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Gilchrist: Hosts will not scatter Ashe on his Test debut

ADAM Ashe will today make his Scotland debut before he has started a professional club game but the 20-year-old No.8 is still capable of making an impression, according to Grant Gilchrist.

Chris Fusaro is likely to be key for Scotland  in Port Elizabeth and he is convinced that his smaller stature will not count against him. Picture: SNS Group/SRU
Chris Fusaro is likely to be key for Scotland in Port Elizabeth and he is convinced that his smaller stature will not count against him. Picture: SNS Group/SRU

The man who will captain Scotland against South Africa is quite confident that his younger team-mate is ready for the big time.

Gilchrist is not simply backing the new boy out of loyalty either. The two men first joined forces at ­Stirling County and, with only a little more than three years between them, the Edinburgh lock has been able to keep a close eye on the young tyro as he emerged through the ranks.

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Ashe, after all, has not sprung to prominence suddenly. His debut today has been many years in the making, with the player having collected caps at every age-group level, while also spending a year on the World Series Sevens circuit and, most recently, receiving a scholarship in New Zealand. His time has come and what better time to introduce the young Glasgow Warrior to international rugby than in a game which has no real consequences?

"I've known him a long time - he's a ­Stirling County boy - and I have seen him grow and go through the ranks," said Gilchrist. "He is a good player. He will turn a few heads there."

There is optimism regarding Ashe then, but this remains a decidedly inexperienced Scotland side. It is also one charged with taking on a South African team in their heartland, the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium close to a sell-out at last count. The Springboks win the caps battle by 502 to 275 too, although the most significant point is that 184 of those Scottish caps belong to just four players.

Not that Gilchrist appears unduly concerned. "It is our last game as a group and we are really excited about the challenge. We know the size of it but that is exciting for this group," he said.

"Generally playing against South Africa, the No.2 side in the world, is exciting; it is always good to go against these players who have been there and done it."

The next time the teams meet will be in the World Cup next year but the combination of English and French clubs playing dog in the manger with their players - as well as a lengthy injury list for both sides - means that few of those in action today are likely to reprise their roles next year. Between them, Scotland and South Africa have made 30 changes from the squads which met in Nelspruit a year ago, and the odds are that there will be at least as many alterations when they next meet.

The match today will be marked by both youthful exuberance and the sense that both sets of players will be able to relax knowing that the objective is simply to prove themselves ready for Test rugby.

There is less doubt about what to expect from the South Africans today, though. The side is composed of big forwards intent on hitting hard, with plenty of driving mauls to soften the opposition before the ball goes out to quicker backs. However, Victor Matfield, the South Africa captain, has warned his side that the Scots can pose a threat too.

"They come out with a lot of heart and the breakdown is very important for them," he said. "They believe that they are smaller but if they take us on lower they can make it more difficult for us. We have worked on a few things in the scrum to go lower, at the breakdown to drop our height to counter them. It is all about ourselves, what we want to achieve."

That will ensure that Chris Fusaro, who will win his fourth cap today, becomes arguably the key man for Scotland. He is a lot smaller than either of his opposing flankers and weighs nearly two stone less than Marcell Coetzee, his direct opponent. Fusaro is confident that he can use his size to his advantage.

"They are going to try to impose themselves physically on us so the challenge is to nullify that," he said. "I have always been on the smaller side whoever I am playing against, so hopefully I can do the same job I always do. It is a challenge that we are all relishing. It is going to be a massive physical battle."

If Fusaro can get under South Africa's skin and make a nuisance of himself at the breakdown, it would suggest that he can be a contender for a World Cup place. Should he fail, however, the Springboks are likely to win the breakdown battle and then the match. That would also raise questions about his size.

"It is going to be my biggest game against one of the best teams in the world at a place like Port Elizabeth," he added. "It is a great game to finish off the season - a pinnacle. The stadium is fantastic and the South African fans are fantastic. Hopefully there will be some travelling Scottish fans as well."

It would be better still if Scotland could engineer a win, but on this occasion what matters are the performances of individuals. To paraphrase Matfield, it is about seizing the opportunity.

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