Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Peter Bills: Scots will need braveheart spirit

The stumbling and failings of a very poor Ireland second string rugby team at Murrayfield last Saturday obscured a fact that might just have crucial relevance come the World Cup.

Scotland looked surprisingly focused and effective.

Now before half the Highlands break open Grandpa's finest malt in celebration of such a statement from one of the hated Sassenachs, it ought to be pointed out that this summer for Scottish rugby has been about as dire as that for the tourist trade in English seaside resorts.

In the case of the Scots, it has been because of the lingering civil war between the Scottish Rugby Union and Edinburgh Rugby. So bitter was this fight, that all kinds of legal threats were bandied around. Ultimately, the SRU bought out the financial share of Edinburgh's owners and took the province back into SRU control.

This was the end of the experimentation with outside investors in Scottish rugby. But it concluded a dismal era for the game in Scotland, a period of time that has seen the demise of the Borders provincial set up, the debts of the SRU running to and beyond an alarming £23 million and an unsavoury public battle with Edinburgh.

Rugby folk all around the world have been affected, not least the Australian fly half Stephen Larkham who had signed a contract to join Edinburgh at the conclusion of the World Cup. Alas, the word of a Scotsman now appears forever devalued following the SRU's announcement that they won't pick up the bill to go through with Larkham's contract.

Yet against this background of civil strife, Frank Hadden's team went out at Murrayfield last weekend and performed with real brio. They pounded at the Irish defence and made even Brian O'Driscoll take a backward step in a defensive sense.

Of course, the very fact that Scotland has New Zealand in its group, mitigates against any undue optimism for this World Cup. Furthermore, even if Scotland defeats Italy, they will play the winner of the tough Group D in the quarter final. That could mean a game against France in their own backyard, the Stade de France, Paris. You wouldn't get very good odds on France slipping up in that one.

But if this World Cup is to be anything other than a series of predictable routs that will bore everyone to tears because of their inevitability, RWC 2007 needs countries like Scotland to be feisty and determined challengers. The Scots, we all know, have many weaknesses in their team and squad but pride is not one of them.

That much was more than apparent last weekend judging by the way Jason White, their fit again captain and talisman, drove his men into the fray with a courage and bravery that hinted of the soldiers on the front 90 years ago.

Scotland will need all of that and more in the coming months, not just at the World Cup but when the 2008 Six Nations Championship gets underway next February.

Whisper it softly but even this Englishman believes it is important that Scotland has a competitive, tough team at its disposal. It would certainly do the World Cup no end of good if countries like Scotland gave even the hottest of favourites plenty to think about.

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