Allan Massie: Mind the cones Scotland as the World Cup looms closer

Stand-off John Rutherford's 1987 World Cup was abruptly ended by injury. Picture: David Cannon
Stand-off John Rutherford's 1987 World Cup was abruptly ended by injury. Picture: David Cannon
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It may be Wimbledon fortnight and the return of Andy Murray, in doubles anyway, but with the Scotland squad training hard in Portugal, the Rugby World Cup no longer seems far away.

Emails from the SRU press office are nervously opened for fear that they will contain a depressing medical bulletin, perhaps the sad news that X or Y has torn a cruciate ligament when side-stepping a traffic cone.

If it is that part of the anatomy that comes nervously to mind, it’s because Scotland’s hopes in the first World Cup – 32 years ago, believe it or not, Ripley – were dented within ten minutes of kick-off [in the opening 20-20 draw against France] when John Rutherford tore his anterior one, and missed the rest of the tournament. He had already damaged it a few weeks before on an unofficial jolly in, as I remember, Bermuda, side-stepping not a traffic cone but his Selkirk and Scotland team-mate Iwan Tukalo. So on the medical front, no news from Portugal is good news – so far.

Meanwhile, you may have postponed your reading of the Saturday Scotsman in order to watch the Super Rugby final between Crusader and the Jaguares. This is of some World Cup relevance, though more perhaps for our friends south of the Border, since Argentina are in England’s pool and the Jaguares team is pretty close, by all accounts, to the national one. So, if they were to beat a Crusaders side not exactly bereft of All Blacks, there might be just a little tremor of trepidation at Twickenham.

England as one of the top seeds were no doubt happy to have France, rather than South Africa or Wales in the number two slot, but having Argentina in the third one looks a more formidable obstacle than when the draw was made. Of course they would be confident of beating both France and Argentina at Twickenham, less confident perhaps in Japan. England will certainly still be favourites to top the pool and deservedly so, but if I was English, I would be a tad worried by Eddie Jones’s team’s ability to go to pieces after establishing what should be a winning position.

They did this twice in South Africa last summer, then against Wales at Twickenham in February and as near as dammit in the Calcutta Cup after winning the first half 31-7. Of course they won’t let matches slip away in Japan, will they?

Nevertheless they surely can’t forget that France have a pretty good World Cup record, while Argentina have upset a few applecarts, both ours and Ireland’s in 2007.

Eddie Jones’s training squad sees the return of bearded loose-head prop Joe Marler from his brief retirement from international rugby. Only a cynic would say that choosing to miss this year’s Six Nations was a good career move.

Meanwhile, Saracens fans are bemused by Jones’s refusal to select their full-back and occasional fly-half Alex Goode. He may play brilliantly in the Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup and win Player of the Year awards, but he’s not good enough (forgive the pun) for Eddie. There’s confidence for you.

There are a lot of posts for retired players in rugby now, though I often imagine the horror with which past secretaries would have regarded the SRU’s wage-bill and indeed general expenditure.

We’ve come a long way from the time when, as Ian Robertson recalled in his memoirs, the then secretary refused to pay his fare for a taxi from Waverley to the Braid Hills Hotel where the team was quartered, telling young Robertson that there was a perfectly good bus service, only one change required.

Still, among recent job announcements, none has pleased me more than the appointment of Ciaran Beattie as Scotland’s Sevens coach. I knew him first as a young, exciting and skilful scrum-half for Selkirk. It was clear from the start that we wouldn’t keep him long, for he was destined for the professional game, first with the lost, lamented Border Reivers, then with Edinburgh.

A natural sevens player with an electric break, he was soon in the Scotland Sevens squad and played in the Commonwealth Games before a recurrent injury ended his playing career when he was still only in his early twenties.

Instead of drifting away in disappointment, he applied himself to developing his computer skills and was soon employed as an analyst by the SRU.

Then he turned to coaching too, and has come up through the ranks, as it were. The ranks of our professional game are still so thin that our Sevens squad are always underdogs against the strongest countries, including those like the USA who specialise in the shorter form of the game. But Ciaran will bring infectious enthusiasm, considerable experience and technical knowledge to the world sevens circuit and to our prospects in the next Commonwealth Games.