Loss of captain Leslie adds to Scots' woes

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The Independent Online

Even with half of New Zealand now playing their rugby in tartan territory, the Scots are in danger of running out of experienced personnel for this weekend's Calcutta Cup match with the Auld Enemy, which has the inaugural Six Nations title, a Triple Crown and a Grand Slam riding on it. Yesterday, both John Leslie, the centre and captain, and Gordon Bulloch, the hooker, withdrew.

Leslie, the play-making sophisticate from Otago, has been a physical wreck since injuring his ankle during the World Cup match with South Africa last October and is in no state to help his adopted country in their attempt to side-step the wooden spoon at Murrayfield on Sunday. Graham Shiel, of Edinburgh Reivers, has been added to the coach, Ian McGeechan's midfield contingent, while Bath's Andy Nicol is preparing to assume the captaincy.

Ironically, Bulloch would have challenged Nicol for that honour had he recovered from a long-running shoulder injury in time to take his place in the front row. As it is, the rumbustuous Glasgow Caledonian has failed to respond to treatment. Steve Brotherstone, who plays for Brive alongside his countrymen Gregor Townsend and Tom Smith, is likely to continue at hooker, with Gavin Scott of Glasgow as his understudy.

Given the depressing state of the mainland Celts, it was no particular surprise to learn of further injury problems in the Welsh camp as they prepared to depart for Saturday's Six Nations meeting with Ireland at Lansdowne Road. Scott Quinnell, far from the quickest ball-carrying loose forward in the Red Dragon game but certainly the strongest, gave best to a shoulder injury yesterday and bowed out of contention. Graham Henry, the Welsh coach, immediately sent for Emyr Lewis of Cardiff, who last wore international colours four years ago, against France.

"I never gave up hope of fighting my way back into the fold, even when I played hardly any continuous rugby for three years because of my back condition," said the former Llanelli No 8, who underwent major surgery last year. He may well win his 42nd cap in Dublin, although Geraint Lewis of Pontypridd will start if he satisfies Henry that his troublesome hamstring is up to the task.

If Henry is looking longingly towards his native New Zealand, he should not assumeall is well in silver fern country. Yesterday, the Australian rugby hierarchy accused New Zealand of blocking attempts to expand the élite Super 12 tournament, which provides a platform for players to state their case for a Test contract.

The Wallabies are pushing for a fourth provincial side, based in Perth or Melbourne, to supplement the Queensland, New South Wales and ACT outfits. South Africa want a fifth place on the grounds that their major provincial unions - Transvaal, Northern Transvaal, Free State, Natal and Western Province - do not fit easily into a four-team structure. New Zealand, who already have five seats at the Super 12 table, have postponed a decision until July.

"New Zealand remain the stumbling block," said John O'Neill, the chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union. "We now have to assess whether their reasons for opposing a fourth Australian team are so philosophically entrenched that we are wasting our time. This is crucial to our future and there is no way we will give up on it long term."