With 17 tries in 27 Test appearances it is hard to imagine that 10 better players than Alan Tait might have graced Scotland's midfield.

Throw in two Test appearances on the wing for the British and Irish Lions in South Africa four years ago, scoring a crucial try on the first of them, and the case becomes still stronger.

Most compelling of all, however, is that the main part of Tait's career was spent in rugby league, where, having been a regular in their British Lions squad between 1988 and '94, he expected to finish his days in exile from the Union code.

Surely, then, an automatic choice to be among the nominees put forward by our panel as prime candidates for consideration to be included in Scotland's greatest ever XV? Well, astonishing though it may be to modern eyes, far from it.

He did ultimately make the group but not without some agonising by our panel, which is absolutely no indictment of Tait, but is a comment upon the quality of those under consideration.

So, too, is the fact that there was no room for John Frame, whose try against England in 1971 stood as a world record for the fastest ever in Tests for many years or, indeed, for John Leslie, who beat it during the win over Wales two years ago.

Interestingly, up until that 1999 season when Leslie's try set his adopted country on course for a hugely unexpected Five Nations Championship win, the careers of our candidates cover every single one of the previous 40 years.

Perhaps only in the back-row have Scotland boasted a comparable supply of talent, the run beginning with Ian Laughland, last season's SRU president, who, like two successors, Jock Turner and Ian McGeechan, was rated a play-maker of sufficient quality also to be asked to play at stand-off for his country.

Jim Renwick's footballing skills might well have seen him wear the Scotland No.10 jersey had not his career coincided with those of McGeechan, Colin Telfer, and John Rutherford. Chris Rea was another gifted player whose creative talent and nose for the line, which saw him score a try in each of the two wins within a week against England in 1971, earned him a place among the 1971 Lions who made history by winning the series in New Zealand.

Of more recent memory, while David Johnston was always associated with having played professional football with Hearts, he is remembered best not for his kicking but his almost ethereal running. He himself once described his fellow Watsonian Scott Hastings, whom he partnered on his debut, as the most gifted young player he ever encountered. That observation is well worth remembering given our tendency to think of the younger of the Hastings brothers mostly as a ruggedly brave defender.

Truly Scotland has been magnificently served in the recent past, yet in considering who was the finest of them all, a man who finished his international career three years before the aforementioned Laughland was born is among the leading contenders.

Suffice to say that when Scottish Rugby Magazine's 100 greatest players of the century were listed last year, Phil Macpherson, who captained Scotland in three matches during their 1925 Grand Slam campaign, was listed in second place.

Duncan Macrae was another leading figure of the pre-war era who made the list as a pacey player, a key man alongide Wilson Shaw in the 1938 Triple Crown winning team, but who had played only nine games for his country when war broke out.

Of those who just missed out, Norman Mair, one of our distinguished panel members, observed that the great gift of George Aitken, who partnered Macpherson in 1925, was to bring out the best in those around him.

Mair drew comparison between Aitken's under-stated style and that of Sean Lineen, with whom Scott Hastings set a world record of appearances in the Scotland midfield.

Which brings us back to Alan Tait and the thought that, had he not defected to rugby league, this opportunity to attempt to assess Scotland's all-time greats might not be possible.

After all, the Lloyds TSB Murrayfield Legends event was the brainchild of the New Zealand-born Scottish internationalist. Yet had Tait not moved on, his replacement might simply have headed back from whence he came at the end of his year's rugby-playing holiday at Boroughmuir, which would have deprived Scottish rugby of a great deal of creativity both on and off the pitch.

Panel nominations for centre

Phil Macpherson 1922-32, 26 caps, 11 as captain

Duncan Macrae 1937-39, nine caps

Ian Laughland 1959-67, 30 caps, two as captain

Jock Turner 1966-71, 18 caps

Chris Rea 1968-71, 13 caps

Jim Renwick 1972-84, 52 caps

Ian McGeechan 1972-79, 32 caps,

9 as captain

David Johnston 1979-86, 27 caps

Scott Hastings 1986-97, 65 caps

Alan Tait 1987-99, 27 caps