Legend Rutherford believes brave Scots can pose real threat
IRISH rugby fans aged 30 and older should have little problem recalling the name and exploits of former Scotland out-half John Rutherford.
Between 1979 and 1987, Rutherford played eight times against Ireland and his quality was all too evident, no more so than when he masterminded Scotland's Grand Slam-clinching 32-9 victory at Lansdowne Road. Lean and lithe, Rutherford was lethal with the quick ruck ball that characterised Scottish rugby in the 1980s.
His trademark moustache gave the out-half something of a Viking-like appearance and with his fellow-moustachioed partner Roy Laidlaw -- 'Butch' to Rutherford's Sundance for 35 Tests -- at scrum-half, Scotland had a half-back pairing that was the equal of any in international rugby during the '80s.
If that decade was a boom period for Scottish rugby, the team has been going through a fallow period since the Six Nations began 10 years ago and seem to be involved in annual wooden spoon scraps with Italy.
That is the case again this season as Scotland go into today's clash against Ireland with three defeats, including a loss to the Italians, and a draw against England. But rather than be discouraged by the results, Rutherford is optimistic that coach Andy Robinson has his team on the right track and thinks that had the team been stronger mentally, they could be facing the Irish with three wins behind them.
"They've been unlucky," said the 54-year-old. "They lost to France, who were the better team but they should have beaten Wales, Italy and England. That's fact. They threw away the game in Wales.
"You couldn't criticise their effort, they are putting in good shifts but we're just not producing players with the flair that you guys have at the moment. Although the lad (Nick) Da Luca and Max Evans, they look pretty lively when they get the ball.
"When you get on a losing streak it's hard to break it but they're in good hands. I'm very happy with the coaching ticket and they are heading in the right direction. Andy Robinson is a good coach, I know the players like him and if anyone can turn it around it'll be Andy."
Though quality operators like Craig Chalmers and Gregor Townsend followed Rutherford into the Scotland No 10 jersey, out-half has been a problem for position in recent years with Dan Parks filling the role today.
Parks is a tidy operator, but his selection is a topic for debate in Scotland, not least because the New South Wales native is the latest in along line of southern hemisphere nomads to use Scotland as a means of getting international recognition, but Rutherford believes it is a necessary off-shoot of having a small player base.
"Dan's been the most consistent stand-off in Scotland and he deserves it. Fair dues, he's come in and played three pretty good games. The problem with Dan is that he's not a great defensive player, but he's a very good tactician and a brilliant kicker.
"You would want the majority of your team to be true Scots, but we've got so few players, we've only got two professional teams, sometimes you have to look further away."
Rutherford was heavily involved in coaching after his retirement, including a stint with the national team, but decided to hang up his whistle in 2001 and is enjoying just being a fan. He has happy memories of playing Ireland and is close friends with ex-Irish internationals David Irwin and Trevor Ringland. He also keeps in contact with Ollie Campbell and Tony Ward, the out-halves and friends involved in a wrestle for the Ireland No 10 jersey in the late 1970s and early-to-mid '80s.
In that context, Rutherford has been observing the battle between Ronan O'Gara and Jonathan Sexton for the Ireland playmaker's slot and believes it is an extremely healthy situation for Irish rugby.
"I'm a big fan of O'Gara. He has shown great consistency over the years, but Sexton has had a great season. I can understand what Declan is doing, but you're very fortunate to have two players of that quality.
"You are fortunate that you've got this group of players that have come along at the one time. They play great rugby. I was really impressed with the wins against England and Wales. But the big challenge for Scotland is to stop Ireland scoring tries and to get one themselves."
He added: "I think Ireland will win, they are a class act, but Scotland are dangerous. There's a win there, it's just a matter of bringing it out."