Scotland take historic route to Grand Slam
Thursday 22 February 1996
The last time the Scots kept together the same starting line-up for an entire Five Nations' Championship, it was 1990 and they did the Grand Slam. Yesterday, after a selection meeting rather longer than might have been expected for a team three-quarters of the way to repeating this achievement, the selectors did likewise for the climactic match against England at Murrayfield on Saturday week.
Scott Hastings will, therefore, equal the Scottish record of 61 caps held by his retired elder brother, Gavin. Barring mishap or a conscience which prompts retirement so as to preserve this fraternal symmetry, the Lions centre will exceed the old record in Scotland's first Test against New Zealand in Dunedin on 15 June.
When Hastings takes the field he could be accompanied not only by his 14 comrades but also by Ronnie Browne, the surviving member of the duo who wrote "Flower of Scotland". The song having been adopted as the anthem of Scottish rugby, moves are afoot to have Browne lead its rendition before the match. If the English fear this may give their opponents a psychological advantage over and above playing at Murrayfield, perhaps they could get one of their own national icons - Cliff Richard? Vera Lynn? - to sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" before the Irish play at Twickenham on 16 March.
As for those in and around the Scotland team, they are as busy as ever playing down the sense of expectation that is growing more febrile by the day. "People seem to forget very quickly that we were in the same situation last year and came away without a win," Rob Wainwright, the captain, said yesterday.
Not that he is contemplating defeat. Last season was at Twickenham and England, not Scotland, did the Slam. "It's a different story this year. We've been playing better and the game is at Murrayfield, which is a huge bonus. You just have to keep your feet on the ground."
The management would, however, like their forwards to keep their feet less on the ground than they did in the narrow defeat of Wales, the unproductive line-out being one of the areas over which they mulled in formulating their unchanged team. There was also concern at the indifferent scrummaging produced in Cardiff.
But the only genuine selection choice was on the wing, where they have stayed with Craig Joiner's outright pace in preference to the more muscular penetration of Kenny Logan, who impressed after replacing Joiner against Wales. Joiner will have to prove his recovery from an ankle injury when the Scots train at Murrayfield on Sunday.
Having originally stated his wish to play for Bristol in Saturday's Pilkington Cup quarter-final against Bath a week before his England debut, Garath Archer is struggling with a knee injury and, in any case, appears to be having second thoughts. Archer has been named in the Bristol second row and no decision will be taken until match day; in the meantime, Archer will consult Jack Rowell, the England manager, about the wisdom of taking such a chance.
The record-breaking Wallaby wing, David Campese, has rejected a pounds 500,000 offer to play for Newcastle, but the 33-year-old said yesterday that he would be willing to agree a two-year contract worth half this amount if he failed to regain his Australia place this year.
SCOTLAND (v England, Murrayfield, 2 March): R Shepherd; C Joiner (Melrose), S Hastings (Watsonians), I Jardine (Stirling County), M Dods; G Townsend (Northampton), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K McKenzie (Stirling County), P Wright (Boroughmuir), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), G Weir (Newcastle), R Wainwright (Watsonians, capt), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Gloucester). Replacements: K Logan (Stirling County), C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Newcastle), P Burnell (London Scottish), J Hay (Hawick), S Murray (Edinburgh Academicals).
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