50 games that defined Scottish rugby: part three

The Offside Line’s whistle-stop tour of 163 years of thrills, spills, glory and despair ... with the odd brush with the bizarre along the way

Jim Calder scores the 1984 Grand Slam clinching try
Jim Calder scores the 1984 Grand Slam clinching try

THE third instalment of The Offside Line’s guide to the 50 games which have defined the shape and character of Scottish rugby takes in two Grand Slams, an underwater match, a league play-off, a remarkable local success story, World Cup heartache, a Kiwi mauling and the first ever women’s international.


12th April 1977 – Hawick 15 Gala 3 

“After winning the first three official league championships with breathing space to spare, at the end of the 1976-77 season Hawick found themselves equal with old rivals Gala on wins (nine), defeats (two), draws (none) and points differential (186). Both teams thus met for a winner-takes all showdown on neutral territory at that most picturesque of Border ground, The Greenyards. The match was played in the evening with a 6.30pm kick-off, and at least 10,000 spectators – some said 12,000 – streamed from the mills and factories to be there for the highlight of the season.

“Rivalry was intense, too, in the eagle’s eyrie press box perched atop the main stand roof. I was editor of the Hawick Express at the time, and our rugby writer and that of the rival Hawick News were renowned for viewing all Hawick matches through green-tinted goggles. Their counterparts on the Gala paper were equally one-eyed, and all were adept at providing a very vocal running commentary on indiscretions committed by the enemy and by the referee. There were times when one feared that fisticuffs might ensue. These were at all other times professional and genteel gentlemen of near pensionable age!

“In the event, after being inseparable in the regular season, there was a clear winner in this play-off, Hawick holding on to their crown by a convincing margin. They won the league again the following season to make it five in a row before having their monopoly ended in 1978-79 by Heriot’s. Having also been the inaugural winners of the Border League, Hawick would complete the treble in 1996 by becoming the first club to lift the Scottish Cup.” – Derek Douglas

50 games that defined Scottish rugby: part one

50 games that defined Scottish rugby: part two

Colin Rigby and Keith Wallace stand for SRU Vice-Presidency


4th July 1982 – Australia 7 Scotland 12

Scotland had never won a Test match in the southern hemisphere when Andy Irvine and his team pitched up at Ballymore in Brisbane. They put that right with this gritty win over the Wallabies.

After their historic win in Cardiff in the preceding Six Nations, this was another important step towards the Grand Slam two seasons later.


17th March 1984 – Scotland 21 France 12

A year which began with a 25-25 draw against New Zealand culminated in one of the greatest days in Scotland’s history as they won their second Grand Slam. The Championship had begun in a mood of cautious optimism, but after a narrow win in Wales, a convincing victory over England and a rout of Ireland, that mood had reached fever pitch as this deciding game approached.

Both teams were going for the Slam, and France began more strongly, leading at half-time then going ahead again after Peter Dods had got Scotland back on terms. But indiscipline was the undoing of the French, and once a Jim Calder try put the home team ahead there was no going back. It was the first time in 59 years that Scotland had claimed a clean sweep in the Championship; fortunately, they would not have to wait so long for a third triumph.


4th January 1986 – Blues 10 Reds 41

The road to the 1990 Grand Slam started here, with a trial match – ‘Probables’ versus ‘Possibles’ as such games were unofficially known – which saw the supposed second string come of age. Eight members of the Reds side would be promoted to start against France a fortnight later, with David Sole, Finlay Calder, Matt Duncan, Jeremy Campbell-Lamerton and Scott and Gavin Hastings all making winning debuts. The following month all bar Campbell-Lamerton took part in the 33-6 victory over England which remains Scotland’s biggest winning margin in the Calcutta Cup.

Calder, Sole and the Hastings brothers would go on to become four of the most influential and iconic players produced by this country.

Scotland's new caps with team captain Colin Deans ahead of the the 1986 Five Nations opener against France.
Scotland’s new caps with team captain Colin Deans ahead of the the 1986 Five Nations opener against France, following the remarkable victory by the Reds over the Blues in the National Trial two weeks earlier


23rd May 1987 – Scotland 20 France 20

After merely being dreamed about for long enough before becoming the subject of serious debate, the Rugby World Cup was at last held for the first time, and this was a fittingly frenetic match for Scotland to make their debut in the competition. They suffered a blow in the opening minutes when the sublimely talented John Rutherford was forced off with an injury, but then led at half-time before three French tries reversed the position. A Matt Duncan try out wide secured the draw in the closing stages, with Gavin Hastings’ conversion attempt going just wide. Scotland went on to beat Zimbabwe and Romania to qualify for the quarterfinals, where, in what was to become a depressingly familiar pattern, they lost to the All Blacks.


17th March 1990 – Scotland 13 England 7

With all due respect to the matches which produced Grand Slams in 1925 and 1984, this has to go down as the single greatest game in the history of Scottish rugby. The feverish atmosphere, that walk out on to the pitch led by David Sole, England’s status as favourites … so many factors made this day an unforgettable delight.

Both teams were going for the Grand Slam, and England had assembled a hugely talented and well-balanced squad. But Scotland had the extra determination that being underdogs so often gives them, and one early carry by Finlay Calder summed up their indomitable will to win.

Three penalties by Craig Chalmers to a Jeremy Guscott try kept Scotland ahead at the break, then Tony Stanger scored off a Gavin Hastings kick ahead to bring the house down. When Simon Hodgkinson’s penalty narrowed the gap to six points there were still around 25 minutes to play, but Scotland’s defence, epitomised by Scott Hastings’ try-saving tackle on Rory Underwood, was indomitable.

Chris Gray, David Sole and Finlay Calder of Scotland celebrate their 1990 Grand Slam success.
Chris Gray, David Sole and Finlay Calder of Scotland celebrate their 1990 Grand Slam success


26th October 1991 – Scotland 6 England 9

After a relatively smooth passage to the last four of the Rugby World Cup, Scotland met England at Murrayfield with a place in the final at stake. The match will always be remembered for Gavin Hastings’ penalty miss from nearly in front of the posts, although Jon Webb might well have had England out of sight by that time had he not missed several kicks of his own. In the end, it was Rob Andrew’s drop goal that made the difference, and Scotland were out. They have yet to reach another World Cup semi-final.


14th February 1993 – Scotland 10 Ireland 0

This first official fixture for the national women’s team was held, fittingly, at Raeburn Place, the venue for the first men’s international 122 years earlier. Club rugby, largely based on students’ teams, had only been going for a couple of years, but, after establishing a coaching team and playing a non-cap international against England, Scotland were ready to compete in a fully-fledged Test. Captain and scrum-half Sandra Colamartino scored both tries as the team got off to a winning start. The following year Scotland hosted the World Cup, losing to Wales in the quarter-finals.

Read more about this game HERE

The Scotland Women team for their first ever cap international against Ireland at Raeburn Place in 1993.
The Scotland Women team for their first ever cap international against Ireland at Raeburn Place in 1993.


10th November 1993 – South of Scotland 5 New Zealand 84

“As a 14-year-old, I feigned sickness and managed to secure a day off school so that I could watch this match beamed live from Netherdale on BBC. With a strong South team selected, which included the likes of Tony Stanger, Craig Chalmers, Bryan Redpath and Doddie Weir, I was genuinely anticipating a famous scalp for the boys from Scottish rugby’s heartland. Six tries in each half soon put paid to that foolish notion, with a sobering lesson ruthlessly delivered about where New Zealand were beginning to take the game.

“Ten days later, the All Blacks hammered the full Scotland side 51-15 at Murrayfield. Sadly, I had quite fancied our chances in that game, too!” – David Barnes

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25th February 1995 – Stirling County 13 Boroughmuir 9

Nobody could have predicted this day 20 years earlier, when Stirling County found themselves relegated to Division Seven – the bottom rung of the National League ladder – at the end of the 1974-75 campaign. After a season regrouping, the Bridgehaugh club gained successive promotions to end up in Division Three in the early 1980s, before their pace of progress slowed slightly. They eventually entered the top flight at the end of the 1988-89 season, and five years later clinched the title.

This was proof of the potential for upward mobility in the Scottish game for ambitious community-based clubs who are committed to youth development. Stirling’s success in climbing from the lower reaches of league rugby to the very summit has been replicated more recently by Currie (Chieftains) and Marr.

The Stirling County team celebrate their remarkable Scottish Championship success in 1995. Image courtesy Stirling County RFC
The Stirling County team celebrate their remarkable Scottish Championship success in 1995.
Image courtesy Stirling County RFC

50 games that defined Scottish rugby: part two


  1. Enjoying this series. You note the 25-25 draw v the All Blacks as a precursor to the 1984 Grand Slam, but not the Twickenham victory that preceded it – I was at all three of those games and for me in always thought that the Twickenham win after three narrow defeats in the Five Nations was the foundation of the 1983-4 season’s triumphs. That Twickenham game was probably the best match I saw John Beattie play for Scotland.

  2. Always liked the possibles v the probables games. The 86 one was a cracker.

    Some great fixtures in this batch. Counties achievement was superb – as much as it hurts me to say that ?. A fearsome pack and very talented backs.

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