Webster and White win promotion for Scotland

Chris Hewett
Friday 20 February 2004 01:00

Matt Williams talks one hell of a game of rugby, and if his Scotland side live up to the rhetoric when they take on England in tomorrow's Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield, they will win by 20 points.

The new coach was not in full Bannockburn mode yesterday - he comes from Australia, not Auchtermuchty - but he told a fearful sporting population at least some of what they wanted to hear, promising that his players would give "every drop of desire, passion, sweat and blood" in pursuit of a ground-breaking victory over the age-old enemy.

Unfortunately, games of rugby are not decided 48 hours before kick-off. The reality of Williams' unenviable situation became clear when he named a team showing only two changes from the one that lost so disappointingly in Cardiff last weekend - proof positive of his limited options.

Few Scottish rugby diehards quibbled with the promotion of Jason White, the Sale flanker, to a place in the starting loose combination, but there was popular support for some major surgery on an anonymous back division. As it turned out, Williams picked the former Northampton wing, Simon Webster, ahead of Andrew Henderson, and left it at that.

Webster is an enthusiastic sort who can shift at a rate of knots when called upon to do so, but he did not burn up too many pitches during his time in the English Premiership. Nevertheless, Williams described him as one of two players in his squad who had shown a sharp improvement in form and technique in recent weeks - Tom Philip, who partners Webster in the Edinburgh three-quarter line, was the second man mentioned in dispatches - and believes him to be the right man to confront Josh Lewsey, the Wasps wing who is currently in the shape of his life.

White's call-up was one of the more predictable selectorial moves of the season, given his excellent second-half contribution against Wales; indeed, it remains a mystery why he did not start that game as well. While Williams is completely sold on the big back-rower's talent for Test rugby, he appears unconvinced by his work ethic. In announcing that White would perform the blind-side role in place of Cameron Mather, who will take over the open-side position from Allister Hogg, the coach pointedly described Mather as "a workaholic" - a clear hurry-up message, aimed at the man from Sale.

Many Scots expected to see the dangerous Derrick Lee, a full-back of genuine pace and attacking ingenuity, restored to the mix, along with Nathan Hines, the aggressive Australian-born second row who spearheaded the forward challenge during last autumn's World Cup. Hines is on the bench - a definite improvement on last week, when he failed to make the match-day squad - but Lee is nowhere to be seen. Given the straight-line speed of Lewsey and Iain Balshaw, plus the wonky-line speed of Jason Robinson, the reason for his absence is not obvious.

Still, Williams was bullish about his side's collective state of mind, if not their chances of winning a Calcutta Cup match for the first time since 2000. "There has been talk of us shuddering in our boots," he said, "but these are the days elite sportsmen and coaches of elite teams live for. We want to take on the best, and this weekend we know we are taking on a giant. It is no accident that England come here as world champions; they believe in each other and in their system, they have an established routine, they are brilliantly resourced and they have their programme planned. That is why they will continue to be a force."

Williams is one Antipodean who acknowledges England as the state-of-the-art side in world rugby. "The All Blacks held the mantle," he said. "They had that air of invincibility about them. The world champions deserve to hold that same mantle, and I hope that when they come out at Murrayfield, they are given the reception their achievement deserves."

Quite whether the coach was referring to a respectful reception from the crowd - fat chance - or a characteristically warm reception from his team, he did not make clear. Sir Clive Woodward will be concentrating his thoughts on the latter.

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