Dickinson ready for the biggest test of his life

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The Independent Online

For nobody in the shadow Scotland XV who face up to the All Blacks at Murrayfield this afternoon will the task be quite so daunting as it will for Alasdair Dickinson. When the Gloucester loosehead prop crouches, touches and pauses, ready to engage in the first scrum of his international career, he will be staring full on at the 6ft 4in, 19st lump of southern-hemisphere granite for which Newcastle Falcons have broken the club piggy bank to put in an all-black club jersey emblazoned with the name: Northern Rock.

"Carl Hayman is one of the best, if not the best, tighthead prop in the world," Dickinson acknowledged, in between the team announcement and team training at Murrayfield. "He's technically a very good scrummager and he's a big man as well. It's going to be a massive, massive challenge for me. It's going to be really tough, probably the toughest test of my career so far. I'll be able to gauge my progress on how I get on. I'm real excited.You want to play against the best players in the world."

Hayman is certainly that: the bearded cornerstone of the All Black pack rated so highly by the Falcons hierarchy that they dug deep into their Northern Rock sponsorship money to come up with a £300,000-plus-a-year contract to get him to Kingston Park to win some ball for Jonny Wilkinson and Co. At 27, Hayman is a veteran of 44 caps and six years in the All Black squad. Asked on Friday to recall an occasion when an international opponent had given him "a bit of a mincing", he thought briefly then replied matter-of-factly: "Nothing springs to mind."

All of which puts the task facing the debutant Dickinson into bone-shuddering perspective. The Dundonian was not even in Scotland's World Cup squad when they played their opening match against Portugal a fortnight ago. He travelled to France on his 24th birthday as a replacement for Allan Jacobsen after the Edinburgh loosehead tore a calf muscle against the Portu-guese. At Gloucester, whence he arrived in the summer after three years with Edinburgh, Dickinson is third choice for the No 1 jersey, behind Nick Wood and Patrice Collazo.

Still, the Scotland new boy (one of two today, in fact, with John Barclay making his bow at openside flanker) is not short of talent. Dickinson is a dynamo in the loose, an excellent ball-carrier blessed with fine handling skills. He is tall, too, at 6ft 1in. "But not as tall as he is," he noted on Friday, keeping a mental eye on Hayman. At 16st 4lb, Dickinson is also shorter on muscular ballast than New Zealand's prop idol. Then there is his lightness on the cap front.

"I've been speaking to the senior guys," Dickinson said. "I'm rooming with Scott Murray [who extends his Scotland cap record to 87 today]. He said to me, 'You've got nothing to lose. Just go out there and give it your all. Just do what you're good at and work hard and you'll be fine.'

"The first scrum's going to be massive. And singing the anth-em's going to be pretty intense. I get pretty nervous before any rugby game, but thinking about it now I can't wait to pull on the jersey and get out there."

Perhaps the sight of the opposition in silver-grey rather than their hallowed black might make the occasion a little less daunting when the debut boy gets out on to the Murrayfield pitch. "I don't think it matters what they've got on their tops," Dickinson demurred. "You know who you're playing against."