by STUART RUTHERFORD
THIS article may win you a pint one day, or at the very least the respect of your friends. How? you wonder. Well, on a dreary Wednesday night in the near future, you may just be dragged along to a pub quiz at your local hostelry, and when the sports round inevitably comes round you will, unbeknownst to your mates, hold the trump card. After the quiz-master asks: Who was the last Scottish player to score a hat-trick in the Five or Six Nations? you will be able to nonchalantly jot down – whilst the rest of you team look on in awe – a single name: Iwan Tukalo.
Twenty-eight years ago the flying winger, who was born to a Ukrainian father and an Italian mother, and affectionately known as Tooks, touched down three times against Ireland in a 37-21 victory Murrayfield. It was Scotland’s signature win of the 1989 Five Nations and one that is remembered fondly by the former Royal High and Selkirk player.
“It was really just one of those days. Everything just seemed to fall perfectly into place for me,” he shrugs.
Before Tukalo, you would have to go back to the great Johnnie Wallace in 1926 – a man who believe-it-or-not played for both Scotland and Australia – to find another occurrence of a Scottish hat-trick, in a 20-6 victory over France in Colombes, which gives an indication of just how special an achievement this was.
After losing their final match of the championship to France, Scotland finished joint second in the old Five Nations table, which was perhaps a bit disappointing after two wins at home and a draw at Twickenham in the opening three games – but with the benefit of hindsight it is possible to appreciate the enormous role this campaign played in setting the platform for what would follow in 1990.
“When you look back at that team, it was really the beginning of a settled squad of players. Once that happens, you start to learn about each others’ abilities: what certain guys do well or not so well, and you almost start to develop a sixth sense,” says Tukalo, who went on to win 37 caps for Scotland.
“The good thing about that squad was that we were really open; there was a real honesty there. I remember after one match against Ireland I was guilty of rushing up in the line which allowed a pass to be floated over the top for them to waltz home in the corner, and during a post-match debrief the coaches called me out on it, but Scott Hastings piped up and was quick to say: ‘Sorry Tooks, I should have communicated better.’ So there was just simple things like that which made that group of guys special.”
“I don’t think the building of the team was a conscious thing, but I think sub-consciously we just started to gel with each other and the rugby fell into place. I think the other major factor was that we had players who could change a game in an instant. With guys like Finlay Calder, John Jeffrey, David Sole and Derek White, there was always someone who could, at some point, if things weren’t going to plan, take the game by the scruff of the neck and do an incredible piece of skill or make a break which could change the momentum of the game.”
There was, of course, some pretty handy operators behind the scrum as well, including Scott Hastings and Peter Dods, who both played significant roles in Tukalo’s hat-trick sealing try against Ireland with a slick set-piece move which sent the Selkirk man crashing over the whitewash – not that Tukalo is going to give his old pal Hastings any credit for the deft behind the back flip which released the try.
“You know I always wind-up Scott by saying that if he could have passed better I would have scored twice as many tries,” Tukalo quips. “But honestly, it was great to play with these guys because they were a threat in their own right, which meant they could interest a couple of defenders, which in turn gave me a bit of space out on the wing, and that’s all I could ask for.”
“For that third try, it was really Scott’s classic pass [earlier in the move]. It was so bad that I think it went past Dods’ ear and landed in my hands. If you watch my reaction when I actually scored, I just lay on the ground with my head down because I was thinking: ‘I wonder if this is coming back for a forward pass?’ But in the end, it was really just one of those days where I was in the right place at the right time and thankfully I was able to finish off some great moves.”
Finishing off some great moves is exactly what Scotland have been doing with increasing regularity of late and they have, in particular, been aided by the form of Glasgow Warriors wing Tommy Seymour. Tukalo is a great admirer.
“I really love watching him. He goes looking for work and he is great under the high ball – better than me by a country mile! He is just an all round fantastic winger,” he says.
“With the modern game there is so little room out wide, in my day there was a lot more space to play in because forwards were stuck in a ruck somewhere, as apposed to fanning out in the back line as they do now, so I really do take my hat off to these guys that they still manage to find space to score great tries.”
With that 1989 win over Ireland, Scotland were able to lay down a marker for what was to follow, and it is not a huge leap to say that the current squad have a similar opportunity in this coming championship.
Jason O’Halloran said earlier this week that he believes that this Scotland team is still two years away from fulfilling it’s potential. But can the team start to turn potential into something a bit more tangible when they face the boys in green this weekend, just as their predecessors managed almost three decades ago.
“I know we as a nation prefer to be the underdogs but we need to start having that winning mindset,” says Tukalo.
“If you’re a Scotland player, I think you’re sitting there thinking: ‘We’ve got three home ties, why can’t we win them all?’ With the way we played in the Autumn Tests, I see no reason why we can’t kick on and win three or more games.”
“If you’re being honest, with the way Eddie Jones has got England playing, to win at Twickenham would be a big ask – but France aren’t exactly setting the heather on fire. With their temperament, all it takes is for them to roll out the wrong side of the bed and Scotland could get a result in Paris. I really think we could be looking at a successful campaign.”