FOR far too many Scots, this year’s Six Nations, like all the others, will be all about the result of one match, and it’s coming up on Saturday. It’s the Calcutta Cup, the oldest international rugby rivalry in the world, and for all sorts of reasons it’s given an importance by many Scottish fans that frankly it doesn’t deserve.

As long as we beat England, so their reasoning goes, you can forget the rest of the tournament. It wasn’t always that way. Sometimes the Calcutta Cup match was seen as just one obstacle in the road to championship success – mind you, that was a long time ago.


You’ll probably be staggered to learn that in the 24 Home Nations Championship from 1883 to 1909 - three tournaments were not completed and England did not participate in two championships, one of which was also not completed - the most successful team was Scotland, winning eight championships outright and sharing the title three times. That was largely due to the schism in English rugby with the split into Union and League in 1895 which saw England fail to win any of the following 14 championships.

However, in the Five Nations Championship from 1910, including the period when France did not take part (1932-39), and in the Six Nations Championship from 2000, England have been the most successful side in terms of outright title wins.


Scotland have won three Grand Slams in 1925, 1984 and 1990, while England have won 13. In all the Calcutta Cup matches, England have won 70 times to Scotland’s 40, but just like Celtic and Rangers, past stats are no guide and there have been many occasions when the form book has gone out the window,

I well remember the initial Six Nations tournament in 2000. Scotland had won the final Five Nations, but had become mince, losing away to Italy in the first match, getting a doing from a Brian O’Driscoll-led Ireland in Dublin, then throwing away a 13-10 lead against France before being a bit unlucky - but nevertheless underperforming - against Wales in Cardiff.

Four defeats and at Murrayfield, England were playing for the Grand Slam. They were already the champions and Scotland were playing to avoid the wooden spoon. Scotland’s only hope was that England would be too arrogant, as in 1990 – the last time Scotland had beaten England at that point.

Interviewing Ian McGeechan, then Scotland’s head coach around about that time, I asked him what his perfect team would consist of. He thought for a moment and said: “One that doesn’t make mistakes”. He then proceeded to give me a master class in how rugby had developed into a game where errors dictated almost every facet of play. So it would prove on the Saturday.


Scotland were written off by everyone. Truthfully, even some of the squad were apprehensive, but then McGeechan and his captain Andy Nicol got to work and by the Saturday morning there was an air of ‘let’s do this’ in the Scotland camp.

One of the pundits just before the match said England were “looking full of themselves, it’s going to be very difficult for Scotland to stop them”. For some reason, call it a premonition, I immediately telephoned my bookie and had a small sum on Scotland to win. It’s 1990 again, I thought, and I was right.

Nicol later told how McGeechan had predicted that it would rain during the match, and in the second half in particular, the downpour came – McGeechan was no prophet, he just read the forecast. Scotland had no real plan for it, but neither did England and it showed. It would be all about who adapted best to the conditions, and thankfully it was the men in blue.

From the start, Scotland upped their pace against England who were bigger, stronger and had world-class players like Johnny Wilkinson, Jason Leonard and Lawrence Dallaglio. Yet Scotland bravely stood up to them – there were more than a few handbags thrown – and when it came to the bit, in the rain it was England who made mistakes while the Scots held their discipline in defence, with Duncan Hodge and Gregor Townsend turning England with their kicks.


When Hodge scored that winning try, I swear the roof came off the stand and at the end the match had become 'harum scarum rugby' in Bill McLaren’s famous phrase.

Deep in injury time England knew they had to score a converted try and they rampaged forward but were met by devilish defence. Eventually there was a knock on, by Austin Healey if I remember correctly, and the match was over.

On Saturday, despite their loss to France, England will deservedly be hot favourites to win. They are the third-ranked team in the world, Scotland are ninth, and we are missing Finn Russell again.

So let’s have a lesson from 2000. Stand up to them, defend like demons, and cut out the mistakes. Oh, and rain is forecast for Edinburgh on Saturday. Just saying.