It is a truism in life that you never really know how much something means to you until it’s not there anymore.

So it was in 2020 and 2021 that I really came to appreciate just what the Six Nations means to me. The disruption over two successive tournaments, including the times when spectators were not allowed to attend matches, really hit me harder than I care to admit. 

I have been following the Six Nations since there were only Five, attending my first match 45 years ago this month. It was at Murrayfield against the reigning champions Wales. I remember thinking ‘This international stuff is easy’ as the men in dark blue took a 13-6 lead with Andy Irvine’s try the highlight not least because it featured an outrageous overhead basketball pass by big Alan Tomes in the run-up to the score – that’s the way my memory works, I can remember details like that but don’t ask me dates or scorelines. 

Wales were tigerish in the second half and won the match with a stunning score that I recalled in the column I wrote after JPR Williams’ death – his chip with the outside of his right boot found Elgan Rees on the wing and he made no mistake. Wales won 19-13, but Scotland played well and it was clear that in John Rutherford, making his debut that day, we had found a star stand-off. 

I remember very little else about the game, except just how intense it was, but I loved the whole experience, the talk in the club for weeks beforehand, the bus to Edinburgh, the pub crawl before the game – and after it – and my first taste of the magical potion that was the 80 shilling beer in The Diggers, the famous Athletic Arms.

My first ‘away’ trip was to Dublin in 1980 and I discovered the wonders of Temple Bar and  Oliver St John Gogarty’s pub and restaurant. I still go there every time I’m in Dublin. We lost that match, thanks mainly to the genius in green that was Ollie Campbell, and we lost in Dublin two years later when Campbell kicked every point for Ireland to lift the Triple Crown – we didn’t mind losing to the Irish that day, because it guaranteed an unforgettable party in Dublin that night, except that I’ve forgotten it, of course.

Most of the time I went with my clubs – Vale of Leven and Dumbarton, now joined as Loch Lomond, and Lismore on tours - that featured long bus or train journeys and later on, flights to Dublin and Paris. Kilts were not obligatory but were proudly worn. There was a lot of drink taken, and misbehaviours abounded, but from the first tour onwards there was a golden rule – what goes on tour, stays on tour.  Or else I would be regaling you with some very naughty stories…

For a couple of decades, my family basically had to write off the first quarter of the year as the paterfamilias was ‘away at the rugby’.

READ MORE: Scotland Six Nations update as Sebastian & Thompson are called up

Following Scotland, you soon learned that the result was really not important. It was the amateur era, and yes, you could bump into the players if you knew which pubs to go to in Dublin, Wales and Paris, but curiously, I never met a Scotland player in London until I started writing about rugby in the early 1990s. 

I was a fan before I had a laptop, and I must be one of the dwindling few non-journalist Scots who were at all four games in the Grand Slam years of 1984 and 1990. In the first of those Slams, I remember greetin’ like a bairn coming out of Murrayfield after that dramatic win over France, but they were tears of relief.  And I will never forget March 17, 1990, because my big pal Kenny Davis and I carried David Sole off the pitch. 

Life was so much more innocent then, and so much more enjoyable. Professionalism has changed our sport almost beyond recognition, it’s become far too serious, but the Six still has almost all its magic.      

As a rugby writer, I specialised in doing ‘colour’ pieces, describing the off-field activities in which I participated. A fellow rugby writer put it in print that I was ‘drinking for Scotland’. No, Alasdair, I was drinking for the world.

I always tried to convey how special and unique the Five and the Six Nations was, and I still consider the Guinness Six Nations to be the greatest annual sporting event of them all. Tennis has its slams, golf has its majors, and football its cup finals – I’ve covered them all – but for me, nothing beats the Six. 

Infirmity means I can no longer attend away matches, but to sit with friends watching the games is a very good second best.  I’ll be doing that on Saturday and praying for a Scottish victory to keep the hope of that elusive fourth Grand Slam alive.

Come on Scotland, you can do it!