Rugby Digest

SCOTLAND'S latest rugby export last night thanked Melrose chiefs for helping him swop the dole queue for a new career in the French top-flight.

Winger Mark Moncrieff spoke after clinching a deal with Perigaux Dordogne, who compete in the same league section as the likes of Toulouse, Dax and Racing Club.

Moncrieff was left on the scrap heap after being made redundant by the SRU when they merged the Border Reivers with Edinburgh, but now the World Cup Sevens player has the chance to find security for at least the immediate future.

Moncrieff, who is listed to make his debut against La Rochelle on Sunday, has signed a contract until the end of the season - but barring disasters, he is likely to stay for at least a further year.

He said: ''I can't praise the people at Melrose highly enough for the support they have given me - both over the past few months and when the possibility of a move came to light.''

Moncrieff also paid tribute to girlfriend Paula Chalmers - sister of Scotland fly-half Craig - and his parents for their off-pitch backing through his difficult times. It is believed that part of his package includes free flights for Paula to make frequent visits to France.

Moncrieff explained that he had been the subject of previous but tentative approaches from Perigaux, but that the deal - engineered by soccer agent Kenny Moyes - had come out of the blue.

He said: ''I got a phone call on Christmas Eve to say something was brewing and that I should fly to France on Monday. Everything was sorted out very quickly and after passing my medical I am looking forward to Sunday.

''It will be a whole new challenge for me and I am determined to make an impression.''

Looking further ahead, Moncrieff is relishing the prospect of facing his former Gala team-mate Gregor Townsend.

He said: ''I don't know exactly when we will be playing against Brive, but it should be fairly soon. Facing Toony in a French league game will be a tremendous occasion for me.''

qScotland fly-half Craig Chalmers stressed the importance of showpiece matches, such as the Barbarians' visit to Leicester yesterday, in an era when he believes ''the fun has gone out of the game.''

Chalmers converted six kicks out of six as the combined side beat Leicester 38-24 in their annual match at Welford Road, and he insisted that in the professional era it was still a thrill to pull on the Baa-Baas shirt, especially with him needing plenty of match action.

''Playing for Edinburgh Reivers I get very little rugby,'' he said. ''Our fixture set-up is such that this is only my second game in six weeks. I jumped at the chance when I was asked and it is still a thrill to pull on the Barbarians jersey seven or eight years after I first did so.

''When I first played, everything at club rugby was amateur, but inevitably in the pro era the fun has gone out of the game.

''So it's important to have the odd fixture like this so the younger players in the future get a chance to express themselves and enjoy a match without the result mattering. It didn't bother us that Leicester were taking off players. The subs were still men who would be expected to perform in the league.''

However, some of Leicester's substitutions were forced. Martin Johnson has a shoulder injury, Neil Back a muscle spasm in his back and Leon Lloyd suffered a blow to the head. Fortunately for Tigers, they are in a run of nearly three weeks without league commitments.

Coach Dean Richards said: ''It matters to us to have lost. There is disappointment in the dressing room because there were many players out there wanting to show what they could do.

''Though the Barbarians do not attract the household names of previous years they had an excellent back row, a hard front row and tons of skill behind the pack.''

Barbarians swept clear after trailing 24-14 by the 54th minute to win comfortably, with Chalmers converting tries by Jon Evans, Eric Miller, Luca Martin, Stuart Grimes and Jan Machacek.

Back performed his usual role of opening Tigers scoring, Scotland winger Craig Joiner scored twice and Tim Stimpson claimed Leicester's fourth try.

qSchools rugby - Page 23