Saturday, March 6, 2010

Six Nations 2010: Grand Slam epic of 1990 still haunts England and Scotland

In an ideal world sport and politics, like oil and water, would never mix, but in truth they are often clanked together like magnets. Linked by passion, pride, ego, nationalism and self-esteem – sometimes you just cannot keep them apart.
There were other sub-plots. Scotland's brilliant madcap flanker John Jeffrey – JJ – insists to this day that the catalyst to the ill feeling off the pitch can be traced back to the streets of Glasgow seven months earlier when England and Scotland football supporters clashed horribly outside Hampden Park in scenes of violence that caused that oldest of all annual football fixtures to be cancelled, a situation that pertains.

Jeffrey argues that the tabloid press, deprived indefinitely of a football clash to hype up, turned their attention to the rugby. It is certainly another ingredient that needs to be added into the mix, but successful tabloid papers reflect existing emotions and mood.

A new mood of Scottish nationalism – although not necessarily independence – was afoot and Scotland's rugby folk were far from immune.

At the end of the 1989 season even the ultra-conservative Scottish Rugby Union, with the Princess Royal as their popular patron, decided that God Save the Queen was no longer a suitable anthem for their team and supporters.

For the 1990 Six Nations they switched Roy Williamson's folk ballad Flower of Scotland, which is dedicated to Scotland's victory at Bannockburn – Jeffrey had been humming it himself during the line-ups for years.

On the other hand, many cock-a-hoop England supporters, who had been starved of success and a team worth shouting for since 1980, arrived in Edinburgh on the Saturday morning wearing "England Grand Slam champions 1990" T-shirts.

Amid the politics and hype, however, lay a monumental rugby occasion. There was the famous long, slow, walk out by the Scotland team. It was the suggestion of captain David Sole, but it was by no means a new ploy.

The Lions of 1989 had tried it as a psychological tool against Australia, but it was clearly best utilised by the home team, whipping the home crowd into a frenzy by first delaying and then prolonging their entrance.

There were Scotland heroes aplenty that day but none bigger than the coach Jim Telfer, the man at the heart of two of Scotland's three Grand Slams, not to mention the Lions triumph in South Africa in 1997, when he again worked so well with Sir Ian McGeechan.

Telfer, a lump of granite from the Borders, 'beasted' his pack during arduous scrummaging and rucking sessions throughout the 1990 season, not least in the driving rain on the Wednesday before the England game.

His lasting memory of March 17, 1990 – his 50th birthday incidentally – is confined to a rugby moment in the first half when Finlay Calder blasted his way into the England defence and the entire Scotland pack pounced to produce perfect ruck ball.

"England were driven back and the crowd went wilder than I had ever heard them before. And I felt a shiver. Twenty years later I can close my eyes and still see it. The piece of perfection you dream about."

Everybody concerned has their own views of 1990 and you will probably read them all again this coming week, although possibly not from Calder. The Scotland flanker politely declined to contribute to a recent book surrounding the events of the game – feeling that Scotland need to be looking forward and not harking back to past battles won or lost.

Scotland V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

1 comment:

  1. Whoa! That was really cool. I'd love to witness cool moves and stunts for this year's 6 Nations holidays. Surely be an exciting event.