Rugby Union: Waxing Wainwright returns to the wheel: Army physician heals himself and finds new zeal and purpose - Rob Wainwright will endeavour to perform his own brand of surgery on the ailing Scottish lineout against the All Blacks. Steve Bale reports

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The Independent Online
AS A doctor, Rob Wainwright should know that you cannot rush the healing process. There he was with his place in the Scotland team about to be established, and by trying to cut corners he ended up prolonging the agony as well as losing the place he had so recently won.

But then Wainwright, who makes his long-awaited and eagerly anticipated return to the Scots back row against New Zealand at Murrayfield on Saturday, is not the first doctor to admit to being a very poor patient. And as an army doctor, Captain Robert Wainwright RAMC would be inclined to view malingering with suspicion, would he not?

Continuing fitness permitting, this game should be the restart of something big - 'something big' meaning not simply Wainwright's international career but the physical requirements of an open-side flanker in British rugby. After all the debate south of the border about Neil Back, the Scots are first with the new breed. The 6ft 5in Wainwright is a prototype who happens to have seven inches over Back.

'If you look at the likely All Black selection they'll have six line- out jumpers in their pack, and the only way to cope with that is to cram as many jumpers as you can into your own pack - even at the expense of the scrummage,' Wainwright said as he relaxed yesterday in the tranquil setting of Scotland's out-of-town retreat at Dalmahoy.

'These days you may get only 15 scrums in a game but there may be 40 or 50 line-outs, and line-out possession is more useful to your backs than scrum ball.' Geoff Cooke, the England manager, will say amen to that when he unveils his own not- so-secret England choice to face the All Blacks.

Wainwright, 28, has spent most of his career at No 8 and there is an exact parallel between him and his England counterpart, Ben Clarke. 'I don't think I could say I was ideally suited to any of the back-row positions and you could say much the same about Ben Clarke,' Wainwright said.

'But he's still a very useful man to have around. I'm a No 8 for my club (Edinburgh Academicals) but I'd genuinely like to establish myself as an open side in the modern game, because you can get away with being my size. It takes away some of the responsibilities I'm maybe not so strong with, and leaves me to run around the pitch like a headless chicken and get on with the loose work.'

This he did to shattering effect in last Saturday's Scotland A game against New Zealand, an occasion which rekindled public faith in Scottish rugby after the humiliation of the South's 84-5 defeat by the Blacks three days earlier. If anyone personified the metamorphosis, it was Wainwright.

This was no surprise. His ability has not been in doubt since he was Scotland's No 8 in two Tests in Australia last year, when he contrived to impress despite the continuing tendinitis that was ultimately to put him out of the game.

'In Australia I established myself to a certain extent but I know I could have done better. The tendinitis meant I couldn't train between weekend matches and by the end my fitness had dropped off. It wasn't ideal preparation for the games. Then when I started playing again back home, it flared up. We tried to cut corners to speed things up but it took even longer than expected and when I finally made my comeback I'd had two games when I pulled a hamstring.' That made last season a write-off.

'Back home' for Wainwright, a Glenalmond old boy like David Sole before him, is a curious mixture. A doctor at the garrison medical centre attached to the Duchess of Kent Military Hospital in Catterick, North Yorkshire, he makes a winding round-trip of more than 300 miles to play his rugby in Scotland.

'I find it tough and my car finds it tough but it has other benefits. If you're involved in the national side, especially in a year like this, you find yourself coming up here so much anyway that it wouldn't save much if I played nearer Catterick. But each season I reconsider.'

Now he stands in succession to the Calder-White-Jeffrey back-row trio who wreaked their combined havoc up to the 1991 World Cup. But to become the next Scottish swashbuckler is a responsibility made heavier by the awkward fact that Wainwright has not played regularly at open side since his Cambridge University days five years ago.

'We have such a small pool of players in Scotland that we always have to make the best use of our resources even if that means playing a No 8 on the flank,' he said. 'Really it was no different when Finlay and J J were playing, though I do find it slightly incredible - and also a great honour - to have stepped into their shoes.'