Townsend set to fly for Scots

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The Independent Online

Gregor Townsend, banished to the frozen wastes of outside centre during last season's Six Nations' Championship, will resume his frustratingly intermittent career as a Test outside-half when Scotland take on the United States at Murrayfield on Saturday evening. Those who believe that playing Townsend as far away from the ball as possible makes about as much sense as asking Wagner to compose a 30-second advertising jingle will celebrate the 1997 Lion's return to the position of maximum influence.

Gregor Townsend, banished to the frozen wastes of outside centre during last season's Six Nations' Championship, will resume his frustratingly intermittent career as a Test outside-half when Scotland take on the United States at Murrayfield on Saturday evening. Those who believe that playing Townsend as far away from the ball as possible makes about as much sense as asking Wagner to compose a 30-second advertising jingle will celebrate the 1997 Lion's return to the position of maximum influence.

Ian McGeechan, the Scotland coach, has retained only half-a-dozen of the side that mugged England seven months ago. Townsend apart, Chris Paterson is completely secure at full-back, Tom Smith and Steve Brotherstone are still together in the front row, Scott Murray continues at lock and Budge Pountney, the new captain, remains on the open-side flank.

Among the more interesting arrivals are Jon Steel, the Glasgow Caledonians wing, and Simon Taylor, of Edinburgh Reivers, who has been fast-tracked into the side at No 8 after giving the European champions of Northampton a comprehensive seeing-to at Franklin's Gardens last month.

It is, however, the midfield axis that has the potential to warm the cockles of Scotland's supporters, for Townsend's mercurial genius at 10 has its perfect counterweight in the level-headed intelligence of John Leslie at inside centre. It was these two who inspired Scotland to an unexpected Five Nations title in 1999.

Townsend has been playing with real fizz for Castres recently, while Leslie is close to full throttle with Newcastle after some injury set-backs.

The French, meanwhile, are hoping that Thomas Castaignÿde will recover from ankle problems in time to face Australia in Paris at the weekend. The Saracens full-back failed to complete training yesterday - his contribution to Tuesday's session was also of the abbreviated variety - but Bernard Laporte, the French coach, still named him in the starting line-up.

Christophe Juillet, a Gallic Dean Richards if ever there was one, is back at No 8 after a brief retirement from international rugby, and there is a first start at hooker for his Stade Français club-mate, Fabrice Landreau.

On the domestic front, Gloucester have rested Jason Little, Ian Jones, Junior Paramore and the club captain, Kingsley Jones, for their Tetley's Bitter Cup derby at Bath. The selection tends to suggest that the Cherry and Whites are taking this season's knock-out business less than seriously, as does the fact that their coach, Philippe Saint-André, is scheduled to spend Saturday in Paris commentating on the France-Australia game.

SCOTLAND (v US, Murrayfield, Saturday): C Paterson (Edinburgh Reivers); C Murray (Edinburgh Reivers), A Bulloch (Glasgow Caledonians), J Leslie (Newcastle Falcons), 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), B Pountney (Northampton; capt); S Taylor (Edinburgh Reivers). Replacements: S Scott (Edinburgh Reivers), G McIlwham (Glasgow Caledonians), R Metcalfe (Edinburgh Reivers), J White (Glasgow Caledonians), G Beveridge (Glasgow Caledonians), D Hodge (Edinburgh Reivers), C Joiner (Edinburgh Reivers).

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