ARMCHAIR rugby fans are having a fantastic time with the current World Cup in which the seemingly invincible All Blacks are heading straight for glory. My own annual rugby dosage comes through the Five (now Six) Nations championship and a recent scoreline from the current global showdown gave pause for thought. The awesome All Blacks slaughtered Italy 101-3. I don't care what sport we are talking about, that is not a defeat. They should not have been on the same playing field. World events like the rugby - and the money-grabbing FIFA decision to have 32 teams compete in soccer's World Cup - will always mean there are lopsided games. But even the worst mismatch in World Cup soccer would not produce a result like that achieved by the All Blacks against Italy. It may mean that the gap between the best and the rest in world soccer is nowhere near as great as that in rugby. Now this may be a traditionalist viewpoint, but I do not see the necessity for having the Italians in what was the Five Nations. One enduring reason for the appeal of the Five Nations is the fact that it is deeply rooted in vibrant, emotional nationalism. But not of the worst kind. It is good-natured, as, indeed, is virtually all support for rugby. The inclusion of Italy merely expands an already hugely successful tournament without bringing anything at all to it. The Italians patently aren't good enough and there is not the same fervent support for rugby that is evident at Twickenham, Murrayfield and Lansdowne Road. It may be argued that the inclusion of Italy will boost the sport there but at the risk of diluting what is a thrilling annual event, it is simply not worth it. The Italians may prove me wrong but I doubt it. The spectre of crowd violence has been raised in relation to another intensely nationalistic confrontation where the stakes are at their highest. There was almost an inevitability about the draw for the Euro 2000 play-offs when Scotland were paired with England. Frankly, it was probably England's best chance to reach the finals next summer - outside getting Slovenia - because they do have the hoodoo sign over their arch-rivals. It is certainly not that they are that much better a team than Scotland - they aren't - but it is the perception that exists and one which is, sadly for the Scots, built on reasonable foundations. The Auld Enemy means just that to the Scots and New Hampden is going to be some scene for the first leg clash. There is no reason why there should be crowd trouble as it is worth remembering that Scottish supporters have, at least twice, received FIFA and UEFA awards for fair play. They are officially the best in the world, causing no trouble and taking the all too frequent disappointments in their stride. The return leg at Wembley, largely depending one supposes on the outcome of the first match, may well be a different matter entirely. There the travelling band of Scots supporters will be totally outnumbered. But let us look to the positive. The demise of the old Home Championships, due to increasing fixture congestion, was sad but inevitable. Those of us in a certain age group were weaned on those games with a Saturday in October and one in May set aside for the matches that were the big ones of their time. It does say something for the status of England that be you Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, beating them was the greatest result of the season. Not much changes. It is not the Home Championships any more, but Scotland will not get a better chance for the next couple of decades to deal a decisive blow against England than beating them in this tantalising play-off. The last Scottish victory at Wembley was in 1981 when John Robertson scored a penalty to give them a 1-0 win. 'The most memorable goal of my career,' he said, which had his current boss - he is assistant to Martin O'Neill at Leicester - wondering about Robertson's goal which won the European Cup for Nottingham Forest. O'Neill, from Northern Ireland, should have known better. Come on, what's a European Cup medal when you can beat the English? In truth, while the rivalry is utterly intense and seated in a hundred years of history, it's not nasty. It is about passion and the Scots and Irish, in particular, have it. Normally, despite some vapid performances, they don't turn on the national team. They are supporters through the good times and the bad. Kevin Keegan, demonstrably a good bloke, has certainly done his bit to get the Scots fired up by suggesting that England, having got in the back door thanks to Sweden, can now go out the front. Maybe Kev. But beating a lacklustre Belgium, whose results have been truly appalling, doesn't make England a better team than they were when giving inept displays against Bulgaria and Poland. There's precious little between Scotland and England. England beat the Scots 2-0 in Euro 96 in a bizarre game which could easily have gone the other way. It is going to be about nerve and belief as far as both teams are concerned. And England, I have not the slightest doubt, will firmly believe they can beat Scotland. It is why Keegan had every reason to be pleased with the draw. In what will be a momentous two-leg encounter, it is up to the frequently underrated Craig Brown to instil or foster the belief in his men that this England team are definitely there for the beating. It's going to be some night in Glasgow.