Rugby Union: Stark provides hope for subdued Scots

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Scotland A. .22

Italy. . . . 17

WHILE it is not unknown for new stars to appear suddenly in Christmas week, Scotland A were no less indebted to Derek Stark, their uncapped wing, for guiding them to a shaky 22-17 victory over Italy at Melrose.

Stark, a 25-year-old chef in the family hotel business, twice carved open the Italian defence by displaying blistering pace at the height of a Scottish revival that most in the 6,000 crowd were beginning to doubt would ever happen.

Who knows what indignities might have been heaped on a Scottish side betraying signs of ruffled composure had Diego Dominguez succeeded with a drop goal to stretch the Italian lead to 15-9 at the end of the third quarter?

Fortunately for sloppy Scotland, who seemed to take their cue from Craig Chalmers kicking off directly into touch, Dominguez's effort slid wide and a counter-attack was immediately launched. Stark broke up the touchline and began a running battle with the shirt-grabbing Marcello Cuttitta which continued after he had put through a kick for Scott Hastings to win a race for the touchdown.

Hastings is playing the best rugby of his career - an impression enhanced despite the fact that with Chalmers virtually guaranteed to kick and providing no threat with ball in hand, the Italians encroached continuously.

It was the younger Hastings's chip into space which allowed Stark - one of four uncapped players in a Scots' side said to be the strongest available - an encore by grabbing the bounce to turn the scoring pass inside to Gregor Townsend.

Now Stark must wait to see if he is named today in the A side for Ireland on 28 December that will be more of a Scottish second string than that fielded against Italy. Stark will be certain of a place in one of the trial teams to be announced at the same time.

Stark, whose defence has improved markedly over the past year, said: 'I feel I am benefiting in particular from a higher work rate thanks to the continual promptings of coaches like Dougie Morgan who kept at me to be busier during a game.

'Also, stepping back in to the First Division with Boroughmuir means I am less inclined to fall asleep during games the way I did at Ayr.'

Such was the chequered form and erratic decision-making of Gavin Hastings that doubts are arising over the decision to appoint him captain for the season.

Before the match Hastings, in emphasising the importance of a bridge into the Five Nations' Championship, said: 'It is always better to be playing at this time of year rather than Christmas shopping.'

For long periods while the Scots were being outplayed at set- pieces, despite stubborn resistance from Ian Smith and Carl Hogg, it would have been appropriate to enquire if Hastings wished to withdraw the comment. A long hard campaign would appear to lie ahead for the Scots.

Scotland A: Tries S Hastings, Townsend; Penalties Chalmers 4. Italy: Try Checchinato Penalties Dominguez 3; Drop goal Dominguez.

SCOTLAND A: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); D Stark (Boroughmuir), G Townsend (Gala), S Hastings (Watsonians), M Appleson (London Scottish); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Jed-Forest); P Jones (Gloucester), I Corcoran (Gala), P Burnell, D Cronin (London Scottish), G Weir, C Hogg (Melrose), S Reid (Boroughmuir), I Smith (Gloucester).

ITALY L Troiani (L'Aquila); P Vaccari (Calvisano), S Barba (Milano), I Francescato (Treviso), Marcello Cuttitta; D Dominguez (Milano), U Casellato (Treviso); Massimo Cuttitta, C Orlandi (Milano), G Grespan (Rovigo), C Checchinato (Rovigo), F Reale (Rovigo), S Rigo (Treviso), J Gardner (Rovigo), M Giovanelli (Milano, capt). Replacements: M Tommasi (Treviso) for Massimo Cuttitta, 71; R Cassina (Milano) for Reale, 76.

Referee: R McDowell (Ireland).