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Rugby Union: Braveheart kids can inspire us to sink All Blacks SAYS ANDY NICOL; FIRST TEST: NEW ZEALAND v SCOTLAND.

UPBEAT Andy Nicol reckons Scotland can tame the All Blacks - if they show the same bravery and belief as Murrayfield's stars of the future.

Skipper Nicol saluted the Scots Under-21 side who defied the odds to draw 14-14 with Australia in their opening game at the Southern Hemisphere Tournament in Auckland.

And he insisted the senior squad will be inspired by the fighting display when they go head-to-head with the Kiwis at Carisbrook's House of Pain" in tomorrow's First Test.

Nicol said: "It was a fantastic performance. Our entire squad was heading out for a meal and it takes something special to keep some of us away from food, but we were all glued to the television and refused to budge until the final whistle sounded.

"You would not believe the level of noise in the team-room, especially during the final few minutes.

"Everyone was on their feet cheering when Simon Taylor dived over deep in stoppage time to score the equalising try for the young Scots.""

Nicol added: "It was a great lift for Scottish rugby - especially so soon before our big game.

"It was disappointing young Barry Irving couldn't get the conversion - the Scots deserved to win.

"But we can take encouragement from their display. They got stronger as the game went on after a fairly shakily start. If we can do the same it would be wonderful.""

Nicol was backed by Scotland's Director of Rugby Jim Telfer, who described the game as "marvellous".

"It looked as if they would be flattened," said Telfer. "But the Scots came back bravely and it was all extremely heartening.""

Ross Beattie will make his Scotland debut at No.8 against the All Blacks, while wing Shaun Longstaff and prop Barry Stewart are given the chance to kick-start their Test careers.

Coach Ian McGeechan said flanker Martin Leslie's recovery from injury was a huge bonus - but denied his lack of match-practice had made his selection a high-risk strategy.

He said: "We don't regard his presence as a gamble. We are happy with what he has done this week - we have worked him hard and he is keen to be involved."

Geech opted for Beattie in place of the more experienced Gordon Simpson. He said: "Ross is there because he has proved in the last few games he is not a bad No.8.

"I've alway believed tours provide a chance to bring players forward to this level because they live and grow in the environment.

"Ross has done that and he deserves his cap for his performances."

Thrilled Beattie admitted he was looking forward to Saturday night, if only to get the opportunity to catch up on his lost sleep.

He said: "I was told on Tuesday night I would be playing - and I don't think I've had a wink of sleep since then, but naturally I am delighted.

"What has happened to me on this tour has been unbelievable.

"The prospect of picking up my first cap after missing so much of last year through injury is almost impossible to take in."

He paid tribute to his rival Jon Petrie, who missed out on the Scotland call on this occasion.

"We have been involved in two different sets of circumstances," he explained.

"Jon has been able to play against slightly weaker defences which means he has been able to run a lot more, and he has done that very well.""

McGeechan also heaped praise on born-again Stewart, who will earn his first cap in almost four years.

He said: "I am highly delighted with how he has re-emerged. He is more mature and is relishing the international opportunity again.

"He probably wouldn't have expected to be front-line at this point, but his performances have just forced his way in to the reckoning.

"It is the sort of player he is - and the sort of player you want. There were genuine comparisons with what we wanted to do at tight-head."

With James McLaren passed fit to fill the inside-centre berth, McGeechan admitted Graham Shiel had been unlucky to miss out - although he gets a place on the bench.

The coach said: "Graham is playing exceptionally well. We have acknowledged that and everybody in the squad realises his importance.

"He performed well against the Maoris - and he was one of those who we could quite comfortably say gave us a few headaches in selection."

McGeechan admits the Scots will have to "find another level" if they are to win the opening test tomorrow - but he reckons the Scots can learn a great deal against the All Blacks.

"To me New Zealanders are Scots that have learned to win," he said. "Their rugby and the quality of their players is outstanding.

"It is great to be involved in Test matches with the All Blacks because they are always big occasions. That is one reason why we want to be here.

"As far as we are concerned, it is 0-0 at the moment and we will try to do something that works from there.

"There is an honesty about the players and they know you don't achieve anything without hard work," added McGeechan.

Elsewhere, Gordon Bulloch resumes the hooking duties from Steve Brotherstone, who is injured.

TEST LINE-UPS

SCOTLAND: C Paterson (Edinburgh Reivers), C Moir (Northampton), G Townsend (Brive), J McLaren (Bourgoin-Jallieu), S Longstaff (Glasgow Caley), D Hodge (Reivers), A Nicol (Caley, capt), T Smith (Brive), G Bulloch (Caley), B Stewart (Reivers), S Murray (Saracens), R Metcalfe (Reivers), J White (Caley), R Beattie (Newcastle Falcons), M Leslie (Reivers).

Replacements: S Scott (Reivers), M Stewart (N'th'ton), I Fullarton (Reivers), G Simpson, G Beveridge (both Caley), G Shiel (Reivers), C Joiner (Leicester).

New Zealand: C Cullen, T Umaga, I Ieremia, P Alatini, J Lomu, A Mehrtens, B Kelleher, C Hoeft, A Oliver, G Somerville, T Blackadder (capt), N Maxwell, T Randell, R Robertson, R Cribb.

Replacements: L Macdonald, T Brown, J Marshall, J Kronfeld, T Flavell, C Dowd, M Hammett.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Boyd, Kevin
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 23, 2000
Words:993
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