McGeechan faces captaincy quandary
April 4, 2000
In the wake of yesterday's heroic 19-13 humiliation of England at Murrayfield, Scotland coach Ian McGeechan admitted he has been handed a major problem for the summer tour to New Zealand by the ease with which Andy Nicol led the side yesterday.
The former Bath captain took command when Leslie withdrew from the squad for the Calcutta Cup clash after suffering a recurrence of his long-standing ankle injury.
But although the influential Kiwi centre should be fit to return to his homeland when the Scotland party flies south on June 1, it is debatable whether he will be their figurehead.
"There are a lot of things to think about before we announce the squad," said McGeechan.
"I am delighted with what Andy did this week, right from the moment I made him captain. He came to my flat on Monday and we talked through the preparation from start to finish and it worked very well."
In contrast to Leslie, whose rugby talent is beyond doubt, but who looks uncomfortable with the more public aspect of his role, Nicol is a positive image to set before the outside world.
A proud Scot born-and-bred, completely free from the injuries which have dogged him throughout his career and now back home playing with Glasgow Caledonians, Nicol is a figure the Tartan supporters can identify with in a way Leslie will never do.
Having backed Leslie so strenuously when he offered the Kiwi the job, McGeechan knows that to take it away from him so swiftly would involve a major admission of error.
But the former British Lions chief proved last week he was capable of admitting mistakes when he accepted he was wrong not to make more substitutions in the defeat by Wales in Cardiff.
However, given the scale of his achievement yesterday a win which will rank alongside any in his already vast CV McGeechan was at least allowed some time to reflect on the glory.
"That is what you live for. You can see the joy it produces," said McGeechan, who was bought a congratulatory bottle of champagne by nearby diners as he attempted to savour the moment with an unsuccessfully quiet meal in Edinburgh last night.
"There is so much good feeling which comes from achieving what we did yesterday. That is the real fix for me."
After improving steadily throughout the campaign without being able to register a win, it took a typically inspired piece of McGeechan thinking to instill a belief in his team that England could be beaten.
"I took the video of the Welsh game and edited all the mistakes out," he said.
"There were long passages of play where we did nothing wrong, yet elementary errors at the final part of a move cost us about eight tries.
"It showed just how good a team we have, but we made it easy for Wales because we didn't force them to make decisions.
"England are such a good side, it doesn't take Einstein to work out that if you give them space they will be very dangerous.
"We got to the kick-off absolutely right, everything had come together. We were so aware in defence and the work rate was phenomenal.
"There was no-one hanging on or standing still at the end and to produce that kind of performance in conditions as poor as we encountered was just incredible."
After almost two years of apathy it has taken just a single victory over England to whip the Scottish nation into a rugby frenzy once more.
The atmosphere inside the stadium yesterday, so dead during the World Cup, rivalled the Millennium Stadium on a good day and the home players responded while the visitors wilted.
But as McGeechan will constantly remind his troops in the months ahead, it is one win.
Even greater challenges lie ahead, specifically the two-Test tour to New Zealand in June.
Fitness permitting, all yesterday's heroes will be on the plane, including 21-year-old debutant Jason White, whose performance in the back-row completely overshadowed that of the all-British Lions back three England turned out.
The expectation is that Cammie Murray will have recovered from his shoulder injury, but former skipper Eric Peters will need more time before testing the knee which had to be completely restructured last year.
"I have about 30 players pencilled in already, but I want to have a chat with the A team selectors and give some of the fringe players as much time as possible, without waiting until the last minute," said McGeechan, who expects to announce his squad on April 19.
"We were all so disappointed with our performances in previous games, but at least this has made everyone feel a lot more positive.
"The game is special and each match is unique. It has been hard at times this season, but days like yesterday make all the effort worthwhile."