n Saturday 5 October. Scotland will step out on to the hallowed turf of Murrayfield. loins girded. gum-shields inserted. to take on the mightof. . .Japan. Surely some mistake. Rugby is a game for Welshmen caked in coal-dust and antipodean giants with names like Toni. That certainly used to be the case. but times are changing.

The inaugural Rugby World Cup was held in Australia and New Zealand in 1987 and. much to everybody‘s surprise. was a roaring success. Far from being a peripheral appendage to the Europeans‘ Grand Slam and the Australian/New Zealand domestic seasons. the World Cup produced some stunning matches. most especially in the final when French artistry came up against the concrete wall that was New Zealand. The Kiwis won. as everyone knew they would. but the French and all ofthe European nations could never be questioned on their commitment.

There was also an emergence of new rugby-playing nations such as Fiji and Romania. both ofwhom have gone on to bigger and better things since. Scotland‘s coach. Ian McGeechan. acknowledges that the rugby world is changing and he believes for the better.

‘The lesser-known countries are improving all the time and. especially in the last five or six years. rugby has got a much greater world-wide perspective. These emerging nations can come on to the world stage once every four years and that‘s encouraging their rugby at home. So in that way. the World Cup has become a big incentive for them. Some of these teams have been playing matches for two years to qualify for this competition. so they‘re bound to be highly motivated.‘

Scotland will play all of their first round matches at Murrayfield and as Mchechan says. ‘Ifwe keep winning. we could go all the

way to the semi-finals at Murrayfield. That‘s

just a slight “if“.‘ Normally playing at home

i would be an advantage. but to Scotland it

' takes on almost mythical proportions. They : have not been beaten at Murrayfield since

L Australia scraped through in 1988.

However. David Sole. Scotland‘s captain. is E wary of assuming too much simply because

ofthe Murrayfield factor.

“It‘s a very significant advantage. any side would admit that whether it‘s Wales playing

at Cardiff. Ireland playing at Lansdowne

Road or England at Twickenham. But we don‘t put much stock on records. You‘re

- only as good as the game you‘re playing. so

we don‘t sit on our laurels. look back and say “We‘re brilliant at Murrayfield. it‘s going to come good“. We still appreciate that there‘s a lot of commitment. a lot of hard work. that goes into winning those matches. That said. obviously the fact that you‘re in front of your own supporters makes it that wee bit easier.‘ And then there is Scottish rugby‘s ‘anthem‘. ‘Flower of Scotland‘. which Sole reckons was worth six points when Scotland beat the much-fancied England team to take the 1990 Grand Slam. Everything would seem to be in Scotland‘s favour for the initial round-robin section ofthe competition at least. when the greatest threat comes from perennial wooden spooners. Ireland. But if

they should progress. the likelihood is that I somewhere along the line Australia or New I Zealand will be waiting. Risking life and limb to ask an impertinent question. I l wondered whether David Sole ever got scared when squaring up to these hunks of prime Southern hemisphere beef.

‘No. not really. They can do certain things better than I can do them and I can do certain things better than they can. so it‘s swings and roundabouts. You have to adapt the pattern of your game to suit the players that you‘ve got. The Japanese don‘t have big guys so they do different things to the rest of us in the line-out. You have to do what you can to win ball.‘

‘Winning ball‘ is one of the rugby i aficionados favourite expressions and. although Bill McLaren ‘the voice of rugby‘ according to the BBC will not be lending his dulcet tones to STV‘s commentary. no doubt the reporters will have been well briefed to use the phrase at every scrum. Ilere is Ian McGeechan with a demonstration ofhow it should be done.

‘We are not the biggest side in the championship so we have to gear everything to winning ball. keeping it as long as possible and being effective that way. We also try to be entertaining. There‘s responsibility to play rugby that schoolboys especially want to be associated with. but I think the bottom line at international level is that you‘ve got

to be successful. The great interest that there

is in the Scottish side now has been because we‘ve been successful. What we try to do within that is to play a game which we feel is most effective for us and hopefully people like watching it too.‘

But is the game as attractive as it was in the past when. because lolloping forwards were often weighed down by beer—bellies. flighty

. obviouslythe

fact that you’re in front of your own supporters makes it thatwee bit


wingers and serum halves could make exhilarating runs the length ofthe field? “The game has changed since the 7()s.‘ says McGeechan. ‘That rugby just wouldn‘t succeed nowadays. The sides are much better organised. they cover the field in greater numbers and the jobs and responsibilities ofplayers have changed. They do actually work much harder and are expected to do more, especially the forwards. But there have been some tremendous games in recent years and I think they would stand comparison with anything in the 705 because there were some pretty awful games in those days as well. I tend to look at it and think it was a great time because I was playing then. But when rugby is played well today. it is as exciting a game as you will see.‘ I Scotland play Japan on Saturday 5 October 1 at M urrayfield .

The Teams

I Scotland Not beaten at home for over three years but defeated in Romania recently. which hardly augurs well. The game against a strong Barbarians team at the start of September ( lh-all draw) was more encouraging. .

I ling/and The most consistent European team over the last few seasons and the current Grand Slam champions. An indication of what this

; means in world terms was

given when they were utterly outclassed by Australia in July.

I H ales Gone are the glory days of Gareth and

Barry when Wales

destroyed everybody

. (includingNewZealand).

The rebuilding would

have to be on a post-war Dresden scaleforthe Welsh to succeed in any

way after the humiliations of the summer tour to Australia.

I Ire/and An exciting. youngest ever. scrum-half

. and captain. Rob

Saunders. Err. that‘s it really. The rest of the side look as ordinary as ever.

I l-‘rana'Serge Blanco has

made more comebacks than Sinatra. If he plays. France will be the second

most entertaining team in

the competition. lfbe doesn‘t. they will not be the same force they were in '87.

Ixfacrra/ia Many people‘s

favourites because they beat the All-Blacks this summer. They also defeated England and inflicted the two biggest international defeats on Wales in that tearn‘s

; history in consecutive


I .\'echa/and Perhaps not the force they were in a similar way to Mike Tyson not being the force he was. But would you want to step into a ring

with him'.’ It was little

reported that after losing to Australia. they got revenge in the return match.

lergenlina The standard Iinglish humiliation on tour came at the handsof the Argentinians a couple

of seasons ago. Certainly a

team to watch and could get through to the quarter finals at the expense of Wales.

I Romania Excuses galore (first match of the season.

I dreadfuljourneyetc)but

the fact remains that Romania beat Scotland for the first time a few

weeks ago. They are certainly the best of the non-(irandSlam

European teams.

IZimbabrwNo-bopers (unlike their close

neighbours. South Africa. who will be returning to international rugby next year and look like being amongst the top twoor three teams in the world ),

These boys should provide a gentle. mid-week work-out for Scotland.

IJapan Scotland‘s first opponents and the Scots couldn‘t have hoped fora better draw. Excitingto watch when they get the ball. but they don‘t get it very often.

I (.‘anada Although having the occasional glittering star. (‘anada haven't taken to rugby in the same way as the other Colonies and should not figure in the later stages. I l 181-! Isn‘t it great tosce something that the Americans are not best at'.’ Be warned. though. their women are streets ahead of the opposition in the female game. so how long will it be before the men follow suit'.’

I Italy Had to play an interminable number of matches to get this far and have shown themselves to be about as clean and good-humoured as their soccer players. No realistic chance though. I l"r';'i"l‘he most exciting team in the sport and the best at the sevens game (seven players a-sidc using a full-length pitch and running themelves into the ground) but unfortunately just not bulky enough to threaten the bigboys. Still. theydid better than lingland and Scotland in the last World (‘up.

I H '65le Samoa In soccer terms. they would be a Costa Rica. And we all know what that means.

The Glossary

I The/"arwan/s People who you wouldn't like to meet on a dark night.

I Hie/farts People who you wouldn't like to meet at a student all-nightcr. They include: the serum half(so called because he is halfthe size of the men in the serum). fly half. centres. wings and full back.

I The Huff/{arkPartners/rip The scrum-half ( usually little) and the fly half (usually good looking. went to an awfully nice school and doesn‘t often get his shirt dirty). Usual names: (iary. Gareth. John and Barry John.

I TIM YIIrc’c’Qlltlflr'rS The four men who stand outside the outside half (another name for the fly half). L‘sual names: Sean. Scott. Brendan and Philippe.

I The Fall Bark The man who stands farthest back. takes most of the kicks and who never. ever gets his shirt dirty. L'sual names: Jeremy . Simon. (iavin.

I H inning Hal/Not

any thing to do \Hlll loose shorts in the scrum. this is getting possession of IIIL‘ ball before your UPPUIICIII‘kIU.

The List 27 September-s l(l()etober lWl 11