Scots wary of US minnows

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The Independent Online

Do not talk to Scotland about the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Last week Ian McGeechan's side survived the mother of all shocks against Japan, and in Brisbane today they must tackle a United States team that has just given Fiji the grandmother of all shocks. This lot, it seems, are big minnows in a very small pool.

But at least, as the US coach concedes, the element of surprise may have gone after their agonising one-point defeat last Wednesday. "Not many people had seen this US team play - why, not many people in the US had seen this US team play - so it's not hard to imagine that the Scots hadn't either," Tom Billups said.

However, the Scotland coach claims he is, and has been for a long time, aware of the risk the US present. "They're well organised, they're big players, they've got a lot of experience and I thought they played Fiji very well," McGeechan said.

How he wishes he could say the same about his spluttering Scots, who somehow sneaked a bonus point against the spring-heeled Japanese in Townsville, and who venture into battle today without their captain, Bryan Redpath. The scrum-half has an arm injury and is replaced by Mike Blair.

What they do have at their disposal, however, are the creative talents of Gregor Townsend, who should ignite a backline containing five changes, including the recall of the fullback, Glenn Metcalfe. Billups made no attempt to hide his admiration of Townsend, who "brings a wealth of experience and savvy" to Scotland, but confessed that his backrow of Llanelli's Dave Hodges, Kort Schubert and Leicester's Dan Lyle will be "eager to shut him down".

McGeechan has moved to shore up a pack that appeared almost lethargic at times in Townsville with four changes, including the stand-in captain, Gordon Bulloch, at hooker and Bristol's Ross Beattie at blindside. "We know we can play better than we did against Japan, McGeechan said. "We're lifting ourselves to the higher level."

The Americans expect as much, with Billups saying: "Against Japan there were a lot of unforced errors, and we're not planning on the Scots making nearly as many against us."

In the unlikely event that Scotland should, however, the Eagles will be out to use the height of Rotherham's Luke Gross - the tallest man in the tournament - to monopolise the line-out, and a front row who have already played together in eight Tests this year to cause havoc in the scrum.

The Scots, unlike the Fijians, have been warned.