Rejuvenated Townsend relishes pivotal position

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The Independent Online

The sinking feeling of defeat is not a familiar one to Rod Macqueen. That much can be gleaned form the merest glance at the trophy cabinet at the headquarters of the Australian Rugby Union. You need sunglasses for protection from the glare.

The sinking feeling of defeat is not a familiar one to Rod Macqueen. That much can be gleaned form the merest glance at the trophy cabinet at the headquarters of the Australian Rugby Union. You need sunglasses for protection from the glare.

It contains every prize available to the Wallabies - from the Lansdowne Cup, for beating Ireland, to the crowning jewels of the Bledisloe Cup, the Tri-Nations trophy and the Webb Ellis Cup. Macqueen has won the lot since his first full season as national coach in 1998. As he prepares his new-look team to defend the Hopetoun Cup at Murrayfield tomorrow, however, a rare defeat will no doubt be somewhere on his mind.

"That's right - I have beaten him," Gregor Townsend said yesterday, recalling a golfing triumph during his spell with the Sydney club, Warringah, five years ago. "Rod was involved with the club. He'd coached them a few years previously. Myself and Stuart Bennett, who plays for Melrose now, took him on at doubles and managed to beat him and his partner. He's not easy to beat at any sport. He's a very good man."

Townsend himself is a good man - though precisely how good he is on the rugby field remains, as ever, open to debate. Against Macqueen's Wallabies tomorrow he makes his 55th appearance for Scotland - which is 21 more than the next most experienced member of Ian McGeechan's side - Bryan Redpath, has made. At the age of 27 and after nigh on eight years as a member of the senior Scottish squad, the Galashiels man has yet to establish himself in his favoured position.

North of the border they are not so much bothered about when a new man will enter the White House as whether Townsend will finally install himself at No 10. It was the same when the Wallabies were last in the heart of Midlothian. "There's no doubt in my mind that thisis my watershed season," Townsend said on the eve of that 37-8 defeat. "I want to establish my position once and for all." Three years later, Scotland is still waiting for the real Gregor Townsend to stand up at stand-off half - the exhilarating match-winning attacker or the wrong option-taking fall-guy banished out to the centre or, worse, to the replacements' bench.

Having come back in at No 10 to such good effect against the United States at Murrayfield last Saturday, scoring 33 points in Scotland's 53-3 win, Townsend gets another chance as the national team's pivot tomorrow. That he does so with Redpath inside him and John Leslie outside bodes well for his long-term prospects.

In times past Townsend has suffered from carrying the burden of his team's creativeexpectation. The public expectation cannot have helpedeither, though this time, he insists he does not feel under pressure to prove himself.

"I look at it from a positive angle," he said after the team announcement yesterday. "It's up to me on the day to take my chance and hopefully I'll continue at No 10. I'm playing there regularly at club level now and that's helped a lot."

Townsend moved to Castres in the summer specifically to play in his favourite position, having made way for Christophe Lamaison at stand-off for Brive last season. In doing so, he gained another role - one he performed impressively for Scotland last Saturday.

Townsend landed five penalties and four conversions against the United States. "It's the first time I've been a regular kicker for five years," he said. At Murrayfield tomorrow, Townsend could conceivably give Australia the order of the boot.

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