RUGBY UNION: Telfer's problems mount

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POOR OLD Scotland. When Jim Telfer and his fellow movers and shakers north of the border decided to relieve the southern hemisphere of some of its unwanted talent, they were hoping to expand their Five Nations horizons rather than their medical bill. Frustratingly, two of their more influential imports, Matthew Proudfoot and Gordon Simpson, are definitely out of next weekend's championship opener with Wales at Murrayfield and may also miss the follow-up game at Twickenham.

Proudfoot, the tight-head prop from South Africa whose 20-stone frame effectively doubles the size of the Scottish front row, has yet to regain full match fitness following a serious neck injury suffered during the European Cup match between Edinburgh Reivers and Toulouse in October. Simpson, a distinctly handy flanker from All Black country who toured Australia with his new countrymen last summer, is still a yard short of a gallop after recovering from a persistent pelvic problem.

A third obvious first choice, the centre Jamie Mayer, is also out of the running for the Wales match because of groin trouble, but the Scots can at least point to the return of Glenn Metcalfe, another New Zealander, after shoulder surgery. If Metcalfe reclaims the full-back position, Telfer might well move Gregor Townsend, who now plays his club rugby in France, to his optimum position of outside-half.

Paul Burnell will again fill in for Proudfoot, but Simpson's absence leaves Telfer with the task of picking two wing forwards from Peter Walton, Martin Leslie and Budge Pountney. The coach must make a further decision on the captaincy, between the incumbent, Bryan Redpath, and his great scrum-half rival, Gary Armstrong.

Injuries aside, Telfer's 22-man squad is not without its high-profile absentees. Tony Stanger, one of the most prolific try-scoring backs in Scottish history, and Craig Chalmers, the long-serving outside-half from Melrose, failed to make the cut.Rob Wainwright, of course, has retired from international rugby.

Ulster, meanwhile, left their fortress of Ravenhill for the home-from- home surroundings of Dublin yesterday to begin their final preparations for tomorrow's European Cup final with Colomiers.

They left the club telephone lines back in Belfast jammed with last-minute ticket hunters - the callers were acting more in hope than expectation, given that Lansdowne Road was sold out a week ago - and the Republic was expecting the deluge of 30,000-plus northerners to begin in earnest this evening.

Almost unnoticed, the French underdogs from the suburbs of Toulouse also pitched up in Dublin yesterday. Their coach, Jacques Brunel, was still not 100 per cent sure of his starting line-up, largely because Fabien Galthie, his international scrum-half, has been struggling for fitness since failing to last out the semi-final victory over Perpignan. However, Jean-Luc Sadourny, one of the world's outstanding full-backs, will captain a side containing a second experienced Test hand in Marc Dal Maso, the brilliant hooker from Agen.

Brunel plans to play his favoured back-row combination - the blind-side flanker Bernard De Giusti, the 6ft 6in open-side Patrick Tabacco and the No 8 Stephane Peysson - for a ninth consecutive time in European Cup competition. Gildas Moro, Colomiers' effective second row, is also likely to complete a full hand of European appearances.

SCOTLAND SQUAD (v Wales, Five Nations' Championship, Murrayfield, 6 Feb) Backs: G Armstrong (Newcastle Falcons), D Hodge (Edinburgh Reivers), J Leslie (Glasgow Caledonians), K Logan (Wasps), S Longstaff (Glasgow Caledonians), G Metcalfe (Glasgow

Caledonians), C Murray (Edinburgh Reivers), B Redpath (Edinburgh Reivers, capt) A Tait (Edinburgh Reivers) G Townsend (Brive); Forwards: S Brotherstone (Edinburgh Reivers), G Bulloch (Glasgow Caledonians), P Burnell (London Scottish), S Grimes (Glasgow Caledonians), D Hilton (Bath), M Leslie (Edinburgh Reivers), S Murray (Bedford), E Peters (Bath), B Pountney (Northampton), T Smith (Glasgow Caledonians), P Walton (Newcastle Falcons), G Weir (Newcastle Falcons).