Webster goes extra mile for Scots

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The Independent Online

Simon Webster apologises for the wait. Scotland's afternoon squad session finished some time ago but the Edinburgh wing-cum-centre has been busy doing "Stadium Steps", going the extra mile, sprinting up and down the aisles of the West Stand at Murrayfield. It is just as well that his national team training base is not the towering Croke Park or, worse still, the heavenward Nou Camp.

Still, the task is steep enough and entirely apposite, it would seem, given the challenge facing Scotland three-fifths of the way through their Six Nations' Championship campaign. Beaten by France, Wales and Ireland, Frank Hadden's team need to conjure another one of those unlikely Calcutta Cup tricks at Murrayfield next Saturday if they are to avoid going to Rome a week later fighting to avoid being left clutching a second successive wooden spoon.

At least there was a measure of brightness in the 34-13 defeat at Croke Park last weekend: the sight of Webster haring over the Irish line in his "orange peel" colour boots as darkness descended on north Dublin. It was Scotland's first try of the championship, after 213 minutes of play. It remains their only one – they have conceded 11.

"Ireland scored five tries last weekend," Webster points out, down from the stadium steps in the Murrayfield tunnel. "If you let a team do that, you've got to score a hell of a lot of points to beat them. Tries are obviously something we're after, and while there was a certain improvement in our attacking play against Ireland, there's still a lot to do. We've got to make sure against England that we don't make mistakes that give away cheap points."

Webster laughs at his suggested new epithet as "the Scotland try machine", yet at 26 (he turns 27 on Calcutta Cup day) he has taken his international tally up to eight now with his hyperactive, high-speed style of play. Of his fellow squad members, only Chris Paterson (22) and Ally Hogg (nine) have scored more tries, and Webster's curriculum vitae includes efforts against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

Whether he remains at outside-centre or returns to the wing position he favours, the English-born threequarter is likely to be in the Scotland starting XV against England.

A native of Cleveland – born in Hartlepool, brought up in Yarm – Webster played his first rugby with the minis and then the colts at West Hartlepool, at a time when the North-east club were members of the English elite and had British Lions such as Rob Wainwright and Tim Stimpson in their ranks. "I used to play at inside-centre and found I was making a lot of breaks but never finishing them off," the Anglo-Scot recalls. "I went to see a sprint coach at Clairville Stadium in Middlesbrough, an Italian guy called Sergio Peretti, and did a lot of work with him. Within two or three months I'd made a massive improvement."

The long-term benefit of that sprint work was clear to see at Croke Park as Webster sped across the line to end the try drought for the land of his Greenock grandparents. Webster did so in the same brand of distinctive orange boots in which Vincent Clerc bagged five tries for France in their opening two Six Nations games.

Webster says: "Whether they've got anything to do with scoring tries I don't know, but that was the first time I've worn them." If the future is to be brighter for Scotland, it seems it could well be orange.

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