Scotland enjoy supportfor Wallabies challenge

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The Independent Online

The warnings of a flood at Murrayfield today will prove to be correct. Fortunately for the Scottish Rugby Union, the Water of Leith has subsided. Instead, their stadium will be engulfed by a tide of the human variety.

The warnings of a flood at Murrayfield today will prove to be correct. Fortunately for the Scottish Rugby Union, the Water of Leith has subsided. Instead, their stadium will be engulfed by a tide of the human variety.

As of yesterday afternoon, 60,000 tickets had been sold for Scotland's acid test against Australia, guaranteeing a record for a Wallabies match at Murrayfield. By kick-off time today, the Edinburgh ground could even be filled to its 67,500 capacity - a complete contrast to the half-empty horrors of the World Cup a year ago.

Whether Scotland can produce something more than a half-decent performance on the pitch, though, is another matter. Against the big three of the southern hemisphere, they have achieved nothing better than that in recent times.

Three years ago, for instance, when the Wallabies were last in town, the Scots held them 8-8 at the break before allowing Steve Larkham to cut loose and slumping to a 37-8 defeat. The capitulation came in reverse in the World Cup quarter-final against the All Blacks at Murrayfield 13 months ago - an overall 30-18 defeat with the consolation of "a 15-5 second-half win," as Jim Telfer put it.

That was the last match of Telfer's reign as national coach and, while fourth-fifths of the subsequent Six Nations' Championship was an uncomfortable, losing experience for his successor, Scotland have emerged from a Calcutta Cup win and a steep summer learning curve in New Zealand in promising shape courtesy of Ian McGeechan's astute guidance.

It was significant, though, that when asked to award his team a mark for their 53-6 victory against the USA at Murrayfield last Saturday, the former school-teacher hesitated. "I wouldn't give them a grade," McGeechan said. "I'd just put 'encouraging' at the bottom of the report."

The man who masterminded Scotland's Grand Slam success in 1990 and the British Lions' triumphs in Australia in 1989 and in South Africa three years ago, appreciates that a more accurate measure of his new-look side - with its three fresh caps (outside centre Alan Bulloch, left-wing Jon Steel and No 8 Simon Taylor) and its new captain "Budge" Pountney - will be an 80-minute examination against the world champions.

Of the 15 Wallabies who lined up for Australia's last match on these shores, the World Cup final in Cardiff a year ago, just eight will be in Rod Macqueen's starting XV this afternoon. The same team needed six penalties from Matt Burke to overcome France, 18-13, in Paris last Saturday, though from a northern hemisphere perspective the weaknesses caused by injuries and retirements should perhaps be viewed strictly in the relative sense.

That has been McGeechan's perspective, having spent the week analysing the match video. "It's a strong Australian pack," he said, "and they have some very good intuitive players behind the scrum. We know what we're trying to counteract.

"Our whole ability to react and to organise and reorganise will have to be on a much higher level than it was against the United States. That's pretty obvious. Australia don't lose very easily. They showed that last Saturday."

They have shown it against the Scots for 18 years now. Not since 3 July 1982 have Scotland beaten the Wallabies or the other two southern hemisphere superpowers - by a trickle of points, let alone a flood.

SCOTLAND: C Paterson; C Murray (both Edinburgh Reivers), A Bulloch (Glasgow Caledonians), J Leslie (Newcastle), J Steel (Glasgow Caledonians); G Townsend (Castres), B Redpath (Sale); T Smith (Brive), S Brotherstone (Northampton), G Graham (Newcastle), S Murray (Saracens), S Grimes (Newcastle), J Petrie (Glasgow Caledonians), S Taylor (Edinburgh Reivers), B Pountney (Northampton, capt). Replacements: G Bulloch, G McIlwham (both Glasgow Caledonians), R Metcalfe (Edinburgh Reivers), J White, G Beveridge (both Glasgow Caledonians), D Hodge, C Joiner (both Edinburgh Reivers).

AUSTRALIA: C Latham (Queensland); M Burke (NSW), D Herbert (Queensland), S Mortlock, J Roff; R Kafer (all ACT), S Cordingley (Queensland); B Young (ACT), M Foley, F Dyson (both Queensland), J Eales (Queensland, capt), D Giffin (ACT), M Cockbain (Queensland), G Smith (ACT), T Kefu (Queensland). Replacements: J Paul (ACT), M Connors, G Panoho (both Queensland), J Williams (ACT), E Flatley (Queensland), C Whitaker, N Grey (both NSW).

Referee: C White (England).

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