After another training session at the Harlequins' ground here yesterday, Dougie Morgan, the Scotland coach, was asked if his team had ever played against a country about whom they knew so little. "Yes, Spain three weeks ago," Morgan replied. Scotland scored 10 tries against the Spanish and Morgan admitted that he would be "more than satisfied" with a similar outcome against the Africans.
"The priority," he said, "is to win. If we get loose, that is when our opponents will be at their most dangerous." Scotland, with a comparatively lightweight pack, are committed to playing a fluid running game, and although they have rested some of their front-line forwards such as Damian Cronin, Eric Peters and Iain Morrison, the threequarter line is expected to ensure that the Scots begin with an emphatic victory.
Scotland, of course, would never admit to taking this game lightly, but the fact is that the Cote d'Ivoire are, by some margin, the weakest team in the competition. "They qualified to get here, they've earned their place and we must respect that," Gavin Hastings, the Scotland captain, said. He also reported that Scotland, who have been training in South Africa for nine days, were "straining at the leash" and that the hard, fast grounds would suit their style. "I love the conditions," Hastings said. "You could play rugby in this weather all the year round."
The Cote d'Ivoire (as far as the inhabitants are concerned, the Ivory Coast does not exist) has 15 rugby clubs and a total of 2,700 players. They surprised everybody, including themselves, by winning the African zone to qualify, beating Zimbabwe 17-10 and Namibia 13-12. The Namibians, who thought it would be a walkover, fielded a weakened side and paid the penalty.
On a three-match tour of South Africa, the Ivorians were beaten 97-7 by Northern Transvaal, 67-10 by Western Transvaal and 18-0 by Stellaland, an outfit that would struggle to give the Outer Hebrides a game. There is a doubt over both the discipline and the fitness of the Ivorians. Western Transvaal scored 40 points against them in the last 20 minutes.
Whereas Scotland, who are sponsored by Famous Grouse, have not been averse to exploring Pretoria's night life, the Cote d'Ivoire have prepared under a self-imposed ban on alcohol. Gin is their favourite tipple, but the Gordon's thus far has been kept under wraps.
Their key player is the stand-off Athanase Dali, the son of the founder of Ivorian rugby, Francois Dali. Athanase, who recently graduated from a French university with a degree in journalism, is the captain and goalkicker. He is his country's leading points scorer with 48, although most observers are of the opinion that his kicking style owes more to Salvador Dali than any orthodox exponent of the art.
"It's important to show the world we can play good rugby and to show the young men back home that it's a good game," Dali said. The Cote d'Ivoire is not alone in experiencing rugby at this level for the first time. The match marks the first appearance of a referee from Western Samoa, Selise Vito.
n Wales are seeing red over not being allowed to wear their traditional strip. For their Pool C opener in Bloemfontein tomorrow against Japan, they have been forced to play in their change strip of green because the Japanese, who play in red and white hoops, have not brought an alternative strip.
OLYMPIA PARK TEAMS
SCOTLAND v IVORY COAST
G Hastings Watsonians, capt 15 V Kouassi Burotic
C Joiner Melrose 14 P Bouazo Burotic
A Stanger Hawick 13 J Sathicq CASGl
G Shiel Melrose 12 L Niakou Niort
K Logan Stirling County 11 C N'Gbala Cahors
C Chalmers Melrose 10 A Dali Clamart, capt
B Redpath Melrose 9 F Dupont Nimes
P Burnell London Scottish 1 E Bley ASPAA
K McKenzie Stirling County 2 E Angoran Rodez
P Wright Boroughmuir 3 T Djehi Millau
S Campbell Dundee HSFP 4 S Kone Burotic
G Weir Melrose 5 G Bado Cognac
P Walton Northampton 6 P Pere ACBB Paris
R Wainwright West Hartlepool 8 D Sanoko Biarritz
I Smith Gloucester 7 I Lassissi Burotic
Referee: F Vito (Western Samoa) Kick-off: 3.0 (ITV)