Nimmo walks tall with U21s on rugby's world stage

FOR at least one young group of players the most important action of the summer will not take place in New Zealand, but in the other half of the southern hemisphere when Argentina hosts the annual under-21 World Championships in Mendoza from June 9 to 25.

The Scotland team, who flew from Edinburgh yesterday, will play their first match against Australia on Thursday after enjoying their best showing in the junior Six Nations Championship. Led by manager John Jeffrey and coach Iain Paxton, former partners in the Scotland back row, they won three of their five games, recording a first win against Ireland, and also getting the better of England and a stuffy Italian side. A narrow loss to France and a more comfortable victory by Wales completed their season, and enabled them to look forward with some optimism to the increased intensity of the championships.

The Scots are seeded ninth in the competition, and they face a tough task. They are drawn in the same pool as Australia, Six Nations winners Wales and Canada, who always present a physical challenge.

If the odds are stacked against Scottish success, then at least one young player is determined to beat them. At just 19, Ian Nimmo will still be available for the squad next year, and the English-born, Leicester-bound lock is looking forward to building on the progress made in the Six Nations.

"A lot of guys in the squad really do believe that we'll win in Mendoza; certainly if we can't win, then a first fourth place is possible. We just need everyone else to believe it now. We'll do whatever it takes.

"The Australians lost to Wales in last year's under-19 contest in Durban, so I see a very beatable team. Ask me who will win the match, and I'd honestly say that I feel fairly confident. I am not going to be a typical Scot - 'We'll do our best.' We're definitely going to win."

Such confidence has not been reported since Ally McLeod's Tartan Army headed for the same destination in 1978, but Nimmo is anything but a typical Scot. As the accent suggests, he grew up in England: he attended Haileybury College until he moved to Dundee High School for his final few years, the youngster hinting that he left the English school just before they had a chance to show him the door.

His mother is English, but Nimmo watched rugby in his formative years with his father, who lives in Garnock and who still turns out for their veterans' team despite approaching an age when he should know better. Dad is also Ian Nimmo, differentiated by the moniker 'Big Ian', despite standing fully five inches shorter than 'Little Ian', his 6ft 7in son.

"I knew my Mum would be supportive whatever I decided to do. I always grew up shouting for Scotland, and hoping England was beaten," the young Nimmo reveals.

In moving to the Leicester club, he has avoided the shambles surrounding the Scottish academy players, who have suddenly learned that the SRU have not allocated the funding necessary to pay them next season.

More impressive is the fact that he is one of 40 placed on first-team contracts as opposed to an apprenticeship deal, which is what Edinburgh had offered him.

Leicester officials were so impressed by his efforts after watching a video of Scotland's under-21 win against England at Franklin's Gardens in Northampton that they phoned Nimmo within weeks. He arrived at the club two days after the initial call, and was handed a contract on the spot.

With financial woes still afflicting the SRU, and with the Celtic League under threat, no-one can blame the tall lock for moving, even if his attention is currently focused south of the Equator rather than south of the Border.

"There are no easy matches," he says, tempering his natural optimism when considering the forthcoming championships. "But then we are trying to compete on the world stage. We can take a lot of confidence from the Six Nations, and look to play our natural, open game."

There is little danger of Nimmo's confidence turning to complacency, but whatever happens the Scotland under-21 team will at least avoid one humiliation that befell Ally McLeod's ill-fated football squad at their World Cup... Neither Iran nor Peru have qualified for the rugby extravaganza.

POOL MATCHES: June 9 v Australia; June 13 v Wales; June 17 v Canada.

SCOTLAND SQUAD: Forwards: Willie Blacklock (Hawick), Stuart Corsar (Aberdeen GSFP), Stuart Fenwick (Ayr), Moray Low (Aberdeen GSFP), Ross Ford (The Borders), Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians), James Eddie (GHA), Ian Nimmo (Heriot's), Sean Tomes (Newcastle Falcons), Neil Cochrane (Watsonians, capt), John Beattie (GHA), Scott Forrest (Glasgow Hawks), Alan MacDonald (Heriot's), Colin White (Stirling County).

Backs: Alasdhair McFarlane (GHA), Greig Laidlaw (Jed-Forest), David Blair (Sale Sharks), Ben Cairns (Currie), Iain Kennedy (GHA), Garry Law (Hawick), Nic De Luca (Heriot's), Ben Addison (Stirling County), Michael Adamson (Glasgow Hawks), Brian Archibald (Stirling County), Douglas Flockhart (Currie), Alan Nash (Watsonians).