Alex Massie

To Murrayfield...

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No blogging here until Monday: it's Calcutta Cup weekend and I'm off to Edinburgh today for the festivities. It's an odd feeling this, the notion that England aren't the obvious and heavy favourites. Two average sides will meet tomorrow and it's quite possible they will produce the worst match of the championship. How grim that would be depends, naturally, on the actual outcome. It can't be any worse than the 1988 fixture which was, quite possibly, the worst game of rugby I've ever attended.

Really, we should have a better anthem than Flower of Scotland. It's a pretty rotten and, in some senses, sentimental dirge. Just occasionally, however, it aspires to be something bigger and better than that. March 17th 1990 was one such day:

This weekend, for sure, the stakes aren't nearly as high. Defeat merely means yet another infuriating and pedestrian championship. We've been here before. Even victory, mind you, hardly transforms the season even if, despite results, there are signs Andy Robinson is making some progress. As for England? Well, who cares? Sure, if any side is going to win by 20 points then it's probably England, not Scotland but the grumbling about Johnson and Wilkinson and all the rest of it has already passed the point at which it became tedious.

Not as tedious, mind you, as the bloody Welsh. Obviously I want Scotland to regain the Calcutta Cup but I'd be almost as pleased if Ireland were to hammer the bloody Welsh who, generally speaking, are as insufferable in victory as they are in defeat.

To Murrayfield, then, for the fixture that really doesn't need to be sold. There was a nasty edge to it during the 1990s but that's calmed now, I think, perhaps because for the last few years neither side has been very good. But it's still an occasion fraught with history and nerves and trepidation and panicked excitement and all the rest of it.

I'm not willing to risk a prediction but, damn it, this is a game Scotland can win. The back-row will, as always, be vital. All our best sides in recent decades have played off 6,7 and 8 and this one is shaping up to be a pretty good unit too. A marauding, pillaging performane from Barclay, Beattie and Brown is needed; without that we're sunk. With it, well, there's victory and a small measure of glory waiting to be claimed boys...

PS: If you haven't bought Tom English's book about the 1990 match - The Grudge - then do yourself a favour and get it now. It's terrific. Jim Telfer comes out of it as the mad, horrendous genius much more terrifying than anyone or anything the opposition can throw at you, but I was also surprised by how Will Carling and Brian Moore come across. The latter probably cost England the match, the former is more sympathetic than I'd previously thought him to be.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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