Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Scotland v Wales at Murrayfield

8th February 2009

Scotland 13 Wales 26

This was my first visit to Murrayfield in just over 25 years and, perhaps not surprisingly, the stadium had changed out of all recognition from the place I remembered.  In fact the only bit of it which did look familiar was the clock tower: “Meet you under the clock” was, and indeed probably still is, the mantra of generations of Murrayfield spectators.

I first became aware of the place via the BBC coverage of the Five Nations tournament during the early 1970s, where Scotland would invariably squeak past the highly talented Welsh sides of the day, watched by unfeasibly large crowds.  

My first experience in the flesh, as it were, was a match v France during the 1978 tournament.  The attendance at this one was 55,000, and I recall it being a major achievement getting onto the terracing at all.  To explain: the best views of the game were to be had from, obviously, the top few rows of terracing.  Thus did folks try to squash into this area, jealously guarding their spot.  The result was a mass of bodies through which one had to battle to reach the rather less populated terracing areas further below.  

There were passageways of course, which were intended to facilitate such movement but such was the mass of fans wanting to be close to the top these swiftly became jam-packed too.  It was, I recall, just a little bit scary.

In the game itself, I think Scotland scored two early tries through Andy Irvine and David Shedden, both of whom were subsequently targeted by the French forwards, before having to be replaced injured.  France, perhaps inevitably, then went on to win.

Over the next few years Scotland rugby internationals at Murrayfield became a regular slot on my sporting calendar, as Wife-to-be was able to procure tickets quite easily through a family contact.  Scotland, although with a reasonable home record around this period, never really looked like tournament winners due to their poor away form.

Things did begin to look up during the 1984 tournament, as Scotland began with a narrow win in Wales.  We were at the next match a fortnight later to see England whupped 18-6, and suddenly we began to wonder.  The Triple Crown was then won in Dublin, resulting in a winner-take-all Grand Slam decider with France, who had also won all three of their previous matches.  But then, all those bloody Glory-Hunters who had never been to Murrayfield in years, if indeed ever, suddenly arrived on the scene.  

Wife’s relative at Haddington Rugby Club found his quota of tickets slashed and, quite understandably, had to let us down.  I didn’t blame him, just all those bastards who had crawled out of the woodwork.  We watched Scotland win the Grand Slam on TV, but the triumph was spoiled for me somewhat by the thought of the Little Shit who was at the ground enjoying my glory with my ticket.

The whole episode pissed me off big style and I vowed never to go back.  And for 25 years I kept my word.  Until this afternoon, when just on a whim I logged onto the SRFU website to find a few tickets for the opening match of the 2009 tournament v Wales were still available.  And I thought, why not?

Approaching Murrayfield from the north.

The sacrificial lambs arrive for the slaughter. Well, perhaps not.

Beneath the west stand.

The Murrayfield Clock.

The odd juxtaposition of the War Memorial with a sculpture of a blue stag.

And although Murrayfield certainly is now an impressive beast, it is actually more so from the outside than in.  There is this pointless sprint running track in front of one of the stands and, despite the RFU’s best attempts to pump up the atmosphere with flame throwers, fireworks and the like, the new place just does not hold a candle to the old.  

That Scotland were rubbish didn’t help, but they were often rubbish when I went along regularly in the early 1980s, and that didn’t detract from the occasion.  Well, not too much.

Scotland just about hung in there during a first half in which they conceded tries to Tom SHANKLIN and Alun-Wyn JONES.  They saw enough of the ball, but all the moves just seemed to drift sideways before becoming embroiled in the Welsh defences.  The Scots broke the Welsh line just once, but Chris Paterson (on as a replacement) was hauled down by Andy Powell. 

Leigh HALFPENNY’s try seconds after the break seemed to utterly dishearten the Scots, and the Welsh saw out the rest of the second period without too much trouble.  Shane WILLIAMS added a fourth try for Wales, before Max EVANS’ consolation score nine minutes from time.

One of the few occasions Scotland managed to make progress.

Bogged down once more, in the mire that was the Welsh defence.

Another Chris Paterson penalty pops over.
Panorama of Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh.

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