Graham to face raging bull?
Iain Morrison reports from the Scotland camp
September 28, 1999
With the injury cloud seemingly lifted from veteran Alan Tait's shoulders, or at least his ankle, the Scottish selectors have what looks like a simple task in choosing the side to face the Springboks on Sunday.
Most of the side who played against France in their final Five Nations match will line up at the weekend with Stuart Reid, number eight on that day, one of the unlucky ones. His slot is likely to go to Gordon Simpson, one of Telfer's "kilted Kiwis".
If Simpson is selected, joining his former Wellington colleague Martin Leslie, a back row of three flankers will not be found wanting for pace.
The other selection headache, which might cause Jim Telfer some sleepless nights, is the number three shirt. Gordon Bulloch has fought off the challenge of Aussie rival Robert Russell and the British Lion Tom Smith is indispensable at the rock face, so the only place up for grabs is the tight-head berth which Paul Burnell filled with distinction during the
Injuries to Burnell however have meant that the veteran prop has played scant part in Scotland's warm-up games, giving way to George Graham. This pugnacious little forward, almost a replica model of the famous Mighty Mouse Ian McLauchan, is superb in open play. His speed and ball skills honed from his days as a Rugby League professional.
However the little-big man weighs in at 17 odd stone and stands just five feet eight inches. Worse than his lack of bulk by far is his lack of experience. Scotland's selectors, who look as canny a bunch as exists, saw fit to go into the RWC99 with one specialist tighthead. That is Paul Burnell. George Graham has probably played more times in
the specialist number three jersey in the last few weeks than in the last ten years.
Paul Burnell would be the safe bet and since the injury to Matthew Proudfoot there is no better man to lock the Scotland scrummage. For the selectors to choose an untried, diminutive prop in the one position that requires size, strength and technical ability would surely be seen as an act of madness, not least because he would find himself up against the 20+ stone of "The Ox", Os du Randt.
Burnell should be set to win his 50th cap against the Springboks as the only specialist tighthead in the squad but Graham has occupied that berth in recent training sessions. Perhaps, just perhaps, the experts reckon George Graham's lack of inches might allow him to scrummage under the giant du Randt and so nullify his weight advantage. It's a fearful risk as Graham concedes nine inches in height and at least three stone in weight to "the Ox".
However as the style of play Scotland are pursuing suits Graham's mobility it just may be that Jim Telfer reckons it's a risk worth taking. Quite how mobile Graham will be after holding up du Randt's bulk in the scrum has yet to be seen.