50 games that defined Scottish rugby: part two

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

Ian McLauchlan charges down a clearance on his way to scoring a crucial try for the 1971 Lions' in their famous first Test victory over New Zealand
Ian McLauchlan charges down a clearance on his way to scoring a crucial try for the 1971 Lions' in their famous first Test victory over New Zealand

THE OFFSIDE LINE’S whistle-stop tour of the 50 games which have defined the shape and character of Scottish rugby continues, taking in a historic drop-goal, a period of drought, a game that forced a change in the laws, a new way of attacking from full-back, a battle on the pitch in South America and a record crowd at Murrayfield.


3rd February 1951 – Scotland 19 Wales 0

An inexperienced Scottish side faced the triumphant Welsh, holders of the Grand Slam, conquerors of England at Twickenham two weeks earlier and a team containing 11 British Lions (while Scotland captain and No8 Peter Kininmonth was the only Scottish Lion on the field).

At half-time, Scotland held a tenuous three-point lead. Then, collecting the ball from a retreating maul under the Murrayfield grandstand, Kininmonth stepped past two defenders then launched a drop-goal that astonished everyone who saw it.

It completely deflated the Welsh team. They conceded three further tries and lost 19-0. Back-row forwards were not supposed to drop goals, especially a giant like the Scottish captain.

A great day for Scottish rugby, but they couldn’t build on it, and it would be a long time before the national team tasted victory again.


24th November 1951 – Scotland 0 South Africa 44

Let’s face it, there have been many low points in the history of the national team – but surely none as low as this humiliation. The touring Springboks scored nine tries and proved themselves superior to their hosts in every aspect of play, leaving Scottish rugby shellshocked for years to come.

But, while South Africa were superb, it was becoming clear that Scotland were lagging behind all of their traditional rivals, not just the tourists. This was a third consecutive defeat in a run of losses that would eventually stretch to 17, only ending in February 1955.


5th February 1955 – Scotland 14 Wales 8

After 17 successive defeats, Scotland picked a lightweight pack – second-row Ernie Michie the heaviest at 14½ stone ‘soaking wet’ – and returned to the traditional 3-2-3 scrum formation, which allowed them to wheel and launch dribbling attacks with the famous call of ‘Feet, Scotland, Feet’. It had a galvanising effect, and Arthur Smith’s virtuoso try set the match alight.

At the final whistle, former Scotland cap Jock Wemyss [see game six] – by now a renowned journalist and commentator – turned to his friend and protégé Bill McLaren and said: “We’ve come out of the long black tunnel into the sunshine”. Tears were running down his cheek from his one good eye.

50 games that defined Scottish rugby: part one

That was the month that was: May 2020

John Jeffrey steps out of the shadows at pivotal moment for Scottish rugby


30th April 1960 – South Africa 18 Scotland 10

International rugby’s first ‘short tour’ to the southern hemisphere by a European nation – three games, including one Test match, inside a two-week window – provided an early glimpse of the true global scope of the game.

In the Test match, Scotland took the lead through a Norman Bruce try, converted by Arthur Smith, and stand-off Gordon Waddell was outstanding. But the tourists ran out of steam against their heavier opponents, although a late converted try by Smith kept it competitive. Scotland went on to win their two remaining tour matches, 21-11 against Griqualand West and 30-16 over Eastern Province.


2nd February 1963 – Scotland 0 Wales 6

If you ever get frantically frustrated by the reset scrums that dog some of today’s Test matches, spare a thought for the poor souls who had to stand and watch this dreary contest which featured 111 lineouts, many produced by the boot of Welsh scrum-half Clive Rowlands. The muddy conditions made kicking for touch a sound tactical option in those days, and it was not until 1970 that the laws were changed to prevent a recurrence.

Clive Rowlands kicks again for Wales against Scotland.
Clive Rowlands kicks again for Wales against Scotland.
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3rd February 1968 – Gala 10 Edinburgh University 18

“The game had become moribund in the 1960s with the Clive Rowland’s game the worst example of a malaise which eventually engendered the ‘Australian Dispensation’. A young Edinburgh University side, however, brought a breath of fresh air to Scottish rugby with their fast, open play.

“Full-backs like Kenny Scotland had come into the line before but never in a structured way. The University had three outstanding midfield backs – Ray Newton, Harry Rea and John Frame – all very good passers who worked on a myriad of strategies to put their full-back, Ian Smith, into space – miss-one, miss-two, dummy-scissors – but they had never really got their act together on the bigger stage.

“This crucial championship game at Netherdale in front of a big crowd and the full press corps was where it all came good – to totally change the dynamics of British rugby.

 “Properly executed with flat crisp passing and the full-back coming in hard and straight from depth, there was no real answer until the drift defence evolved in the early 70s – and full-backs who had previously been seen primarily as ​roundheads became cavaliers in the mode of Andy Irvine, George Fairbairn and slightly later Gavin Hastings.” – Ian Barnes

Read The Offside Line’s review of Ian Smith’s biography – ‘A Full Back Slower Than Your Average Prop’ – HERE


13th September 1969 – Argentina 20-3 Scotland

A brutal encounter saw Scotland reduced to 14 men early on after Ian Murchie suffered a broken collarbone via a straight-arm tackle from opposite number Alejandro Travaglini. Captain Jim Telfer recalled players crying in the changing room afterwards, “not from cowardice but from an overwhelming sense of frustration and hopelessness”.

Lessons were learned and the Scots met fire with fire in a 3-6 win the following week, in what was “the most gutsy” performance Telfer witnessed whilst playing for Scotland. Players including Ian McLauchlan, Sandy Carmichael, Gordon Brown, Alastair McHarg and Roger Arneill came of age in South America to become the backbone of the Scottish pack through the subsequent decade.

Telfer reckons that the famous ‘all-in’ 99 call replicated by the 1974 Lions originated on this trip, as a countermeasure to the intimidation the team faced at the hands of their hosts. “We calculated that the referee could not send off all eight forwards,” he reasoned.


6 December 1969 – Scotland 6 South Africa 3

The 1969 Springboks tour of the UK was dogged by ferocious anti-apartheid protests. The first Test match was against Scotland, and future Prime Minister Gordon Brown was the organiser of the Edinburgh demonstrations. Jim Telfer, who captained the home side in his last match in the blue jersey, recalled the atmosphere which followed the tourists as “very aggressive bordering on evil”.

The debate over the rights and wrongs of that tour – over whether sport should take precedence over racial iniquity, or indeed whether the two issues are at all related – will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. But the game went ahead, and the Scots secured a famous win, with full-back Ian Smith scoring all the team’s points through a penalty and a try from a sweeping run which started inside his own half.



26 June 1971 – New Zealand 3 British Lions 9

A brutal encounter against Canterbury the week before this first Test had cost the Lions their two de facto starting props, as well as flanker Fergus Slattery, but provided immeasurable gains in terms of motivation and focus towards putting the All Blacks to the sword.

The hosts fired out the blocks but the Lions weathered the storm, and then Scotland’s ‘Mighty Mouse’ Ian McLauchlan – in at loose-head – punctured the All Blacks’ aura of invincibility when he scored the game’s only try, charging down Alan Sutherland’s rushed clearance and pouncing on the loose ball as it bounced over the line midway through the first half.

It was the start of a golden age in British rugby, with Scotland very much equal partners – producing some of the greats of the game in the likes of McLauchlan, Sandy Carmichael, Gordon Brown, Jim Renwick, Billy Steele and Andy Irvine.


3rd February 1975 – Scotland 10 Wales 9

In the old days of the terracing, Murrayfield always felt packed to the gunnels on a Five Nations afternoon, but never more so than in this game, which saw a world-record crowd estimated at 104,000 squeeze into the ground. The SRU would soon respond by making their games all-ticket.

The reason for the particularly large attendance here was that Wales had won their first two games so brought a massive support with them. But those Welsh fans found it was better to have travelled hopefully than to arrive, as three Dougie Morgan penalties and an Ian McGeechan drop goal secured a narrow home win.

Gordon Brown on the charge for Scotland against Wales in front of a record crowd at Murrayfield in 1975.
Gordon Brown on the charge for Scotland against Wales in front of a record crowd at Murrayfield in 1975.

50 games that defined Scottish rugby: part one



  1. That 1951 Scotland v Wales was the first international time I visited Murrayfield. A 19-0 was a memorable. I was a memorable by in the stand. It was a stand seat – near the press box though. I was just 12 years old – the first year in the Galashiels Academy.

    My father, John, paid for the stand ticket for me that year. I did not get back to Murrayfield until 1955. However, as newspaper editor, he sent me to the Murrayfield press box: I reported there for the first time.

    It was another Scotland v Wales international. Again I was to see another Scotland internatiol – again it was against Wales! Scotland had another win. Preciously, it was 17 defeats in a row – for this time it was a 14-8 victory.

    Seven years later I was over in Glasgow. I was where my father had been for 25 years he had been in the Glasgow Herald (1919-1944) as Paisley based.

    My Glasgow Herald sports start was in 1958, and four years later I took the chance to get to Cardiff to see Scotland play against Wales. The journey to Carditt was may Friday night start down for the international and back again by train overnight to resume in the Herald on Sunday.

    John Downie was the Herald sports head as well as raidio voice for such rugby internationals. So I had the Herald seat in the Cardiff press box. John still had to write the Herald report when he got home!

    We joined it back in the Glasgow Herald office on the Sunday. But we had joy the journey to Cardiff – Scotland’s 8-3!

  2. Ironic that John Frame also was Gala RFC man. Tea,Newton and Smith all fantastic players for Edinburgh University Rugby Football Club.

  3. Hello, thoroughly enjoying this. Have you thought of producing a small book perhaps with stats from over the years – all games played and scores, list of capped players etc.

    • That would be quite an undertaking! Have you seen Ken Bogle’s excellent compendium of all of Scotland’s matches ‘Scotland Rugby – Game by Game’? It doesn’t have a list of tapped players but has a detailed description of every match played up until publication in 2015.

  4. Wonderful article. Can’t wait for part three. Being a pedant I feel duty bound to point out that the 1975 score against Wales was 12-10 to Scotland (hence 3 penalty goals and a dropped goal). The published score is that from the equivalent match at Murrayfield in 1973. For the record, I was at both matches!!

  5. No mention of 4 in a row victories over England 1970_ 1973 and resultant all time boost to Scottish confidence!

  6. Great series. Very glad the 1975 record crowd game v. Wales squeezed in. I was there (a mere child). We went with the school and had tickets, but then so did everyone else. The place was packed when we arrived and they wouldn’t let us in, so being enterprising young things we found a hole in the fence and squeezed in. So did thousands of others, so the record was almost certainly higher than the official number. Many thousands didnt get in. It was crazy. We squeezed down to near the pitch through the packed walkways which were at a lower level between the concrete terraces. On reflection it was incredibly dangerous but a fine time was had by all. Where were our teachers when all this was going on, I wonder? Watching the match in the pub, I suspect. Don’t remember seeing much until we got home and watched it on the telly!

    • I was there, in 1975,at the ripe old age of 12! Watched the majority of the match standing on a Welsh man’s ‘carryoot’ (2 very large cans of beer) my mate was standing on 2 trays of mcewans export cans next to me! Those were the days!

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