Combined Scottish Districts 6, South Africans 33

WITHIN the space of four days, Scottish rugby has revived itself. The

game's horizons are brighter after the two matches in the Scots' CIS

Insurance series against the South African tourists.

No brash promises, no wild expectations. It is simply that the

Scottish game has found itself again. Heads can be held higher,

reputations are prouder, and confidence is more secure that Scotland are

capable of ending a run of eight internationals without victory by

beating South Africa at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Here are the simple facts: on Wednesday, the second-string Scots beat

their South African counterparts, the tourists' midweek team, and on

Saturday at Old Anniesland, ringed by colourful temporary stands like a

jousting arena, a compilation from Glasgow and Edinburgh refused to be

submerged by essentially the team who will take on Scotland at

Murrayfield. Scots have not been swept aside as Swansea were.

Of course, an international is a different game, a contest at a higher

level, the rugby more intense, but the matches at Melrose and Old

Anniesland have not been irrelevant. Two Scottish teams have pointed the

way, especially with the quality of their rucking, and if even one of

the players from the pre-international matches comes through to the

ultimate flight, whether for the immediate future or the World Cup or

beyond, those games will have served their purpose. Those players will

be all the better prepared for the demands of international rugby.

Take Mark McKenzie as one example. Here was a stand-off who only 16

days ago made his district debut for Glasgow, and yet on Saturday he was

pitched in against a team who have been promoted as probable World Cup

favourites in their own land. Yet he was not overawed.

True, he made the odd mistake. Admittedly, he was occasionally caught

out by the pace of the game, and he kicked goals from only two of his

five penalty shots: his first miss was all that went wrong from the

Scots' short kick-off ploy designed solely to purchase a penalty. Yet he

was always ready to try, and the occasion was not too much for him.

Hugh Gilmour and Graeme Burns also earned plaudits for their tenacity.

So did Andy McRobbie, who confirmed his reputation as a tackler par

excellence. Gilmour and McRobbie did much to stem the flow when it

threatened to run away from the Scots in the third quarter, and even

though Sean Lineen's legs were tiring when he essayed a break late in

the game, he did much to hold together the younger backs around him.

Lineen's Boroughmuir colleagues, Grant Wilson and Stuart Reid,

enhanced their reputations among the forwards in the loose. One scything

tackle by Wilson on Uli Schmidt earned obviously genuine acknowledgment

from the downed hooker, and even though Shade Munro and Alan Watt could

not claim to have done enough in the lineout for enthusiastic

celebration of the return to their lock partnership, they had presence

in the loose.

Reid's back-row lieutenants, Bruce Ward and Gordon Mackay, promoted

themselves to levels that might otherwise have seemed beyond them.

No-one should forget that Mackay was not even first choice for Glasgow.

Yet here he was serving the combined XV as a competitive, aggressive

open-side flanker.

Mackay may never again achieve such heights. Nor may others. But to

have experienced such a game will be to the benefit of each if he ever

has to step up again.

While commendations are being passed out, the Welsh referee, Clayton

Thomas, cannot be omitted. His was the best refereeing performance I

have seen by a visiting Welshman for a long time, not only because he

had the bottle to threaten to send a South African off for persistent

infringement after the tourists had conceded four penalties in quick

succession close to their own goal-line during the cities' final flurry.

I have heard referees argue against such a sanction. Thomas, however,

had no doubt that it was his to command.

Afterwards, the South Africans were pleased only with their set-piece

game. Their scrummage put the screws on, though without subduing the

Scots, and Mark Andrews came through at the front of the lineout as the

dominant touchline force. His props' support satisfied Thomas and those

of us who had criticised the tourists for lineout lifting on Wednesday.

Outside the set-piece, however, the South Africans were frustrated by

the wet weather and the terrier-like Scots. Only two of the tourists'

tries were created by good open-field play -- when Chester Williams

chipped ahead for Pieter Muller to score, and Joost van der Westhuizen

zipped off mauled possession in the home twenty-two for Muller's second.

A turnover, when McKenzie was trapped, allowed Williams and the classy

Andre Joubert to put van der Westhuizen over for the opening try in four

minutes. Muller's first try, sandwiched by McKenzie's goals, was the

only other South African score before the interval.

All of the others were in the third quarter. Rudi Straeuli scored in a

pushover, and, as the Scots' worst defensive lapse, Kruger broke past

Reid and Mackay to go over between the posts before Muller had his

second. Joubert converted three, and his replacement, Gavin Johnson,

added the points to the last.

Even 27 points down, the cities refused to lie down. Their game

strengthened in the last quarter, Ward twice took on to lay back good

ball, and Mackay, Watt, McRobbie, Reid, Munro, and Lineen prodded

excitement from the game's embers. They deserved a try.

Combined Scottish Districts -- N R Mardon (Boroughmuir); H R Gilmour,

A R McRobbie (both Heriot's FP), S R P Lineen (Boroughmuir), captain, J

A Kerr (Watsonians); M McKenzie (Stirling), G G Burns (Stewart's

Melville FP); G D Wilson (Boroughmuir), D G Ellis (Currie), G B

Robertson (Stirling), A G J Watt, D S Munro (both GHK), B W Ward

(Currie), S J Reid (Boroughmuir), G T Mackay (Stirling).

South Africans -- A J Joubert; P Hendriks, P G Muller, B Venter, C M

Williams; H P le Roux, J H van der Westhuizen; J P du Randt, U L

Schmidt, T G Laubscher, M G Andrews, P J W Schutte, J F Pienaar

(captain), R A W Straeuli, R J Kruger. Replacements -- G K Johnson for

Joubert (60 minutes), J L Stransky for Venter (72).

Referee -- C Thomas (Wales).