Rugby Union: Smith ready to prove a point

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The Independent Online
THE SCOTLAND prop Tom Smith will set about Spain today determined to show there is plenty more staying power left in his march to the head of the front-row brigade.

The Lions front-ranker can be expected to have his hands on the ball as much as anyone as Jim Telfer's team take on Spain at Murrayfield.

With the tag of World Cup qualifier rendered meaningless after both teams' triumphs over Portugal, Scotland will instead seek evidence of their readiness for the Five Nations campaign next year.

That was one of many tournaments to bypass Smith last year after being forced to miss the entire 1997-98 season with a groin injury following the successful Lions tour of South Africa.

But his performances in recent weeks suggest he is nearing the imperious form that he showed then, and which prompted Telfer to label him "the best ball-playing prop I have ever coached" after the 85-11 demolition of Portugal.

Smith remains typically modest when assessing how far his rehabilitation has come after a year out. "I started off badly but have improved," he said. "I was disappointed with my form at the start of the season and even though it has improved I still have a way to go.

"I did three months of hard training in the pre-season and you can't keep making excuses for not playing well."

The 27-year-old admits that returning to the Scotland set-up was tough initially after the change of both coaches and style that has materialised since his last involvement in the 1997 Five Nations' campaign.

"At the start they kept referring to things they did on tour in Australia in the summer and I didn't know what was going on. But I have caught up now and this last month has been very useful in terms of training and playing together."

Smith was especially prominent as the Scottish forwards rampaged around Murrayfield against Portugal last week to end a long losing streak with a 13-try victory. But he remains cautious when assessing the challenge presented by Spain.

"It was hard work last week," he said. "It doesn't matter who you are playing. If you are playing for Scotland, there is a different intensity about it."

SCOTLAND: G Townsend (Brive); C Murray (Edinburgh Reivers), J Mayer (Edinburgh Reivers), J Leslie (Glasgow Cale- donians), K Logan (Wasps); D Hodge (Edinburgh Reivers), B Redpath (Edinburgh Reivers, capt); T Smith (Glasgow Caledonians), G Bulloch (Glasgow Caledonians), W Anderson (Glasgow Cale- donians), S Murray (Bedford), D Weir (Newcastle Falcons), C Mather (Edinburgh Reivers), E Peters (Bath), M Leslie (Edinburgh Reivers). Replacements: S Longstaff (Glasgow Caledonians), A Tait (Edinburgh Reivers), G Armstrong (Newcastle Falcons), B Pountney (North-ampton), S Grimes (Glasgow Caledonians), D Hilton (Bath), S Brotherstone (Edinburgh Reivers).

SPAIN: M A Frechilla; A Socias, A Enciso, F Diez, D Garcia; A Kovazenko, A Gallastegui; J Camps, F de la Calle, A Altuna, S Tuineau, L J Martinez, A Malo, A Mata, O Astarloa. Replacements: R Bastide, A Socias, O Ripol, J Torres-Morote, V Torres, C Souto, D Zarzosa.