Scots draw little comfort

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The Independent Online
BILL LEITH

reports from Murrayfield

Scotland 15 Western Samoa 15

On the last occasion Scotland opened the season with a draw at Murrayfield they went on to finish with their first Grand Slam for 59 years. Things are a bit different now from when Jim Aitken's side held a patchwork New Zealand outfit in 1983 and Scotland, in looking to recover from a disappointment against Western Samoa, can merely seek to take comfort from much more recent history and a notable list of players who should soon become available again.

Last year Scotland improved so dramatically after opening their campaign with a trouncing by South Africa that they figured in a Grand Slam decider at Twickenham and also the likes of Scott Hastings, Tony Stanger, Craig Joiner, Kevin McKenzie and Martin Scott should soon be back back from injury. Gary Armstrong is regaining sharpness with every outing after a 20-month absence, Peter Wright will be free from suspension in three weeks and overtures will be made to his fellow prop Alan Sharp, who has indicated a desire to put Bristol's commitments before Scotland's this season.

Scotland's director of rugby, Jim Telfer, now appears more convinced than ever that the way ahead for Scotland lies in expanded fixture lists for district teams. He also believes that it is asking too much of players to step straight from club rugby into internationals.

Telfer, who awarded pass marks to new caps Jim Hay, Stuart Reid and Rowen Shepherd sought to balance criticisms of others by blaming the system. "They were playing at a level two grades up from that which they are used to playing especially in midfield and as regards the physical aspect," he said.

"As a rugby nation we should realise that suddenly coming off club matches and expecting to play the top nations in the world is not on. That is a reason not an excuse."

Scotland looked extremely rusty in escaping with their collective reputation intact - just. Western Samoa's indiscipline meant a penalty count of 17- 3 against them and a wayward conversion attempt by Darren Kellett from almost in front of the posts was also costly.

Nowhere was Scotland's fraility more exposed than at the line-out and stand-off, where Craig Chalmers came in for criticism from Telfer for his inability to find touch. Telfer said: "If you can't win clean ball from that phase of the game then your options become severely limited - and that's what happened. It is vital to slow the game down by getting the ball safely out of play when you can," he added. "It's a core skill - but Craig wasn't able to do it consistently enough."

Michael Dods had all the Scottish points from five penalties which at one stage had helped to open up potentially match-winning margins of 12- 3 and 15-8. But the Samoans had an indomitable spirit which carried them to tries by Leaupepe and Sam Kaleta, the latter converted by Kellett, who also scored an early penalty. The Western Samoan captain, Pat Lam, was naturally disappointed that a try count of 2-0 did not produce a victory, remarking: "Normally a draw against the likes of Scotland away from home would be hailed as a major achievement. But the feeling is a bit hollow after scoring two tries to nil."

Scotland: Penalties Dods 5. Western Samoa: Tries Leaupepe, Kaleta; Conversion Kellett; Penalty Kellett.

SCOTLAND: R Shepherd (Melrose); M Dods (Northampton), G Townsend (Northampton), G Shiel (Melrose), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers (Melrose), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), J Hay (Hawick), P Burnell (London Scottish), G Weir (Melrose), D Cronin (Bourges), R Wainwright (West Hartlepool, capt), S Reid (Boroughmuir), I Smith (Gloucester).

WESTERN SAMOA: V Patu (Vaiala); B Lima (Ponsonby), T Vaegva, G Leaupepe (Te Atatu), A Telea (Petone); D Kellett (Ponsonby), J Filemu (Wellington); M Mika (Otago), T Leiasamaiva'o (Wellington), P Fatialofa (Counties), L Falaniko (Marist), P Leavasa (Apia), S Kaleta (Ponsonby), P Lam (capt), S Vaifale (Marist).

Referee: T Henning (South Africa).

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