Tait returns for Scotland after nine-year absence

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The Independent Online
Alan Tait will complete his journey from rugby league back to union when he lines up for Scotland against Ireland at Murrayfield on Saturday and returns to the Five Nations' Championship after a nine-year absence.

The 32-year-old Newcastle player wins his ninth cap in the team named yesterday. This follows his inclusion in the provisional Lions squad of 62 for the summer tour of South Africa.

Rob Wainwright is anxious that Tait does not have to carry the burden of Scottish expectation. "Tait's experience in league will be important to us," the Scotland captain said. "But we're not looking for some messiah, as the Welsh possibly viewed their returning league players."

Tait returned to union this season with Newcastle to be nearer to his family in Scotland, a decision which brought to an end a league career in which he was capped 14 times by Great Britain during spells with Widnes and Leeds.

David Johnston, Scotland's backs coach, is optimistic that Tait can lift the Scots following their defeats by Wales and England. "Tait is confident both in attack and defence. I think he will improve the performance of the side," he said.

"We didn't perform as well as we might have in the last two Test matches. Against England we had a different blend and it simply didn't function. We now believe we have a combination that will perform."

Tait, who won his eight previous caps between 1987 and 1988, will form a new centre partnership with Gregor Townsend. "Hopefully I can help Gregor to perform," Tait said after learning of his selection. The mercurial Townsend switches from stand-off to inside centre, the position he occupied against Wales and Italy.

Craig Chalmers regains the No 10 jersey after being dropped for the England game and the other change in the backs is at right wing, where Tony Stanger returns to what many see as his best position in place of Derek Stark after playing centre at Twickenham.

Despite their poor showing against England, the forwards are retained en bloc, although there has been a positional switch in the back row. Scotland's coach, Richie Dixon, felt that the pack performed more than creditably against England. "Considering they were heavily outweighed, they were solid in the scrums and went well in the line-out. This group definitely deserved another chance," he said.

The positional alteration sees the captain, Rob Wainwright, and Peter Walton switch positions. Wainwright will line up on the blind side, where he used to play, while Walton will be at No 8 in an international for the first time but Dixon insisted: "I don't see that as a gamble."

SCOTLAND (v Ireland, Five Nations' Championship, Murrayfield, 1 Mar): R Shepherd (Melrose); A Stanger (Hawick), A Tait (Newcastle), G Townsend (Northampton), K Logan (Stirling Co); C Chalmers (Melrose), B Redpath (Melrose); T Smith (Watsonians), G Ellis (Currie), M Stewart (Northampton), G Weir (Newcastle), A Reed (Wasps), R Wainwright (Watsonians, capt), P Walton (Newcastle), I Smith (Gloucester). Replacements: C Glasgow (Heriot's FP), D Hodge (Watsonians), G Armstrong (Newcastle), D Cronin (Wasps), D Hilton (Bath), S Brotherstone (Melrose).

The Ireland prop Nick Popplewell yesterday pulled out of Ireland's Five Nations' Championship game against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday. Popplewell injured a hamstring when playing for Newcastle against Leicester in the Pilkington Cup at the weekend and had been unable to take any part in an Irish squad training session on Monday.