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FEATURE 'Nothing comes easy for Scotland in Cardiff – you have to earn it'

'Nothing comes easy for Scotland in Cardiff – you have to earn it'
4 months ago

Scott Murray soaring and stealing Welsh lineouts at will is a memory Scotland supporters who witnessed their last victory in Cardiff, in 2002, will recall with pleasure.

The sparkling Scottish memories from 1982 at the old Arms Park include great Kelso winger Roger Baird launching an audacious counter-attack from Scotland’s 22 that finished 80 metres later with flanker Jim Calder diving over the Welsh line, and centre Jim Renwick beating the Welsh wingers in a stunning 50-metre race.

For readers of an even older vintage, the counter attacks of full-back Ken Scotland and tries by Ronnie Glasgow and Frans ten Bos from 1962 live long in the memory.

Scots need to have good memories because wins in Cardiff are so rare as to make them an endangered species. Those three triumphs broke decades without an away win in Cardiff and, intriguingly, may hold inspiration now for Gregor Townsend’s troops as they head to Wales for their opening match of the 2024 Six Nations Championships amid headlines of Scotland’s 22-year wait for victory.

Gregor Townsend
Current head coach Gregor Townsend was at fly-half the last time Scotland won in Cardiff in 2002 (Photo Mike Finn Kelcey/Getty Images)

Scotland have endured horrendous away records in the mighty Welsh capital – going 35 years from 1927 until victory in Cardiff in 1962 (albeit that period only encompassed eight games in Cardiff, with the fixture held alternately in Swansea until 1954), another 20 years until the next, Baird-inspired win, and now 22 years since they last enjoyed the sweet taste of victory.

At home, Scotland have won 34 to Wales’ 27, with three draws, but in Cardiff, Wales hold a 37-10 record. So, what is it about Cardiff that frightens the Scots so much? The consensus among players and coaches is that it is less about scared Scots and more how a full Cardiff stadium inspires the men in red. Scotland have also won in Newport (once), Swansea (five times) and Llanelli’s Parc y Scarlets, in 2020, when the Covid pandemic stripped Wales of their crowd, but Cardiff has a unique foreboding.

Renwick famously did not experience an away win with Scotland until nearing his 50th cap, and Andy Irvine, another Scotland great, had a similar experience.

We took some risks, ran it from deep and we took every chance we got. I took a drop-goal – I don’t know why more players don’t do that now – and we got the bounce of the ball at times. You don’t always get that, but it’s how you win at Cardiff.

“Our record away from home was appalling and it was a mystery really,” Renwick said. “The pitch is the same size, 15 players v 15, it shouldn’t matter where you play. But there’s no doubt the Welsh were a different team at Cardiff. The Welsh are probably the most passionate fans; they take the game seriously and it felt very one-sided when you played in Cardiff – you felt that there wasn’t a Scotsman in the ground. We actually stayed in Chepstow in 1982, to stay away from all the noise pre-match, and I’ve never been so relaxed before a game, so maybe that was a factor too.”

There is something those victorious Scottish teams had in common, which, despite rugby’s evolution and shift into more over-analysed, structured play, could be as relevant to their hopes this weekend as at any time – a desire to play with flair and take risks.

In 1962, Ronnie Glasgow scored Scotland’s first try in Cardiff in 27 years, and Frans ten Bos grabbed the second, after using counter-attacks and high kicks to cause the Welsh defence problems. In 1982 Scotland scored five tries and won 34-18, but only after revealing a daring desire to attack a great Welsh side at every opportunity.

Jim Renwick
Jim Renwick (centre right) had to wait until the 48th of his 53 Scotland caps to win a Test away from home (Photo Michel Clement, Philippe Wojazer/AFP via Getty Images)

Renwick recalls: “The truth about that day in Cardiff is that we didn’t do what we had planned. We planned to dominate the Welsh up front, but their pack was strong and if you look at our tries they all came from counter-attacks. They had lost Terry Holmes and Jeff Squire to injury days before, and they missed them, and we had a back line of natural rugby players who could react to things and just play.

“With Roy [Laidlaw] and Rud [John Rutherford], you had skilful guys who knew the value of moving the ball quickly. You had myself and David Johnston who loved to get our hands on the ball and run, and Andy [Irvine] at full-back, and wings Roger Baird and Jim Pollock, in for his debut.

“We took some risks, ran it from deep and we took every chance we got. I took a drop-goal – I don’t know why more players don’t do that now – and we got the bounce of the ball at times. You don’t always get that, but it’s how you win at Cardiff.”

It was one of the best places to play, the stadium was awesome, the atmosphere incredible, and we had some great nights out down there. But it didn’t matter who was in the Welsh side, their crowd lifted them massively, so you have to take your chances to win down there.

Scotland even started that game with invention, Rutherford lining up the kick-off and Irvine then kicking the ball to the opposite side, setting the tone for a game of helter-skelter rugby. The fact that the ‘speedsters’ supporting Baird on his famous counter-attack were No.8 Iain Paxton and lock Alan Tomes, before Calder finished one of the great Championship tries, underlined how the entire Scotland team was on the same daring, counter-attacking wavelength.

In 2002, Murray recalls chancing his arm, literally, in leaping for Welsh lineouts close to his own line as well as up the park, and demoralising the home pack in the process. He famously only came to rugby in his late teens, his father having been in the Forces around the world, and his years playing basketball came to the fore in Cardiff.

“I loved the lineouts,” he recalls with a chuckle, unsurprisingly considering he remains the tournament’s greatest lineout stealer, with 54 in his career, way ahead of the competition. “The basketball helped my ball skills but I think it was more to do with me weighing just 98kgs. There wasn’t much of me then and our lifters loved throwing me to the heavens!

Scott Murray
Murray was a master of pilfering opposition lineouts and had a field day in Cardiff in 2002 (Photo Mike Finn Kelcey/Getty Images

“I went for an early one, stole it, and we just kept going at them. We won good ball on our throws and I remember they switched their hooker, and Robin McBryde came on, and on his first throw their boys never jumped. I think they’d had enough!

“It’s bizarre that we haven’t won there since then. I got sent a pic from an old mate Tom Shanklin after a game a while back of a Welsh team celebrating, to remind me what winning felt like in Cardiff! But I loved it in Cardiff. It was one of the best places to play, the stadium was awesome, the atmosphere incredible, and we had some great nights out down there. But I’d agree that it didn’t matter who was in the Welsh side, their crowd lifted them massively, so you have to take your chances to win down there.

“Gordy Bulloch scored two good tries in 2002, from our lineout mauls of course, and Brendan Laney was bang on with four penalties, but as I remember we didn’t have many chances in that game, but we took what we did get.”

Murray, who now lives near San Diego in California, and alongside coaching runs his own drone-flying business – ruckdrones.com, of course – experienced the more depressing side of losing in Cardiff when he was red-carded for lashing out with a boot in 2006. That was one of many occasions in the past two decades where Scotland had a team to match the Welsh, and at times outshine them, but ill-discipline, costly mistakes or injury contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

We definitely have a team now to end this wait. But you have to be prepared to go out there and play rugby in that cauldron, and not be intimidated by it

Stuart Hogg was also sent off in Cardiff in 2014, for a late hit on Dan Biggar, but the most infamous Scottish disaster came four years earlier when Wales turned a 24-14 deficit into a 31-24 win in the final six minutes of a game that Scotland finished with 13 men and three talented backs – Thom Evans, Chris Paterson and Rory Lamont – in hospital with serious injuries.

The fact Scotland have won three of their last seven Six Nations meetings – twice at Murrayfield and once in Llanelli during the Covid pandemic – and last year’s game ended in a record 35-7 victory, again suggests the Scots have a great opportunity. Throw in Gregor Townsend’s experienced, settled side against a team Warren Gatland is rebuilding with a host of relative newcomers, and many might favour Scotland to bring 22 years of pain to an end.

But they have been favoured before and are regularly usurped by Gatland’s tactical nous and a proud team fired up to the final whistle by the Cardiff crowd. Murray and Renwick were heroes, but still experienced more hurt than joy.

“We definitely have a team now to end this wait,” said Murray. “But you have to be prepared to go out there and play rugby in that cauldron, and not be intimidated by it.

“Take them on up front, go for them at the set-piece, and run the ball in attack, I think, is how Scotland can win. We are always better with fast attacks, and Gatland will do everything to stop that, but the way Gregor has them playing, and the way Finn [Russell] plays, we have a team capable of outplaying Wales. But the records don’t lie. Nothing comes easy for Scotland in Cardiff – you have to earn it.”

Shane Williams
Shane Williams’ winning try in the last minute of the 2010 fixture was a particularly shattering defeat for Scotland (Photo Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

Renwick added: “I’ve watched some good stuff recently from Scottish teams and we have players who remind me of the backline I played with. I’d have loved to have played outside Finn, and I’d be there following him when he goes, to play off him the way I did with Andy, who loved to take a risk. He wasn’t easy to follow right enough because he didn’t know where he was going when he set off!

“But you have to take risks. I once asked a bookie ‘when’s the right time to put a bet on?’, and he said, ‘when the odds are in your favour’. In rugby you can turn them in your favour by making things happen. Have a go and back yourself, and back the man that goes. That’s how risks come off, and that’s how we played that day in ’82.

“I remember at half-time we were leading and boys were saying we hadn’t won at Cardiff for 20 years, but instead of going into our shell, we said ‘let’s keep running at them, keep taking risks’, and it worked.

“Yes, the game has changed, but some things stay the same, and, for me, that’s how Scotland can do what we did, and bring the wait for a win to an end.”

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