Rugby Union: Wainwright survives all blows

Paul Stephens watches a typically gritty display from Scotland's back-row warrior
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The Independent Online
FEW have played so nobly in Scotland's losing cause as Rob Wainwright and it would have been a fitting tribute for this back-row warrior if he could have celebrated his 33rd birthday yesterday with a victory, having taken his total of caps beyond the number of his years. But it wasn't to be, anymore than a 35th cap looks a likely prize, if Wainwright confirms his decision to retire from international rugby.

A private man, he led by example whenever he captained Scotland, but being stripped of the post after the loss to Italy in January was a blow. It appears not a question of if, but more when, Wainwright chooses the moment to leave the international game he has graced with a integrity, modesty and considerable skill.

For Wainwright - who was an Army doctor with the rank of major before the requirements of the professional game demanded that rugby became his full-time occupation - there is life beyond rugby.

It was a matter of great pride to Wainwright that he was the only non- English player to captain the British Lions on last summer's tour to South Africa. It was his 72nd minute try which rescued the Lions against Border and enabled them to scrape a victory 18-14 and the three tries he scored for the Lions against Mpumalanga - when Tim Rodber was captain - will long be remembered.

Wainwright deserves to be ranked along with the very best of Scotland's back-row forwards, like John Jeffrey, Finlay Calder and Derek White, the back-row when Scotland last beat England in 1990, who have worn the dark blue jersey. The pity is that Wainwright rarely enjoyed the luxury of being able to play behind a dominant Scottish front-five; and yesterday at Murrayfield was no different.

Even so, Wainwright delivered a performance to savour. When the replays are shown of Tony Stanger's try, which equalled Ian Smith's record that had lasted from 1933, we can marvel again at Wainwright's deft overhead pass which set Adam Roxburgh free. As so often, Wainwright's intervention was crucial.

While Wainwright's support play was of the highest order, it was in defence where he was at his most effective and inspiring.

Whenever England threatened to open the floodgates it was Wainwright's fingers that was first in Scotland's defensive dike.

He made such a nuisance of himself that Jason Leonard was moved to punch him in the face. But Wainwright survived that blow as he had all others in shoring up Scotland's weakening defences.

By the time the last quarter was reached, Wainwright, like Eric Peters, had lost his headband. He never lost his appetite for the thunder in the close-quarter exchanges, though, and he still had plenty of energy to dump a fresh Tony Diprose who had come on for Dean Ryan.

Now it seems Wainwright will give his body a rest and return to repairing the bodies of others. Scotland will miss him.