The ultimate grudge match: When the Scots confounded England at Murrayfield

March 12, 2010

SPORT RUGBY NATIONS SCOTLANDA slow and depressing decline after the glory of the 1980 grand slam was magically reversed during the winter of 1989-90 when England played rugby of skill, spirit and boundless optimism.

Nobody could match the English in Europe and their standards touched those attained by New Zealand and Australia, the pace setters in world rugby at the time.

South of Hadrian’s Wall, the Five Nations championship decider at Murrayfield on March 17 was considered a no contest.

While Scotland were greatly respected in world rugby without being particularly feared, England under Will Carling had made startling progress since their dismal performance at the first World Cup in 1987.

With the Five Nations championship, triple crown and grand slam at stake, Scotland under David Sole opted for a slow march on to the Murrayfield turf to a frenzied reception.

Suspicions that England had crossed the boundary from confidence to hubris were reinforced when the visitors spurned a kickable penalty.

Scotland led 9-4 at halftime and a Tony Stanger try after the interval turned the match. Carling appeared to lose command of his team with hooker Brian Moore calling the shots and the Scots eventually triumphed 13-7.

The consequences for England were profound. In the following season they ground their way to a grand slam with grim determination and a restricted game plan based solely on their excellent pack.

That caution cost them a possible victory against a complacent New Zealand side in the opening round of the 1991 World Cup and a belatedly expansive game in the final against Australia predictably misfired.

A further decade would elapse before England again possessed a team of similar calibre with, this time, the will to embrace an all-round game.

Much was made at the time of the fury north of the border at Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s misguided poll tax and anger at the perceived arrogance of Carling’s men.

Both are central to the theme of a recently published book “The Grudge”. It is, though, a thesis which was disputed by Sole in a letter to the Scotsman this week.

“It was not a question of settling old scores or getting one over the English or putting a political wrong right,” Sole wrote. “It was simply a game of rugby, the only difference was that there was a grand slam at stake. Let us be proud of our achievements but let us view them for what they are, great moments in sport, no more, no less.”

Perhaps. But to the neutrals there were definitely ancient and modern enmities in the air on that memorable Murrayfield afternoon. Some time after the match had finished, a well-dressed Scotsman paused on his way past the press box to abuse the “Sassenach” biased media.

Wasted, as it happened. Of the three remaining inmates, two were Welsh and one was a New Zealander.

PHOTO: Scotland fans cheer on their side against France during their Six Nations rugby union match at Murrayfield in Edinburgh, Scotland, February 5, 2006. REUTERS/Toby Melville

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