The nominations are in and a shortlist of 15 games from 2018 has been selected from contributions by readers of The Offside Line and some of the country’s leading rugby journalists. The games are listed below in chronological order.
It is now time to vote.
Simply email your first, second and third choices for favourite game of the year to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will then crunch the numbers and announce the result on Hogmanay.
Malleny Park, Saturday 13th January
Nominated by David Barnes of The Offside Line
You will soon discover that Currie Chieftains feature in two other nominations on this list, but given that they lost both those matches it is only fair that we also mention one of the club’s good days of 2018.
Melrose arrived at Malleny as league leaders and they were still 11 points clear of the chasing pack when they departed that evening, but this set-back on top of a defeat at home to Ayr the previous week meant that the air of invincibility which had characterised the first half of their season was well and truly shattered.
It was a pulsating encounter between two excellent sides which showcased everything which is good about the Premiership. The pros – Adam Hastings, Luke Crosbie and Richie Vernon – clearly wanted to be there and contributed fully to the home team’s win, but they didn’t dominate the contest. Robbie Nelson, Jamie Forbes, Charlie Shiel, Hamish Bain and Thomas Gordon all played key roles in an outstanding team effort.
Chieftains head coach Ben Cairns’ voice quivered with emotion when he emerged from the changing rooms 30 minutes after full-time to field questions from the press.
The walls behind him shook to the noise of his full squad singing along at the top of their voices to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’. It was the song played at former coach and director of rugby Graham ‘Greco’ Hogg’s funeral the previous August. Hogg was the driving force behind Currie’s remarkable rise up the leagues during the 1980s to become one of the leading clubs in the country and this was a victory forged in his mould.
“We only get to play that song when we win,” explained Cairns. “We have a game-plan sheet every week and at the bottom of that sheet I always put a note of the thing we think is most important for that game, and all I put at the bottom of this one was: ‘Greco’. That was a performance for him.”
Chieftains at that time were in the process of deciding whether or not to bid for a Super 6 franchise. They ultimately reached the conclusion that they couldn’t afford not to go for one, but then lost out in the selection process.
This was a timely reminder that rugby clubs are not just about facilities and development plans – they are about people and communities.
Malleny Park, Saturday 17th February
Nominated by Gary Heatly – freelance for various publications, including The Offside Line
An All Black and an Italy internationalist scored tries for Marr, but this was a win built on the performances of local players from Troon. Lelia Masaga and Samu Vunisa played their part, however it was players like skipper Angus Johnston and his brother Ben who were the catalysts for this victory.
Four tries in the first half set up the Premiership’s bottom side for the bonus-point win and kept their battle against relegation going for at least another few weeks.
In they end they did go down, but not without a fight, and this performance at Malleny Park reminded everyone of the drive and the passion that Marr had shown to battle their way up through the regional leagues and into the top flight – some story!
Under-20s Six Nations Championship
Myreside, Friday 23rd February
Nominated by Keith Thompson – reader
Lots of great games to choose from, but for me the Scotland versus England Under-20s match at Myreside was the best of the year. A freezing cold night, Scotland having lost their first two games versus Wales and heavily to France, and very much underdogs versus England. A superb team performance with every player focused and committed saw Scotland come out worthy winners – inspiring the senior team to victory the next day!
Murrayfield, Saturday 24th February
Nominated by Dom Ward – reader
It has to be the Scotland versus England Six Nations match. What a day!
I admit to a degree of anxiousness in advance of this match. My previous 50+ years of torture watching these encounters – with notable highlights of 1983, 1984 and 1990 – has left a deep foreboding leading up to these games (otherwise known as being a Scotland sports fan). That day in late February was no different to my usual pattern. Will I watch the game given we will lose? Do I amuse myself with some distraction activity before picking up the inevitable final score?
I opted for the masochist version to watch the match. And what a match – élan, grit and spirit. Russell at his mesmerising best. The back row display was brutally brilliant.
Complete joy at the final whistle and off to the pub to celebrate.
Panmure 24 Dundee University Medical Society RFC 18
Caledonia Regional Bowl Final
Forthill, Saturday 3rd March
Nominated by Stevie Scott of The Courier
This was the weekend directly after the Calcutta Cup game. It was also the ‘Beast From the East’ week, and the two teams, plus volunteers, spent a day clearing six inches of snow off the pitch. Then it snowed again overnight, so they had to clear it again.
They were still shovelling the snow off at warm-ups. My house is literally five minutes’ walk away from Forthill and someone texted me saying they were going to play. I was on a week off but put on some layers – wind chill was minus 5 – to go and watch.
It was a really great game. I had no expectations of quality – the Medics were in Caledonia Division Three Midlands, the lowest tier, and Pannie one level above – but it was skilful and inventive and the commitment in the conditions was astonishing. Pannie had a decent pack and two brilliant loose forwards, and they carried them to victory. The Medics scored a solo try through stand-off Mike Finnerty which was the equal of anything I saw at any level all year.
Why did they even play? The SRU told them they had to or the final would be hosted the following week on the Murrayfield back pitches or decided by the toss of a coin. Neither team wanted that, obviously.
It was a properly heroic day, in every respect. And for all the pro and international rugby I cover week to week, this was easily the most inspiring game I saw in 2018.
Women’s Six Nations Championship,
Donnybrook, Sunday 11th March
Nominated by Stuart Bathgate of The Offside Line
AFTER 12 years without an away win in the Six Nations, Scotland ended that barren run in style with an inspired performance in Dublin which featured one of the tries of the year from Chloe Rollie. They had lost their first three games in the Championship, including an 18-17 defeat in Wales, and some of the flaws that were evident in those games were again on show here. But what made this game so heartening, albeit nerve-wracking towards the end, was the fierce commitment shown in defence.
The Scots took an early lead through a Helen Nelson penalty and were never behind after that, although there were a few hairy moments before the win was finally in the bag. An unconverted try from Nelson at the start of the second half stretched the lead, and although Ireland got right back into the game with a penalty try, Rollie’s 90-metre score off an interception plus the conversion from Lana Skeldon extended the visitors’ advantage again. Ireland got a try 10 minutes from time and were camped on the Scottish line for what felt like an age after that, but the defence held firm.
Scotland’s celebrations at the end told their own story. The squad had waited a long time for a victory on the road, and while there was a sense of relief at the result, there was also a feeling of justified pride at an achievement which marked a significant landmark in the national team’s recovery.
BT Premiership semi-final
Malleny Park, Saturday 24th March
Nominated by Eléna de Mello Hogarth – reader
Red cards, tip tackles, marauding props and a thousand spectators lapping up every single second. Ayr’s fightback against Currie Chieftains in the BT Premiership semi-final was a match of determination, drama and resilience.
Ayr’s season had been up and down, and I was happy just to see them make the play-offs. When they were 18 points adrift against a confident and commanding Currie, I thought there was no way back for them.
But Ayr pressed the reset button, wiped clean the first quarter of the match and started again. Pete McCallum led Ayr with a cool head, backed up as ever by the staggering work-rate of scrum-half David Armstrong, who has an uncanny knack of being here, there and everywhere.
The core of this team has always been self-assured, but outgoing head coach Calum Forrester gave them intelligence. In the second half of this match, they had the brains to match their brawn. George Hunter epitomised that. A prop starting at second row, he knew what to do and when to do it to break down Currie’s resolve.
Even with 14 men after Richie Vernon was red-carded for a dangerous tackle on McCallum, Currie were courageous. They battered the Ayr line and Ayr battered back. The tension was unbearable no matter who you were supporting.
Having nosed their way in front thanks to tries all from the front row, Ayr’s defence in the final ten minutes was outstanding. Every sinew was stretched. Tackle after tackle.
And they won. They out-thought and out-fought Currie.
I’ve seen many a comeback from Ayr over the years, but this was something else. Whether they didn’t want their coach’s journey to end at Malleny or they just really hate losing, Ayr dug their heels in like never before and it was an exhausting joy to watch.
U18 Six Nations Festival
Ystrad Mynach, Wales, Saturday 31st March
Nominated by Alan Lorimer – freelance for various publications, including The Offside Line
For me, the Scotland Under-18s’ win over England in the opening round of the Six Nations Festival showed what can be achieved if there is self-belief.
To recap: Scotland Under-18s had lost to England by a whopping 64-0 in a warm-up match and had also suffered a narrow defeat to Wales in a similar contest. So the opening game of what was the inaugural Six Nations Under-18 Festival against England in South Wales seemed a waste of money for an honest punt.
That view seemed to be confirmed when England led 27-10 deep into the second half, the Scots having scored tries through Dulwich College Anglo-Scot Femi Sofolarin and the Stewart’s-Melville wing Jack Blain. But then came the unexpected as Scotland found an inner strength to fight back spectacularly.
Sofolarin scored again, and when Loretto centre Robbie McCallum crossed for a try converted by the Yorkshire Carnegie stand-off Dan Lancaster, it was game on. With the clock ticking down, Blain raced up the touchline, beating four defenders to score in the corner and Lancaster converted to make it 29-27 to Scotland.
Lancaster then kicked a late penalty to seal a remarkable 32-27 victory for Scotland, with wing Rufus McLean, of Merchiston Castle School, named the man of the match. The Scots then went on to achieve victories over France and Ireland for what has to be their best showing in an age-grade tournament.
Guinness PRO14/1872 Cup
Murrayfield, Saturday 28th April
Nominated by Mark Palmer of The Sunday Times
Even in the worst of the dog days that Edinburgh had been living for almost a decade prior to the arrival of Richard Cockerill, they were wont to turn it on when Glasgow came to town. Twice under Alan Solomons they won the 1872 Cup, but never did these little pockets of fire threaten to become something more substantial.
Turn, now, to late April, when after a day of entertaining club finals Edinburgh celebrated reaching their first ever league play-off with a second win of the season over their rivals from the west. Showing all the resilience and all the smarts that Cockerill had been drilling into them since the previous summer, they were worthy victors in a contest that bristled with energy, ambition and niggle from first minute to last.
Glasgow were much better than they had been in their previous defeat at the national stadium, DTH van der Merwe scoring twice and Callum Gibbins touching down as well after a typically audacious combination between the half-backs, George Horne and Finn Russell. Edinburgh, though, gave as good as they got in attack, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne pulling the strings on what would be his last home appearance while their pack once more did a number on the visitors. Cockerill’s men’s narrow win was the latest in a series of hard-fought successes that proved a corner had finally been turned.
Commonwealth Stadium Edmonton, Saturday 9th June (Sunday 10 June in UK)
Nominated by Erin McRitchie – reporter for The Offside Line
It wasn’t the cleanest match Scotland played on their summer tour, nor was it the most exhilarating match of their tour. However, if like me, you enjoy getting just a glimpse in to what may be to come from the young stars of Scottish rugby, it was most definitely worth waking up at 2am UK time to watch.
Four new caps were awarded on that bright summer day in Canada as Jamie Ritchie, James Lang, Adam Hastings and Lewis Carmichael took to the field. These new starts were joined by fellow youngsters Blair Kinghorn, Magnus Bradbury and Murray McCallum in showing just how Townsend’s team may be impacted by the next generation.
Every single one of them made their impact upon the game. The forwards excelled themselves, and were instrumental at the breakdown, thus ensuring the defensive set-up remained steadfast. Meanwhile, the backs were able to confidently control the game whilst demonstrating a little flair.
As if their work rate in all aspects of forward play was not enough, Bradbury and Carmichael also claimed tries for themselves – though extra praise must go to Carmichael’s efforts, as it’s not every day that you see a 6ft 5in lock make a break in the centre and be able to finish off with a try.
So, come full-time Scotland had managed to claim a 48-10 victory. And, if this is the kind of team that Townsend may be selecting in the future, then I for one would not be opposed to having a line-up like that. Not one bit.
Rugby World Cup Sevens
AT&T Park in San Francisco, Friday 20th July
Nominated by Alan Dymock of Rugby World
We were only just nearing San Francisco’s AT&T Park when the whoomph of sound rose.
Scotland 7s had concluded arguably the greatest comeback in the abbreviated game’s history and the crowd were showing their appreciation. The Scots ended up coming from 26-0 down against Kenya to win 31-26 and make the quarter-finals of the Sevens World Cup. They would end up in seventh place overall.
We had been dragged away to talk with sponsors nearby – sevens events are all-day affairs – so only heard the final roar. But re-entering the stadium, you could feel that energy.
With just under five minutes to go, Scotland were relentless. Tries were punched in whilst the Kenyans fell apart, giving away a penalty try and swallowing two yellow cards. Jamie Farndale nabbed the crucial score at the end (his second) whilst Robbie Fergusson slotted an assassin’s touchline conversion beforehand to make it 26-26.
What made it all the better was the general atmosphere in San Francisco.
The last Sevens World Cup, in Moscow, was a fiasco. With this one, held at a baseball park, few knew what to expect.
It was more than just novelty though. Sure San Francisco’s famous chip-hungry seagulls swooping in from the Bay at the end of each day stunned, but it was the crowd at the ballpark who were ravenous.
Edinburgh Under-16s 45 Borders and East Lothian 45
Scottish Rugby Academy Regional Fixture
Hawthornden, Tuesday 24th July
Nominated by David McAdam – reader
My favourite game of the season came on a glorious summer afternoon at Lasswade, in the second set of matches in this year’s BT Sport (as was) Academy regional fixtures.
After 80 minutes of free-flowing, attacking rugby that showed everything positive about the blueprint for Scottish rugby, the game finished all square, with both sides scoring seven tries. Edinburgh were captained by a Ross Rennie-like flanker in Rob Gordon, and commanded from fly-half by the impressively neat Matthew Russell. In the backs, two more Stewart’s-Melville pupils, with bleached hair, Aidan Boyle and Bruce McNulty, stood out in the summer sun. For the Borders & East Lothian, two players with famous Border surnames commanded the game – Harris Rutherford was as laidback as they come at 10, and dummied and ghosted his way through the game repeatedly in scoring a fine hat-trick of tries, while at No 8, Melrose-born and Merchiston-educated Rudi Brown looked ready for the adult game two years early. That day I glimpsed the future. It was joyous.
Goldenacre, Saturday 8th September
Nominated by Colin Renton – freelance for various publications, including The Offside Line
There was plenty of sub-text when Heriot’s welcomed Watsonians on week two of the Tennent’s Premiership. Steve Lawrie, now of the Myreside parish, was former assistant to Phil Smith at Goldenacre, both clubs have been awarded Super 6 franchises and they also have play-off aspirations.
Lawrie and Smith are proponents of running rugby and have created sides that are tough to beat. However, Smith looked set to put one over on his old buddy as tries from Jack Blain, Craig Robertson and a penalty try, plus the trusty boot of Ross Jones, gave Heriot’s a 21-0 lead. But a touchdown from Josh Rowland, converted by Lee Millar, clawed back seven points just before the break.
Lawrie’s half-time chat must have been interesting because Millar booted a penalty then converted tries by Angus Guthrie and Jack Stanley to nudge Watsonians into a three-point lead.
The clock had ticked a long way past 80 minutes and the Watsonians defence held firm in the face of constant pressure. Then the Heriot’s pack shunted their opponents backwards and earned a penalty try that snatched victory.
It was intense, enthralling and physically draining – and that was just for those watching from the stand!
RC Toulon 24 Newcastle Falcons 25
Heineken Champions Cup
Stade Felix-Mayol, Sunday 14th October
Nominated by Alasdair Reid of The Times
There are few better places to watch a game of rugby than Toulon’s Stade Mayol. The Mediterranean shimmers in the background, super yachts bob in the nearby marina, and the home side glistens with some of the biggest names in the sport.
Nobody – me included – gave Newcastle Falcons much of a hope when they pitched up there on October 14 for their opening match of the Heineken Champions Cup. Sure, Toulon might have dipped a little since being crowned European champions three years on the trot, but surely they would still be too strong for a Newcastle side that had not played in Europe’s top tier for 14 years.
Yet one of the greatest joys in sport is to see a script ripped to shreds, and Newcastle did that wonderfully as they set about their illustrious opponents, knocked them off the ball and out of their stride. They also managed to silence the famously raucous Mayol crowd, something few other sides have ever managed.
Newcastle conceded a first-minute try to Romain Taofifenua, but the setback seemed to embolden them. They powered back with a 20th-minute try by hooker Kyle Cooper and a 50th-minute penalty try. All the time their confidence was growing, and Toulon’s swagger was seeping away. At the end, Newcastle had a 26-25 victory, one of the greatest upsets in the tournament’s history. It was a spine-tingling day.
Their supporters celebrated wildly, but it was also good news for Edinburgh as it threw Pool 5 wide open. Edinburgh hammered Toulon at Murrayfield the following weekend, claimed back-to-back wins against Newcastle, and now look to be favourites to top the group and progress to the quarter-finals.
Scotstoun, Saturday 1st December
Nominated by Duncan Smith of The Scotsman
The return to Pro14 action the week after the end of the autumn internationals can often feel like a bit of a filler, marking time until the resumption of European action with a good number of Scotland players in the stands with their feet up.
The Glasgow side on this Saturday evening had a real second-string feel and, when Alex Allan was sent off in the 19th minute, an ominous sense of gloom hung around Scotstoun. Almost immediately, however, Glasgow’s fringe men launched a thrilling counterblast which got the Scotstoun roar going, and a match of high entertainment, thrilling drama and controversial talking points unfolded.
The Scarlets’ side was strong, led by Jonathan Davies and including the likes of Steff Evans and Rhys Patchell. Man of the match, however, was third-choice home stand-off Brandon Thomson, who claimed 23 of his side’s points, Nick Grigg adding another try.
The Welsh side, who had outclassed Glasgow on their home patch in the previous season’s Pro12 semi-final, contributed to a high quality evening with some sparkling tries but, driven on by warhorse Tim Swinson, Glasgow held on for a win which provided striking evidence of that much talked about “strength in depth” the Scottish pro game has long been aspiring to.