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'I used to stand and hum along to Flower of Scotland'

Lewis Moody achieved a lot in his rugby career.

Sean Lamont takes a high ball under pressure from a typically committed Lewis Moody in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. Picture: Getty Sport
Sean Lamont takes a high ball under pressure from a typically committed Lewis Moody in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. Picture: Getty Sport

He won 71 England caps, played three Tests for the Lions, appeared in two World Cup finals, collected a couple of Heineken Cup winner's medals and gathered a stack of Premiership titles for good measure. So far, so successful, but there is a big black stain on this otherwise stellar record. Because he never won at Murrayfield.

Granted, the statistical sample is not exactly extensive, being made up of precisely two international games but, if the former flanker ever suspected that there was some sort of Murrayfield hex upon him, it could only have been strengthened when he played there for Leicester against Leinster in the 2009 Heineken final - and lost again.

To his enormous credit, Moody laughs in the face of adversity. As a long-term sufferer of ulcerative colitis, the debilitating bowel condition that has also affected Manchester United's Darren Fletcher, losing a couple of rugby games does not figure that highly in his catalogue of crushing setbacks. In which light, the man once known as Mad Dog has been only too happy to lend his support to United For Colitis, an initiative to raise awareness and funds, which will be hosting a charity gala dinner at Old Trafford in March.

"I heard about [Fletcher's] plight a couple of years ago," said Moody. "Coming from a rugby background, I don't always associate with football, but it was a real eye-opening experience for me to sit with him and understand what we've both been through and have such common ground.

"It inspired me. I'm retired now but it did have the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. He's a great inspiration in how you can deal with this illness and that there is a way of coming back from that."

Moody was one of those archetypal flaxen Saxons, albeit cast in a larger mould than the one Neil Back popped out of, who seemed to inspire a mixture of loathing and solid respect among Scottish fans. Fiercely and fearlessly competitive, and with a shock of hair that made him unmissable on the pitch, he had an immunity to pain (other people's especially) that would take him into the darker places of the game without a moment's hesitation.

Yet for all that his Murrayfield record was poor, he actually thinks fondly of the place and its people. "That's why it's so tough," he explained. "The passion that they exude when you're standing there and listening to 'Flower of Scotland'. It was one of those songs I always used to hum along to, ironically. You'd be stood there, stoically staring someone out in the crowd and in your head you're humming along, but it is a good tune."

Although his Test career began in 2001 - it ended 10 years later at the World Cup in 2011 - the combination of injuries and intense competition for places in the England back row at the time meant that Moody had to wait five years for his first experience of a Calcutta Cup match in the Scottish capital. But once he got to Edinburgh, he didn't have to wait much longer to find out how much the game meant in these parts.

"I remember we played at Murrayfield in 2006," Moody recalled. "My ritual the night before a game was to go to the cinema with Ben Cohen. On the way there, there was an elderly gentleman waiting to cross the road, so we helped him across with his stick.

"When he got to the other side he stopped and waved his stick at us and said 'you lot are going to get battered!" That opened my eyes up to the passion that the Scots have against England. We probably shouldn't have gone out in our full training kit."

Passion and prescience, for England were indeed battered that day. At the heart of what remains Scotland's most successful championship season since the turn of the millennium, all the back-row honours were won by the home side, and particularly the human piledriver that was Jason White in his pomp. Scotland went on to win the match 18-12.

Four years later, Moody was back at Murrayfield again, making an appearance as a replacement in the 15-15 try-less draw that remains a strong candidate for the title of Dullest Match Ever. Even so, Moody retains a sneaking fondness for his field of broken dreams, and he has rather higher expectations for what today's contest might produce.

"There won't be any lack of passion from Scotland in this game," he said. "England showed their own passion against France in the comeback they had in the second half. It was a massively disappointing end to a game [England lost 26-24 in Paris last weekend] that they should have won.

"But ultimately three young guys [Jack Nowell, Luther Burrell and Jonny May] got to play. They're getting their opportunity again and they'll understand first-hand what it is to be part of that Calcutta Cup match, the history and everything that's gone with it, and what it is to play a passionate Scottish side.

"It is just a tough place to play. The Millenium [Stadium], the Stade de France are all tough places, but Scotland, for whatever reason . . . we know that if we play Scotland at Twickenham we will win by a good margin but at Murrayfield you just know anything can happen.

"And for the Scottish players it helps them generate an extra passion, an extra level - perhaps because they are regarded by most people as underdogs - and the media creates that level that really gets them excited by the game. It will be a great spectacle. The Calcutta Cup is a fixture with so much history."

And, historically, with so much weather as well. The forecast predicts rain, and Moody believes Scotland will benefit. "I think that will help Scotland," he said. "There are issues with the pitch anyway and the more rain that falls will favour Scotland. The slower they can make the game the more it will play into Scotland hands."

The Charity Gala Dinner is at Old Trafford on Thursday, March 27. For further details, visit unitedforcolitis.co.uk

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