Simon Danielli drafted as Scotland rugby squad drought continues

NOT FOR the first time the thorny issue of tries, or rather the lack of them, dominated the team announcement yesterday in Buenos Aires.

Andy Robinson is acutely aware that his side are finding them as hard to find as dark matter so he turned to the man who has a better scoring record that anyone else in this squad.

Simon Danielli has claimed six Test tries in a stop/start international career stretching back to 2003. He scored on his debut in a World Cup warm up match against Italy and he scored off the bench against Japan in Townsville, and saved a few red faces in doing so. He also found the try line in 2009 when Italy visited Murrayfield with the brilliant execution of the type of training field move that we have seen all too seldom on Robinson's watch.

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With six tries in 25 Tests Danielli boasts a scoring ratio of one try every 4.2 matches, marginally better than Johnnie Beattie who has claimed three tries in thirteen matches, but significantly better than anyone else in the back line. Sadly these statistics are grossly misleading as Danielli points out with disarming honestly.

"I think that five of those tries came in the first seven or eight Tests," the winger said. "I think my recent record is probably not that good."

He's right. He scored five tries in his opening eight Tests and has managed just one in the ensuing seventeen outings, last year's score against Italy. However the potential is there because Danielli is prolific at club level despite the fact that Ulster have been at the ugly end of the league for the past few years. He sneaks onto the Magners top five top try-scorers of all time with 29 touchdowns to his credit, trailing Shane Williams by just the one score, so at least the Scot is keeping good company.

In explaining why he brought Danielli into Saturday's starting line up Robinson gave the winger such a glowing report, "pace, strength, natural try-scorer for Ulster" that you couldn't help wonder why on earth he hadn't been picked before now? But seven years after his debut Danielli still hasn't convinced everyone of his worth and 25 caps over that sort of time frame is well short of what his talents deserve.

Part of the problem is the winger's laid back demeanour. He emanates the sort of slacker cool that makes Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski look like a Woody Allen neurotic. Having read Politics and Philosophy at Oxford University Danielli is also highly educated and, while no one doubts his commitment to the cause once the whistle goes, he sometimes appears to view rugby as a sport rather than the principle reason that mankind was placed on God's green Earth. With that in mind it's hard to see why someone with the all-consuming intensity of Robinson picks him at all?

"We want to attack Argentina in the wide channels," explained the coach. "We've brought in Simon because he runs hard, he's pretty direct and he carries the ball in two hands," youngsters please take note. "A lot has been said about our lack of tries and he's a try-scorer for Ulster. We want to put him on the spot, it's a great opportunity for him to show his Ulster form. He played well off the bench for us in the Six Nations and he started the Italy game. I see this as an opportunity for Simon to grab."

For his part Danielli is approaching this game in the same way he approaches every other one, with his habitual mix of good humour and determination. While he is aware of the side's lack of tries he isn't going to let the issue overshadow everything else as he explains.

"Tries are not the be all and end of my game. If I set up three and don't score any that would be classed as a great game. If I don't score on Saturday it doesn't mean that I've had a bad game. Obviously if I do I'll be delighted. Hopefully if I do get any chances I'll finish them off."

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Danielli admitted that he was a little surprised to gain selection for the second Test, since the team played well in Tucuman, and offering commiserations to Nick De Luca who makes way for the winger. While the Edinburgh centre is a brick wall defender, Robinson is banking on the pace of Max Evans in attack to carve out those half breaks he specialises in and then hoping that Sean Lamont and Danielli can pick a line to finish them off.

The Pumas employ a hard sliding defence which, over the last two meetings with Scotland in November and last week, has successfully kept their line intact. The press may not help matters by focusing attention on this team's lack of tries but the best way for the Scottish players to silence their critics is to score a few on Saturday. They may need to, Argentina surely can't be quite so generous this weekend as they were last.