WHAT happens when a long barren run in a fixture ends? Does the team that has finally removed the metaphorical monkey from their backs build on their achievement next time they are in town? Or is normal service generally restored after these once-in-a-generation results?
Scotland’s victory at Twickenham in 2021 ended the longest winless sequence – 38 years, 18 matches – of any country at a rival’s home in the entire 140-year history of this storied Championship – from the original Home Nations to the Five Nations and on to the Six Nations.
Although John Rutherford and the boys of ’83 may no longer be in such demand for the biennial nostalgia-fest, pondering whether this was the year the fabled drought would end, what does history tell us about Scotland’s chances of repeating their feat of two years ago?
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How have other sides who ended similar sorry sequences in a particular fixture fared afterwards? Is it onwards and upwards from there? Or back to the old routine?
‘Last time was a blip. As you were … for now’
Scotland’s Twickenham torment was 10 years longer than any suffered by another nation in a particular fixture in the long history of the Championship.
But speak to Ireland supporters of a certain generation and they will tell you that the trip to Paris every two years was a pilgrimage to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Twenty-eight years – and 13 matches – had passed since 1972 before a 21-year-old Brian O’Driscoll announced his arrival in Test rugby in stunning fashion with a hat-trick of tries in a thrilling 27-25 victory at the Stade de France in 2000 – the first year of the Six Nations.
Did it bring a change in the long-running narrative of Irish misery in Paris? Hardly. It was another 14 years before Ireland tasted the giddy heights of another Parisian triumph. They were thumped 44-5 on their next visit and five successive defeats followed over the next decade.
But a 17-17 draw in 2012 signalled a change of fortunes and two years later O’Driscoll and company prevailed 22-20 on a thrilling final day to take the Championship on points difference from England.
Ireland’s third ever Grand Slam – and last title – was also launched in Paris on the opening day of the 2018 championship when Jonny Sexton’s memorable last-minute drop-goal eked out a 15-13 victory.
‘Oh, not again … but we’re onto you now’
One of the great fixtures – Wales v England in Cardiff – also brought one of the long-running narratives of the championship for those of a certain age.
The fabled Welsh sides of the late 1960s and 1970s never lost to England in Cardiff, and that hex over their nearest and dearest continued through the 1980s despite the glory days drying up.
Twenty-eight years – and 13 matches – had passed since 1963 before Will Carling’s 1991 Grand Slammers finally lifted the jinx that afflicted England sides each time they crossed the Severn Bridge.
It returned – briefly – two years later when Ieuan Evans caught Rory Underwood with his pants down for a famous match-winning try in a 10-9 Wales victory, but thereafter the Cardiff spell was broken.
England won the next four in the Welsh capital – most convincingly – over the next decade, the only interruption coming when the Millennium Stadium was under construction and Wales’ home games moved to Wembley, where Scott Gibbs’ late try gifted the final Five Nations title to Scotland instead.
Although Wales have enjoyed some memorable wins of late – including a record 30-3 win in 2013 to deny England a Slam and clinch the title themselves – seven wins from their last 13 visits to Cardiff suggests the journey down the M4 does not put the same dread into English hearts as it once did.
‘Hoodoo? What hoodoo? Encore une fois!’
The example Scotland fans might look to most for an omen as they arrive in south-west London is Wales, who – like Ireland – struggled to lay a glove on France in Paris for over two decades.
After Graham Price’s sensational debut try helped the Welsh on their way to another Five Nations title in 1975, they had to wait another 24 years – after 11 straight defeats at the old Parc des Princes – before a memorable 34-33 win in 1999 on their first visit to the new Stade de France.
Remarkably, Wales backed that up two years later with an even more stunning victory – 43-35 – as fly-half Neil Jenkins completed a ‘full house’ in a 28-point personal haul by scoring one of their four tries, plus four conversions, three penalties and two drop-goals.
Although they were beaten in 2003, Wales won in Paris again in 2005 on their way to a first Grand Slam in 27 years, and again in 2013 on route to another Six Nations title. After ending their barren run, Wales won five of their next 10 games in Paris, including three of their last five.
But despite that breakthrough win leading to a much-improved record in recent times, the City of Love has still left scars on Welsh hearts, a last-minute French try two years ago denying them another Grand Slam, if not the title, in an epic encounter.
History in the making?
So what of Scotland’s prospects at Twickenham? Bearing in mind they almost won in London in 2019 in the craziest game the Championship has ever seen – 31-0 down to 38-31 up, only for England to salvage a last-minute 38-38 draw – you could argue they had already lost any inferiority complex before that victory two years ago, a more dominant display than the 11-6 scoreline suggested.
Scotland won every game they played in London – between Richmond and Blackheath – in the two decades before Twickenham opened its gates. But after their first visit to “HQ” in 1911, the record was a paltry four wins in 49 before the 38-year hoodoo was finally smashed.
There will always be those who would put an asterisk next to the 2021 match, given victory was achieved in an empty stadium during Covid restrictions, without 80,000-plus England fans influencing proceedings, and the referee.
That was followed by last year’s tense win at Murrayfield. Scotland have not beaten England three times in a row in the Championship since 1972 and never won back-to-back games at Twickenham. While seven of those on duty on Saturday can recall first-hand that record 61-21 thrashing in 2017, the last two visits have brought more positive vibes and infused belief.
New England coach or not, Scotland are heading to Twickenham with confidence, not trepidation. Plenty of players are in good form and Gregor Townsend has selected from a position of strength.
1926. 1938. 1971. 1983. 2021. 2023 too? Now wouldn’t that be something.
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We might win or we might lose but we go there in the knowledge that we have nothing to fear and they know we are perfectly capable of taking them on.
Scotland can do it again but silly self I flicted errors will need to be kept to a minimum and we must be clinical in attack.
England are there for the taking but they also have a point to prove and I’m sure they will be up for this and that could be ominous for us.
Anyway come on Scotland! Go well, lads……