Allan Massie: Marking first-ever Test would be proper nod to tradition
Extended Edinburgh deal for Richard Cockerill is good news
The SRU Press release with photographs of this season’s Scotland kit also reminds, or informs, us that 2021 will be the 150th anniversary of the world’s first Rugby International match, played at Raeburn Place on 27 March 1871. Scotland won, beating England by a goal and a try to try, though I think only the goal counted, a try, as the name suggested then, merely giving you an opportunity to kick a goal. It is estimated that the game attracted crowd of around 2,000 spectators, considerably more than the number permitted at Murrayfield yesterday evening.
A hundred years later a Centenary match was played at Murrayfield. It came just a week after Scotland had won at Twickenham for the first time since 1938, a late try by Chris Rea converted in his inimitable style by Peter Brown giving us a 16-15 win. I say “inimitable” though imitations were frequent; it was just that none could come close to matching the sang-froid of the original.
The Centenary game was very different but just as satisfying. John Frame scored a try almost straight from the kick-off when an English player dropped the ball deep in his 22, and we went on to run suitably rampant to win 26-6 , scoring five tries, each worth only three points then. I have a memory which may be mistaken that this match provoked one of Norman Mair’s many fine lines. One of the tries, he told Scotsman readers, was the kind we usually manage to score only at unopposed practice on the Friday before the match
The Scotland side was: Arthur Brown (Gala), Billy Steele (Bedford, though a Langholm lad), John Frame (Gala) Chris Rea (Headingley), Alastair Biggar (London Scottish; Jock Turner (Gala), Duncan Paterson (Gala), Ian McLauchlan (Jordanhill), Quentin Dunlop (West of Scotland), Sandy Carmichael (West of Scotland), Alastair McHarg London Scottish), Gordon Brown (West of Scotland),Nairn McEwan (Gala), Peter Brown (Gala), Roger Arneil (Leicester).
Many fine, indeed great, Scottish players have had distinguished careers without ever once beating England. This lot did that on successive Saturdays.
Given present uncertainties and the congestion of this season , especially in England, once it is properly underway, it seems unlikely that a date could be found for a Scotland-England match celebrating the 150th anniversary or that World Rugby would mandate the release of players from their clubs for such a friendly fixture. Yet it would be a shame for the occasion to pass by unhonoured. The more rugby changes, the more important it is to hold on to at least some of the traditions of the old amateur game.
Still we are at least playing again and a handful of spectators were admitted to Murrayfield last night. It could, one thinks, have been a rather larger handful without posing any more risk than is run by passengers in trains, buses and aeroplanes. But there it is. The politicians have decreed that we must all behave like poor timorous beasties, wary of Ms Sturgeon’s threat to brandish a red card if sporting bodies step out of line.
To be fair, most politicians everywhere are being cautious, determined to protect us and of course themselves. Japan’s participation in the planned eight-nation November series of internationals is apparently in doubt because their coach Jamie Joseph has not yet been permitted to re-enter Japan. Some of their players are however already in Europe. A photograph last weekend showed the brilliant winger Kotara Matsushima training with his new colleagues at Clermont-Auvergne. He played against Bordeaux-Begles last weekend, a match won 27-13 by the Bordelais who, according to one report, watched Matsushima as closely as a cook watches a pan of milk approaching the boil. Incidentally, 1,750 spectators were admitted.
Here, the best news of the week was the extension of Richard Cockerill’s contract with Edinburgh.
Writing this before the second inter-city game, one is aware that Glasgow may have avenged last Saturday’s defeat, but the way Edinburgh came back then from what looked like a losing position offered further evidence of the steel that Cockerill has brought to the club. Otherwise there was probably little more to learn from that match than there usually is from early season encounters.
Perhaps the most interesting thing was Huw Jones’s generally happy relocation at full back. Neither Glasgow nor Scotland have got the best from him over the last two seasons.The switch to full-back may prove the spur he seemingly needs. It’s hard to see any reason why he shouldn’t shine in that position.Though unlikely to challenge Stuart Hogg, he may well put pressure on Blair Kinghorn who hasn’t yet quite carried his best Edinburgh form into the national side , whether at full-back or on the wing
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