Not a member?
Register and login now.

Issue 2 - 80 minutes vs 1,000 years: pitch battle

Scotland Magazine Issue 2
June 2002

 

This article is 15 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

Copyright Scotland Magazine © 1999-2017. All rights reserved. To use or reproduce part or all of this article please contact us for details of how you can do so legally.

80 minutes vs 1,000 years: pitch battle

Former Scottish Rugby Union captain Rob Wainwright looks back on the rivalry between the Scots and the auld enemy - and how history off the pitch can create motivation on it

Scotland’s national sport, as in so many other countries, is undoubtedly football. This is reflected in the massive profile of our domestic game and the huge followings of our top clubs, be it Rangers, Celtic or St Johnstone (well, I am a Perth man!) But when it comes to international sport, it is probably fair to say that the country’s primary focus is its rugby team.

And why? Simply because every year, without fail, we get a chance to take on (and occasionally defeat) The Auld Enemy. In contrast, such opportunities are only rarely offered to our less lucky footballing counterparts.

The Calcutta Cup is one of the universe’s oldest sporting fixtures. England first took on Scotland in 1871 at Rayburn Place in Edinburgh. The Calcutta Cup was introduced as an added incentive, as if any were needed, in 1879.

Since then the two countries have met on 119 occasions, with the victory tally standing at 62 to England and 40 for the Scots.

What is it that makes this such an important game for players on both sides? I have no real insight into the motivations of the English team, but ask your average Scot and he will put forward a number of theories, none of them complimentary. Similarly, it is fair to say that most English players have little understanding of the forces that drive the Scots, and the Irish and Welsh, when they line up against the men in white.

A quote from a young Jeremy Guscott comes back to me. When questioned about the overwhelming desire of all the other Home Countries to beat England, he put it down to the fact that they all had a huge respect for the abilities of the English team. Now I do have a huge respect for the talents of England’s present crop of players, but I also respect teams from many other countries.

The explanation of the forces motivating Scotland’s players lies in the last thousand years of history: Falkirk, Bannockburn, Flodden, the Act of Union, a millennium of resentment lies behind us. There is no use trying to sweep these undesirable feelings under the carpet, our ingrained national enmity of all things south of Tweed and Solway has defined us as a nation.

If we did not have a neighbour like England, Scotland would probably never have been much more than a scattering of bickering clans and septs.

This history is a powerful motivation for players preparing to take part in our civilised substitute for armed warfare, rugby. Just occasionally when I took the field against England, this sense of history was so strong, that I reached a plane of concentration which, remembering my school lessons on the Vikings, I would describe as the Berserker Mentality. One’s whole being was tuned without distraction to the task in hand. Everything was done in top gear with total commitment. One ran, tackled, rucked, drove, sought the ball and the opposition with no thought of fatigue or bodily injury, and was prepared to continue until one dropped. Which is exactly what happened in my first Calcutta Cup appearance in 1994, when at one ruck, our No8 Peter Walton hit the pile of players with such gusto that he managed to disable both his back row partners in an instant, breaking Doddie Weir’s nose and my cheekbone. None of the opposition were hurt.

Obviously Scotland’s annual international campaign is not just about beating our Southern neighbours. Looking back into the mists of time, once the annual bash with England became established, it was not long before Wales and Ireland got involved and the Home Championship was born. The ultimate goal was to beat everyone else and win the Triple Crown. Then in the early 1900s France were brought on board, and the Five Nations Championship was born, with victories in all four games securing the coveted Grand Slam. Finally, two years ago, Italy joined the throng and now we play for the Six Nations Championship, with a demanding five wins needed for the Grand Slam.

As a Scot, it pains me to admit it, but England are a world class act at the moment, playing the best rugby I ever have seen from any English side.

Consequently they have dominated the championship for much of the last decade, and have won it for the last two years. But the beauty and strength of the Home Championship is not so much in its flowing rugby, but in its passion, its tension and its commitment and the fact that just once in a while, one side fails to follow the script. England have lost out on Grand Slams in their final game of the championship each of the last three years against Wales, Scotland and Ireland respectively. Much as I enjoyed watching the other two games, my memories of Murrayfield at the Calcutta Cup 2000 are particularly dear. I was seated in the press box, and behaved in a quite unjournalistic manner, much to the irritation no doubt of many of the opposition reporters around me who were doubly annoyed because the unforeseen result meant that they could not use their prewritten Grand Slam eulogies. It was a magnificent game, not for the pure quality of its rugby, but for the guts, grit, determination and never-say-die shown in the mud, the blood, the wind and the rain. And as a partisan supporter it was just fantastic to hear Murrayfield roar again. I haven’t heard the like since I stood on the terracing when we did the same thing in 1990. We don’t win Calcutta Cups very often these days, but boy oh boy do we enjoy it when it happens.

In fact Scotland’s unscheduled victory on that day ended our longest ever run of 10 consecutive defeats at the hands of the Auld Enemy, a painful drought that lasted a whole decade. Sadly my international career was neatly sandwiched into that difficult decade, and with no win over England to my name, I consider my rugby career to be unfulfilled. The best I can claim is that we were winning when I left the field, courtesy of Peter Walton, with 20 minutes remaining in that 1994 match. Ask any aspiring Scot what his over-riding rugby ambition is, and he would probably forsake holding the World Cup for the chance to lift the Calcutta Cup.

Despite my own lack of fulfilment, I have some strong memories of Scotland-England clashes over the last 30 or so years. Many are good, like Andy Irvine’s winning kick some time back when I was still in short trousers, the 1986 whitewash by 33 points to 6, and of course our 1990 and 2000 underdog victories. Others I would rather forget, notably the embarrassing drubbing we received from our white-shirted neighbours at Murrayfield in 1998. But 1994 was the match for real tears, with the blue cuff of Rob Andrew’s shirt prompting a last gasp penalty against rank underdogs Scotland for handling on the ground. Jon Callard admirably stroked over the 40-yard kick to win the game 18-16. Gavin’s post-match TV interview was cut short when the emotion became too much for him. He need not have felt embarrassed, because the whole nation was in tears alongside him.

The breeding ground of Scottish rugby has long been the Border country, where any boy with two arms (optional) and two legs is expected to play the game. It is here that you will find such well-kent teams as Hawick, Melrose, Selkirk, Gala, Kelso and Jed Forest that for the last 100 years have been churning out class players who have done their bit for both club and country. Such was the dominance of Border rugby, that it became hard to break into the national team if you came from Edinburgh, Glasgow or the North, as the selectors (all from the Borders of course) perceived anyone who hailed from north of Peebles as inherently soft. Indeed international selection could sometimes become a little weighted in favour of one club, that club usually being found in the chairman of selector’s home town. There is an apocryphal story of the Scotland teamsheet being released to the press, and the Right Wing berth was announced as undecided thus far, but in the meantime No 14 was to be listed as “A.N. Other, from Galashiels”.

The end of the era of Border dominance in Scottish rugby was heralded by a monumental gubbing at the hands of the touring All Blacks in 1993. The joke at the time was that they even managed to get the score right on the special shirts made for the game as the emblem read ‘The South of Scotland versus New Zealand 1993’.

The Borders are definitely different from the rest of the country. For a start they speak a different language. I remember sitting with Derek Patterson of Hawick in a restaurant in Pretoria during the 1995 World Cup, and from the discussions with the waitress, we discovered that one to 10 is the same in Afrikaans as in the Borders dialect. I suspect that this Low Country connection was provided by the Flemish traders why bought wool from the Borders during the Middle Ages.
Some quotes, mainly attributed to Hawick players, have become famous in rugby circles. The question by the player who popped his head round the opposition dressing room door, held up a stud and asked: “Ony-o-ye-goh-ony-on-ye?” (Anyone got a spare stud?) Or the question in the hotel lobby on tour: “Roomaroo?” (What room are you in?)

Touring or travelling to away matches is so much part of the fabric of rugby. The only people I know who do not really enjoy touring are the Welsh, as they seem to suffer from crippling home-sickness. The Scots on the other hand, both players and supporters, love it. In the days of the Five Nations, Paris and Dublin were the fancied trips, and now with Italy on board, Rome can be added to that list. My favourite is still Paris, such are my memories of Scotland’s first-ever win in Parc des Princes in 1995.

We sailed into the Ambassador Hotel after our victory, spurned the Moët and insisted on the hotel’s best, Dom Perignon ‘85. And so the evening proceeded, well into the next day, in fact. I have a vague recollection of ordering another bottle, on the team manager’s room of course, at about 3am. I poured myself a new glass, swilled the pink bubbles around my mouth and decided that yes, vintage champagne was much to my liking. Then noticing the pink hue to this particular vintage, I took a squint at the label, and discovered that the hotel, having run out of anything better, were now slipping us Asti Spumanti. It all tasted the same at that time of night, anyway. The team manager’s room bill next morning was somewhere in the region of £6000. Such were the perks of the amateur game. I returned to the Ambassador as a supporter after the 1999 victory in Paris, with the game now professional, and was shocked to discover that the manager’s room bill the next morning was no more than £200. Changed times indeed.

Who is to say when Scotland will next win a Grand Slam or a Triple Crown? As a small nation, with a limited player base, we often struggle. We do produce world-class players, yet never usually have more than a smattering in the team at any one time. But every few years, if we’re lucky, we get a concentration of really good players, in the right blend, not just with the skills and the physique, but with the attitude as well. And then, just occasionally, we can compete with the world’s best. And if we win, we can all drink champagne. If we lose, it is business as usual with beer and whisky for players and supporters alike. As our wise old team doctor once told us on tour, life is for living, whether you win or lose.

For more information on Scottish Rugby Union, visit the web site www.sru.org.uk

Rob Wainwright's top 10 Scotland performances:

France v Scot 1995 Paris – won 23-21
Scot v Eng 1994 Murrayfield – lost 14-15
France v Scot 1999 Paris – won 36-22
Scot v Eng 1986 Murrayfield – won 33-6
Scot v Eng 1990 Murrayfield – won 13-7
New Zealand v Scot 1990 Auckland – lost 18-21
Scot v Eng 2000 Murrayfield – won 19-13
Wales v Scot 1982 Cardiff – won 34-18
Scot v Ireland 1989 Murrayfield – won 37-21
Scot v France 1996 Murrayfield – won 19-14