It is difficult enough for any young athlete to step, for the first time, onto the international stage, so as he waits in the wings - or more accurately on the front bench - at Firhill tonight, spare a thought for Owen Nkumane.

It is not so long since ANC members in South Africa used to support the British Lions against the Springboks, then perceived, fairly or otherwise, as champions of white supremacy.

Indeed, it was only this year that the man believed by many to be deliberately obstructing the rugby development programme in the townships, Louis Luyt, was removed from office as president of the South African Rugby Football Union.

Consequently, those who wish to see the development of the game could have no greater champion than a fully fledged Springbok who hails from Soweto.

That is the baggage that Nkumane must now carry with him.

Although Chester Williams was a trail-blazer before him, to be followed since by a number of other, in no country in the world is the difference between coloured and black more pronounced.

The selection in the squad of this first black African certainly raised eyebrows when the squad was announced, drawing, in some quarters, the predictable charge of tokenism.

For his own part, meanwhile, Nkumane dismissed talk of his being a standard bearer for any cause.

Yet, while he has clearly faced relentless questioning on the subject, he remains charmingly approachable.

''I hear what people are saying about me. Obviously you can't ignore it, but I've just got to try to shut it off,'' he said.

''I am aware that if I do well or badly, it may have an impact on other people, but for me this tour is just about playing rugby as well as I can and in being completely focussed on that.''

The 23-year-old Gauteng Lions hooker is also only too well aware that, while he can make history tonight in Glasgow, or at some stage on this tour, he has not done so yet.

South African convention dictates that only when a player has taken the field for his country is he deemed a Springbok.

''I'm very confident that I'll get a start in a midweek game at some point,'' he said, however, adding that there had been no sense of disappointment when his name was not listed in the starting line-up for the tour opener.

''Being on the bench gives me a chance to look around and get a feel for the situation,'' Nkumane pointed out.

''There are quite a few of us coming in cold in this squad, so it is understandable that they will be careful about how they introduce us.''

That is a point not lost on tonight's relatively experienced Springboks captain, Bobby Skinstad who, at only 22, has already made six Test appearances and is regarded as one of the most exciting prospects in the world game.

''I'm pretty lucky to be captaining this side because we have got a good mix,'' he observed. ''But one of the things we have to consider is that some of the youngsters are going to be so keen to prove themselves that they might get too excited.

''However, most of them have been in awesome form.''

Though himself among those harbouring serious Test aspirations, Skinstad has been eager to foster a sense of identity among his ''dirt-trackers.''

''We have had a bit of fun and games with the Test side,'' he said.

''We had a good laugh at them during the fitness sessions and we've challenged them to a few games of Touch,'' he revealed, without divulging the outcome.

Rather than the permitted 22, only 21 of South Africa's 36-man squad are in Scotland -- presumably indirectly identifying the starting XV for Saturday's Test meeting with Wales - and there are no fewer than 12 uncapped players in that group. However, their quality is something the playmakers brought into the home side's starting line-up, South African Luke Smith and New Zealander John Leslie, both Super-12 players, will be able to testify to.

That said, the home squad is, on the face of it, a more experienced group in international terms.

Of the backs, only Leslie and Smith - whose inclusion sees Tommy Hayes, struggling for form at stand-off, switched to full-back - have not played international rugby, while the forwards include Test front five men Kevin McKenzie, Stewart Campbell, and Gordon McIlwham.

Even on the bench there are internationalists in Murray Wallace and John Manson, as well as Alan Bulloch and Gavin Scott who were involved in Scotland's summer tour of Australia.

That being the case, coach Keith Robertson has taken the opportunity to put Saturday's dismal performance behind them and focus on a month full of tre-mendous possibilities.

''It would be very hard to talk about the game in Pontypridd when so many of these players weren't even involved,'' he said - seven of that team having moved on to the national squad.

''The guts have been torn out of the side, but this is a real chance for the other players to show what they can do, just as the national squad can over the next few weeks.

''This is their chance to say to us 'We're good enough to be here and good enough to be given contracts for next year. Don't look anywhere else.'

''It's been hard for those who have not had much rugby, but most of them are young fellows and this builds character when they have their careers in front of them.''

Glasgow Caledonians: T Hayes; J Craig, I Jardine, J Leslie, D Stark; L Smith, D Patterson; G McIlwham, K McKenzie, A Kittle, S Campbell, G Perrett, J White, J Shaw, G Mackay. Replacements - A Bulloch, C Simmers, C Little, M Wallace, G Flockhart, J Manson, G Scott.

South Africa: G du Toit; B Paulse, R Fleck, C Stewart, L Venter; B van Straaten, W Swanepoel; O le Roux, N Drotske, W Meyer, S Boome, J Trystman, C Krige, A Vos, B Skinstadt. Replacements - D Kayser, R Markram, C Alcock, P Smit, O Nkumane, T van der Linde.