Graham Shiel: a naturally gifted football player who, at outside centre for the A team in Donnybrook, will be in a role where he can bring his wingers into play.

GRAHAM Shiel, who was one of the major successes during the World Cup in South Africa, comes in from the cold with a run at outside centre in the Scotland A side to meet their Irish counterparts at Donnybrook on the eve of the Lansdowne Road international.

Shiel's selection in the outside centre berth is particularly interesting, a point conceded by A team manager Douglas Morgan at a Murrayfield press conference yesterday.

``He is a very good footballer and, given the feeling that the midfield in this side and the senior side is, perhaps, problematical, it provides a chance to look at Graham in this role with a view to a player who can bring his wingers into play,'' said Morgan.

Certainly, of the four centres who will be on duty for Scotland in the A game and the Lansdowne Road Test match - Ian Jardine and Scott Hastings in the big side and Ronnie Eriksson in the A side - Shiel is the most naturally gifted ball player.

There remain question marks about his defensive capabilities, and outside centre is a particularly demanding berth in that regard - hence the selection of the indestructable Scott Hastings for Lansdowne Road - but, as ever, the quest is for the perfect balance.

It is a quest that is seldom fulfilled but with Scotland determined to play the expansive game which the selection of Gregor Townsend at fly-half signals, Shiel has certainly been provided with the opportunity to force his way back into the senior Scotland side.

The side, captained by Gary Armstrong, who is paired with Hawick's Scott Welsh, also includes newcomer Barry Stewart at tight-head prop. Stewart, still only 20 but standing 6ft 2in and weighing in at 17st, has profited from the coaching of David Sole at Edinburgh Academicals. That is, until the former Scotland captain was consigned to the twilight world by the Murrayfield beaks.

Stewart has represented Scotland at schools and under-19 levels and, most recently, in the under-21 victory over Italy last weekend. Just a fortnight ago Sole was observing that Stewart, like Raeburn Place team-mate Scott Murray, was one of those who could go all the way. Morgan agreed yesterday, saying that the young prop was very definitely one for the future.

The youngster is an uncompromising player, as was displayed in a bout of black humour during the Edinburgh v North and Midlands game at Meggetland on Wednesday night. North and Midlands captain Dave McIvor was lying obtrusively on the wrong side of a ruck whereupon - and never mind that they are Raeburn Place colleagues - Stewart, playing for Edinburgh, set about administering a couple of timely reminders not to do so again. The look of hurtful amazement on McIvor's face was choice.

Morgan said yesterday that the A team existed as back-up to the big team, to provide a step-up for under-21 players, and to give senior players returning from injury a platform on which to perform. Peter Walton, Damian Cronin, and, to a lesser extent, the luckless Cameron Glasgow come into the latter catetory.

It is worthwhile remarking here that, perhaps, the format of A games taking place on the same weekend as Test matches does players on the verge of senior selection, or more particularly, those on the big team bench, a grave disservice.

Once the Five Nations' Championship campaign is up and running, how are the likes of bench-sitters Kenny Logan and Craig Chalmers to force themselves back into contention? For instance, if the Graham Shiel experiment proves fruitful at Donnybrook on Friday, then he will come into the reckoning for the next Test outing. The six Test team replacements are denied that opportunity.

In terms of the back-row unit for next week's game, Stirling County's Gareth Flockhart can count himself unlucky. Morgan said yesterday that Flockhart had been considered for the No.8 slot but the decision had gone in favour of Hawick's Brian Renwick, who, like Flockhart, had played well for club and district and acquitted himself well against Western Samoa in the last real A side outing.

Morgan said that the captaincy had gone to Armstrong because of his inspirational qualities. ``Gary is going to find it very difficult to get back to what he was after his knee injury. Some players never do. Look at Rangers' Ian Durrant, who was never quite the same again after his injury.

``However, Gary is a very special player, who has a lot of qualities that we can utilise,'' said Morgan.

Barry Stewart's promotion to the A side means that David Jamieson (West of Scotland) takes over in the Scotland Under-21 side to meet Ireland Under-21 at Stradbrook, Blackrock, on Friday. Harlequin Jim Kelly comes on to the bench.

Scotland A - S D Lang; I C Glasgow (both Heriot's FP), A G Shiel (Melrose), B R S Eriksson (London Scottish), J A Kerr (Watsonians); W S Welsh (Hawick), G Armstrong (Newcastle Gosforth), captain; G D Wilson (Boroughmuir), D G Ellis (Currie), B D Stewart (Edinburgh Academicals), M Norval (Stirling County), D F Cronin (Bourges), P Walton (Newcastle Gosforth), B L Renwick (Hawick), J P Amos (Gala).

Replacements - S R Laing (Instonians), S A Nichol (Selkirk), G G Burns (Stewart's Melville), D G Burns (Boroughmuir), M G Browne (Melrose), M W Scott (Orrell).

Ireland A - C O'Shea (London Irish); S Mason (Orrell), J Gallagher (Harlequins), S McCahill (Sunday's Well), N Woods (Blackrock College); D Humphreys (London Irish), A Rowland (Blackrock College); P Flavin (Blackrock College), S Byrne (Blackrock College), P Wallace (Blackrock College), D Tweed (Ballymena), M O'Kelly (St Mary's College), V Costello (St Mary's College), E Miller (Leicester), A Foley (Shannon).

Replacements - B Walsh (Cork Constitution), A McGowan (Blackrock), S McIvor (Garryowen), L Toland (Old Crescent), R Mackey (Malone), P Cunningham (Garryowen).

Referee - J J M Pearson (England).