Scotland have been this way before, of course. The nation's football team have been to the Stade Geoffory Guichard, the home of AS Saint-Etienne, on World Cup duty. They lost 3-0 there against Morocco and had Craig Burley sent off in France '98, the same year that England lost to Argentina and had David Beckham red-carded at the ground known as Le Chaudron. As for the Scottish rugby team, who open their 2007 World Cup account in the French sporting cauldron today, they have encountered their first-match opponents once before.
That was at Murrayfield in November 1998, when the Scots beat Portugal 85-11 in a qualifier for the 1999 World Cup. Not that the Scottish Rugby Union recognised it as an official international contest. The governing body chose not to award caps to the Scottish players.
If they had, Scott Murray would be one hat closer to a century of them. As it is, the 31-year-old Musselburgh man will extend his Scottish cap record to 87 when he lines up in the second row against the World Cup debutants. The towering lock, bound for a future in French rugby with Montauban when the tournament closes, happens to be the only survivor in the Scotland team from that Murrayfield mismatch nine years ago, a fact that underlines his seniority of status. "Pretty depressing," is how he describes his two Caledonian World Cup campaigns so far.
It could be pretty depressing for Portugal by the end of their World Cup baptism today. The 1,000-1 joint outsiders have only one full-time professional and two part-timers in their 30-man ranks. The rest are lawyers, doctors, vets and students. Not that Murray expects to encounter lambs disguised in the garb of Os Lobos, the wolves.
"We're not going to be underestimating Portugal in any way," he insisted. "We've studied them the same way we studied South Africa for our final warm-up game. They're going to be pretty tough. The way they play and the way they defend, they're fearless. I've watched their videos and they're absolutely nuts – putting their bodies on the line every time. It'll be a tough game up front, but if we can give our backs good ball, in the latter stages we might be able to play exciting rugby."There have been those who have questioned Portugal's presence at the top table of world rugby, but not Murray. "These guys have had to play a lot of teams to qualify," he said. "They deserve to be here. They've had to work hard just to get here. This is what they've done all of that hard work for."
Even while the Portuguese have been in Saint-Etienne, they have had to do much of their hard work without their coach. Tomaz Morais arrived here five days after his squad, because his new-born daughter, Mariana, has been ill in hospital in Lisbon.Reuse content