"Ici, le Chaudron," the sign above the tunnel in the Stade Geoffory Guichard reads – "This is the cauldron." The home of AS Saint-Etienne football club has indeed bubbled with toil and trouble for Britons on the World Cup stage. It was here, on the northern fringe of this old Loire mining town, that David Beckham petulantly flicked out the foot that caught Argentina's Diego Simeone and precipitated England's downfall in the football World Cup of 1998.
"Hopefully none of that will be happening on Sunday," Allister Hogg said, patently tickled at the prospect of following in the footsteps of a certain other No 7 when Scotland launch their Rugby World Cup campaign in the French sporting pressure cooker tomorrow afternoon.
It is likely to be in the Saint-Etienne cauldron that Scotland's fate will be decided, though not in their Pool C opener against the 1,000-1 shot World Cup debutants from Portugal. With the mighty All Blacks and the minnows of Romania also in the group, the second qualifying place for the quarter-finals seems certain to hinge on the 80 minutes between Scotland and Italy in le Chaudron three weeks today.
Still, on the video evidence seen by Hogg and his team-mates in recent days, the Portuguese can be relied upon to live up to their nickname – Os Lobos – and fight for their pride with a wolfish determination. "They give everything," the Edinburgh openside flanker said. "They fly up in defence and they just commit to everything. And, obviously with it being their first World Cup, they'll be so excited. I should imagine the first few minutes will be mayhem. I think we'll have to play a controlled game, calm ourselves down, and calm them as well – just to keep them on the back foot."
With that in mind, Frank Hadden, Scotland's head coach, has opted to start with the more conservative Dan Parks directing operations from outside-half and Chris Paterson – who performed the pivotal role in the warm-up games against Ireland and the Springboks – waiting in the wings at pitch-side. "When we discussed this selection we came to the conclusion that this was what we wanted to do for this match," Hadden said. Whether Paterson is still considered to be the long-term answer to one of Scotland's enduring problem positions remains to be seen in the course of the campaign.
At least Hadden's back row has a settled look. Well, a set-in-concrete look, to be more accurate. The Tartan trinity of Hogg, Jason White and Simon Taylor formed the cornerstone of Scotland's victories against France and England in the 2006 Six Nations. Thankfully for Hadden and his countrymen, the trio are back in working order after an injury-disrupted 2006-2007 season.
"I think we've all got something different to offer," Hogg said. "That's why we complement each other pretty well. I think it's quite a good blend."
As for the Portuguese blend, at least it includes one of the ingredients listed by Sir Clive Woodward earlier this week in his treatise on "How to win a World Cup". Then again, when the triumphant coach of four years ago wrote about the need to take a lawyer along he did not necessarily mean that the learned fellow should strap on some boots. Portugal will have a barrister on their bench tomorrow, ready and waiting to enter the fray in the number 22 shirt.
When the World Cup long shots qualified for the tournament in March, after completing a 24-23 aggregate win over Uruguay, Miguel Portela arrived back in Lisbon from Montevideo at 4.30am on a Monday morning and had to be at his desk at 9am to attend to a backlog of legal affairs.
At least the veteran centre managed to get home on time. Six of his team-mates – in a squad that also features a doctor, a vet, one full-time professional rugby player and two part-timers – missed the flight home. They had become embroiled in what was described as "a heated discussion" in a Montevideo bar with a local who turned out to be an off-duty policeman. They were invited to further discuss the matter down at the nearest station.
Scotland: R Lamont (Sale); S Lamont (Northampton), M Di Rollo (Edinburgh), R Dewey (Ulster), S Webster (Edinburgh); D Parks (Glasgow), M Blair; A Jacobsen (both Edinburgh), S Lawson (Sale), E Murray (Northampton), N Hines (Perpignan), S Murray (Montauban), J White (Capt, Sale), A Hogg (Edinburgh), S Taylor (Stade Francais). Replacements: R Ford, K Brown (both Glasgow)G Kerr (Edinburgh), S MacLeod (Llanelli), R Lawson, C Paterson (both Gloucester), H Southwell (Edinburgh).
Portugal: P Leal (Direito); David Mateus (Belenenses), F Sousa (Direito), Diogo Mateus (Belenenses), P Carvalho (Direito); C Pinto (Agronomia), J Pinto (Direito); R Cordeiro (Coimbra), J Ferreira (Porto), C Spachuck (Belenenses), Goncalo Uva (Montpellier), D Penalva (Blagnac), J Samoza (Agronomia), Joao Uva (Belenenses), Vasco Uva (Capt, Direito). Replacements: J Murré (Belenenses), J Correia (Direito), P Murinello (Cascais), D Coutinho (Direito), L Pissarra (Agronomia), P Cabral (CDU Lisbon), M Portela (Direito).
Referee: S Walsh (New Zealand).Reuse content