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Rugby on hold as Robbins kicks on to victory at Musselburgh

The future looks bright for whichever sport teenager Ben Robbins ultimately favours, athletics or rugby.

The 16-year-old George Watsons College rugby winger, who scored two tries in the recent Scottish Schools Cup final but has put his age-group international rugby career on hold for a year to concentrate on the track, stormed to a decisive victory in the 144th New Year Sprint held during the National Hunt Meeting at Musselburgh Racecourse yesterday. In doing so he also dashed the hopes of Gemma Nicol (Dunfermline) who was endeavouring to become the first female winner of the historic professional handicap. The 26-year-old's form, however, suggests a fine season awaits and her prize money was a nice bonus towards paying for a house.

After the morning cross-ties (semi-finals) the betting was finely balanced between the two who had dominated the heats on Monday and maintained their form yesterday.

But Robbins (Edinburgh AC) was the 4-6 favourite by the time he swooped to take the Eric Liddell memorial gold medal and £4000 first prize, with Nicol, a six-times finalist and a former runner-up, on offer at even money.

A 400 metres specialist with a best time of 49.11 secs, Robbins covered the 110 metres on the gradually drying grass in 12.14 into a fresh, though unmeasured wind in 12.14 secs from his start of 7.5 metres.

A surprise 5-1 runner-up was his teenage clubmate and Portobello High pupil Keiran Reilly in 12.29, with Nicol (16.5m) third in 12.32.

"I still see my eventual future in rugby," said Robbins, who does not believe it will be possible to do both sports as Liddell once did so famously.

Dave Goodall, Robbins' coach, said: "It's not about the money. It's just about winning the event and being a part of athletics history."

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