As Scotland prepare to face Wales in round two of the 2015 RBS Six Nations, we delve into the rich history of the Scotland team as recounted in BEHIND THE THISTLE: PLAYING RUGBY FOR SCOTLAND by David Barnes and Peter Burns.
Here some of Scotland’s all-time greats recount their experiences playing against Wales in the Five and Six Nations.
In 1951 we beat Wales 19–0 at Murrayfield. Their team had eleven players who toured with the British Lions in New Zealand the previous summer, and they had thumped England a fortnight earlier. The game was played in front of a record crowd at that time. They stopped letting people in, then hundreds more surged through a gap in the railings and climbed over the walls and turnstiles. The game was delayed for a little bit, and lots of supporters were brought in and sat on the grass in front of the schoolboys’ enclosure, which meant that opposite the West Stand you had the touchline and then supporters only a couple of feet back. It was quite intimidating – you felt like you were in a real cauldron.
The first-half had been pretty tight and we were piling on the pressure at the start of the second-half but only leading 3–0 when their fullback, Gerwyn Williams, sent a clearance kick in my direction. I was standing there ready to gather it when I heard [No. 8] Peter Kininmonth’s voice saying, ‘My ball!’
Well, he was my captain and he was bigger than me, so I decided to leave it to him. He caught the ball, pivoted and sent over the most perfectly struck drop-goal I had ever seen, from 25 yards out close to the touchline. I think he’d played in the back division at school – so might have dropped a few goals back then – but he was 6’ 4” and had moved into the forwards. His kick was the turning point and we went on to beat them 19–0.
I played in the famous match against Wales in 1963 when there were 111 lineouts. The Welsh scrum-half, Clive Rowlands, just kicked to touch every time he got the ball. I think that was one of the first times I played on the wing for Scotland and in those days the winger put the ball in at the line-out. I touched the ball more that day than I had ever touched it in any match before, but it was only to throw the ball in after Rowlands had kicked to touch again. Wales won 6–0. What a dreadful game. They changed the rules after that, making it illegal to kick direct to touch unless you were in your own 22.
When we played Wales at Murrayfield in 1971 it was considered to be one of the great matches of that decade. It was so fast and the lead changed hands eight times. I’ve never known noise like it. I was in the centre with John Frame, while Jock Turner was at stand-off, and we had to shout right into each others’ ears but you still couldn’t pick up what each other was saying. That was one of the reasons why we lost a try right at the death. It was our throw-in at a line-out in our own 25 and Billy Steele got the wrong call, he couldn’t hear in that incredible noise level. They wanted the ball to the front, but he threw to Delme Thomas at the back. Gerald Davies scored, and then, of course, John Taylor added two points from the touchline, with what was described as ‘the greatest conversion since St Paul’s.’ I’ve never been so heartbroken. We were all just devastated. But looking back at it we were privileged to be involved in one of the greatest matches of that decade. And Wales at that time were the best side in the world, so to have almost beaten them was a great testament to a Scottish side which didn’t have a lot of success at that time – although I always felt the side was a lot stronger than our results suggested.
Ian McLauchlan’s first game as captain was against Wales in 1974. He took over from PC Brown, even though Peter was still in the team. I liked Peter as captain, but the Mouse had this aura about him that just gave you confidence – he was so aggressive and he always led from the front. As we prepared to run out of the tunnel and onto that famous Murrayfield pitch, he pulled us all in tight and gave one of the most inspirational team-talks I have ever heard. It was real power and passion and it still sends a shiver up my spine to think about it.
We were heading out to play on our home ground against a team that Scotland hadn’t beaten since 1967 and contained nine British Lions, all of who were true greats of the game. Before you go out into battle, those are the kind of words you need to hear – they burn away the apprehension and the fear and ignite a fire in your soul. With a guy like the Mouse leading you in the battle, you were ready to take on the world. We fizzed down that tunnel and we unleashed hell on them.
Gerald Davies always used to say that he wished he had been a fly on the wall during the Mouse’s team talk before that game. He said the way we came down the tunnel and the ferocity of our performance was incredible and you could see the Mouse’s influence over the way we played and took the game to Wales.
We stayed down at the St Pierre Hotel just outside Bristol before the Wales game in 1982 and did all our preparation there. Jim Telfer’s team-talks were legendary, even at that stage. I’d had him in the B team, and it was worth getting picked just to hear what he was going to come out with next. On this occasion it was just after the SAS had swung in through the windows at Whitehall to end the Iranian siege – so that was the theme. We were going to be like the SAS. We were coming from Bristol, going into Cardiff, going to kick the shit out of them, and get the hell out of there – and it all went to plan.
It wasn’t a bad Welsh side, they were coming to the end of their great spell, but there were still some fantastic players there – Gareth Davies, Ray Gravell, Elgan Rees. Fortunately, we got the bounce of the ball, and things just seemed to click for us that day.
Momentum is everything, and we got the 1999 Six Nations off to the best start we could possibly hope for against Wales with John Leslie scoring that try within 10 seconds of kick-off. We had decided beforehand that we wanted to use the kick-off as an offensive weapon – whereas now they tend to use the restart to establish field position. We also knew the right winger, Matthew Robinson, was coming in for his first cap, and with a huge atmosphere the last thing he would want was to get stuck under a high ball.
So it was a planned move for Hodgey [Duncan Hodge] to kick it that way and fortunately it came off – Shane Howarth came forward to cover for Robinson but it was just too far for him to take it comfortably before John snatched the ball away from him and galloped home unchallenged to break the record for the fastest try in the history of international rugby. It gave us such a huge boost. When something you have worked on earlier in the week comes off it is great for confidence.
The Wales game was a bit of a confidence killer. It was the first game of the Championship and after the autumn series and the way that both Edinburgh and Glasgow were playing in the Magners League and the Heineken Cup, we genuinely thought that we were dark horses for the Championship. We were missing Euan Murray and Nathan Hines, but we still had a strong squad and Geoff Cross, who came in on the tight-head for his first cap, had been playing really well for Edinburgh. It was a fairly demoralising debut for him in the end. About twenty minutes in, he chased an up-and-under clearance kick and knocked himself out on Lee Byrne’s knee as Byrne leapt to take the ball. We all watched the replay as a team afterwards and you can see that Geoff was just charging up field, thinking that the ball was probably going to land about 30 metres further away than it did. It was a fairly sickening impact to have to watch in slow-motion. He was stretchered off and given a yellow card at the same time for dangerous play.
Starting that game for Scotland was one of the proudest moments of my career and I remember everything about that game – for the first twenty minutes, anyway. I remember the huge emotions I felt during the anthems and the tears rolling down my face; I remember preparing for the kick-off and focusing all my thoughts on doing well in the scrums and at the lineouts, winning the contacts and collisions and sticking with our planned shapes of play. I remember everything until I ran into Lee Byrne’s knee. It was hugely disappointing that I made a poor decision but there was no point getting too worked up about it. It’s a game and these things happen. You make mistakes and you just have to move on from them. It was my first cap so I was very pumped up and it affected my decision-making.
Shortly after Geoff had gone off Lee Byrne scored – and they scored again a few minutes later. Our scrum was struggling because we were still a man down and Wales won a strike against the head and after a few phases Alun-Wyn Jones went over.
We were 3–16 down at half-time and the second-half was no better than the first. Jamie Roberts was huge all day for them, cutting great lines and busting through tackles. Leigh Halfpenny went in at the corner and ten minutes later Shane Williams was scoring for them again. It was a shocker.
We did manage to salvage some pride when Max Evans stepped through Shane Williams’ tackle and shimmyed inside Lee Byrne to score. It was a cracker. But the game was already long gone by then.
Well, let’s all hope for a better result on Sunday! #backingblue