class talent in Scotland at the moment is not in doubt. But then the Scots have never been blessed with an abundance of world-class players; their success in the past - and certainly in the last 10 years - more dependent upon the shrewd use of available resources.

The standard of the combined play was, at times, abysmally low but then that is in the nature of the beast. Of much greater concern was the failure of so many of the players to adapt to the new laws. The recycling of second- phase possession was particularly worrying. Nor was the quality of the individual performances, where the simple act of passing often appeared of insurmountable complexity, much better.

The Blues side at least justified their status as the senior XV and in that combination the Hastings brothers, without being anywhere near their best, Craig Chalmers, Gary Armstrong and Kenny Milne are certain selections.

It was Armstrong who brought what little cheer there was for the selectors with a typically combative display which quelled any lingering doubts about his ability to compete at the highest level following last year's injury problem. In the line-out, the appearance of Glasgow's Shade Monro for the second half improved matters for Andy Nicol and for the Reds. Monro's comeback from serious injury has been slow and is not yet complete but it may be that the selectors decide to pair him alongside Andy Reed who had a more profitable day than most. Another half-time switch brought Doddie Weir into the Blues side at No 8 and he is clearly in the selectors thoughts for that position, although they will assuredly await a fitness report on Carl Hogg before the final decision is made.

So comfortable were the Blues' scrum by the end that the selectors may be persuaded to leave well alone in the tight five but Paul Burnell's experience at tight-head may be irresistible.

On the flanks, Derek Turnbull, who scored the Blues first try, and Ian Smith were more obviously involved, despite Smith's problems with his distribution; but there was little to choose between him and Iain Morrison and it could be that the latter's display for the A side against Ireland will swing the decision his way. Behind the scrum, Chalmers was unable to dominate in the way that Armstrong did and, apart from the scrum-half, no back stood out. Gregor Townsend left the field with a ligament injury after just 20 minutes, but if he is fit he will probably form a new centre partnership with Scott Hastings. Derek Stark, strong and enthusiastic, must be favourite for the right wing and in the absence of any other obvious contender there is a case to be made out for playing Kenny Logan, full-back for the Reds yesterday, on the left wing.

Scotland's rebuilding has begun but one suspects that it may be a process infinitely more fraught than the reconstruction of Murrayfield.

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), P Wright (Boroughmuir), A Reed (Bath), D Cronin (London Scottish), D McIntosh (Pontypridd), I Morrison (London Scottish), C Hogg (Melrose).

REDS: K Logan (Stirling County); A Stanger (Hawick), I Jardine (Stirling County), D Wyllie (Stewart's-Melville), 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 Acads), I Smith (Gloucester), S Reid (Boroughmuir).

Referee: D Matthews (England).

Scorers: Wyllie (pen, 3 min, 0-3); Turnbull (try, 9 min, 5-3); Wyllie (pen, 20 min, 5-6); McIntosh/G Hastings (try/con, 24 min, 12-6); G Hastings (pen, 30 min, 15-6); S Hastings/G Hastings (try/con, 62 min, 22-6); Cronin/G Hastings (try/con, 80 min, 29-6).