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The 'absolute b*ll*cks!!!!' match day message posted by Will Carling

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Ex-England skipper Will Carling took a pop last Saturday at the new BT Sport film recalling the 1990 Calcutta Cup match. The winner-takes-all showdown that took place at Murrayfield 33 years ago resulted in Scotland winning 13-7 to clinch the Five Nations Grand Slam.


That occasion was last month recalled in an 80-minute movie that included recollections from players and coaches from both sides, but the fixture also include coverage of the political climate that existed in the UK at the time.

In the trailer teaser posted to social media by BT Sport before the movie premiered on January 20, the actor Robert Carlyle, who narrated the movie, set the scene: “Murrayfield, March 1990. Scotland versus England, winner-takes-all Five Nations Grand Slam.

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“It was Thatcher’s poll tax, rising nationalism, animosity both on and off the field. Never before had the stakes been this high. BT Sport Films presents The Grudge.”

It was Saturday morning, just hours before England hosted Scotland in the opening round of the 2023 Six Nations when Carling took to Twitter to dismiss what he had heard about the film of the 1990 game.

“A few mates have told me that The Grudge is out on BT. It amazes me that people think that politics had any impact on a rugby match. Can imagine being in a forwards meeting discussing the ramifications of the Poll tax… absolute b*ll*cks!!!!”


Carling’s tweet drew a response from Steph Brawn, a Scottish-based political journalist who is also a rugby fan. “I don’t think that’s what was being suggested,” she wrote.

“I think the political situation was having a major impact on both countries (Scotland in particular) and that, for the fans, was channelled into the game a bit. Can’t imagine for one second it had any impact on players.”

Carling, who worked as a leadership player mentor with England during the Jones era, replied: “Ok, as you say that is very possible – just heard that people thought it was a topic of discussion amongst the players!!”

Another journalist Tom English, who wrote The Grudge in award-winning book format in 2010, added: “Nobody I’ve ever spoken to thinks that, Will.”


In a RugbyPass interview ahead of the BT Sport premiere of The Grudge last month, Jeremy Guscott, Carling’s England midfielder partner and a try scorer in the 1990 fixture, explained: “It was me and rugby and my friends and the type of friends I had didn’t talk about poll tax, didn’t talk about Wales, Scotland, Ireland, didn’t talk about the rest of the world. It was, ‘Who are we playing on Saturday? Who do you think is going to be tough, Jerry?’

“My friends were stonemasons, policemen, firefighters, teachers, all across the board, and because I was so new to it, this game in my head wasn’t massive, there wasn’t a lot of noise going on.

“It was, ‘I can’t wait to get out there and play’. The only part of the newspapers I used to read was the back pages – and stuff about the poll tax and strikes and everything else wasn’t going to be on those pages. It was all going to be sport, so I was oblivious to it.

“There would have been more noise, for instance, in the camp when England used to travel to Ireland and play because we would have escorts because of the service people and police involved. That was more of a disruption, more of a noise than anywhere else we went. So going up to Scotland I was unaware of the enormity of it.”

Guscott added that England weren’t complacent about the threat that Scotland posed to their title hopes that year. “Make no mistake: no matter what anyone thinks, the English team were not arrogant in the belief that all we had to do was turn up.

“Anyone who had been on the Lions tour the year before knew the quality of the Scottish players and you would have been a fool, a genuine fool, to think England were going to sail through that match and be Grand Slam champions. The amount of Lions that were in that Scotland team, the amount of Lions that were in that England team, it was quite level.”


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