Wales Back To The Future Murrayfield 2005 And 2019

“The past is a foreign country they do things differently there” is the immortal first line of L.P. Hartley’s The Go Between. which wistfully condenses the problems inherent to memory and history. Distant, intangible, unreliable, lost, our histories, at the levels of personal and national, are at best half-remembered and at worst actively misrepresented.

Fourteen years ago Wales headed to Edinburgh with slight trepidation, they had already beaten England France and Italy , and a win at Murrayfield would ensure following week they would face Ireland in Cardiff with the chance to win a first grand slam for twenty-seven years fast forward to 2019 and here we are again, nostalgia and deja vu make a pretty good half back pairing.

So this weekend Wales have much to play for, and so much to lose, a bit like a cup semi final a situation which they  are much more familiar with these days than was the case back in 2005

In many ways the matches the teams and even rugby itself is a world away from that sunny Scottish Sunday, but there are some striking similarities, and once again if Wales beat Scotland on Saturday they will face Ireland for the grand slam in Cardiff seven days later.

In 2005 Wales only had a six day turnaround between matches whilst Ireland had a full week to prepare.

This year the boot is on the other foot, Ireland face France in Dublin on Sunday giving them the disadvantage of a six day turnaround.

Grand Slams and championship wins have been more forthcoming for Wales since 2005, but there was something nervously new about 2005, it was fresh, it was unexpected and during an epic first half at Murrayfield the men in red blew Scotland away showing off all their finery in a joyous attacking display that had them leading 38-3 at half time.

If the men in red had any nerves about the enormity of the task in front of them they were dispelled after only four minutes when Ryan Jones try set them on a glorious path.

Wales were touched with glory on Sunday 13 March 2005, it was as of the ghosts of Barry, Phil, Gareth and JPR had inhabited the men in red to produce running and handling that warmed the heart and gladdened the soul.

That first half must rank as one of the best performances of any Welsh team in any era, they scored three tries in the opening fourteen minutes, and led 38-3 at half time.

So Wales headed home knowing they were in touching distance of the championship and a grand slam, Ireland would have to beat them by at least thirteen points to deny them the title, whilst France have to beat Italy in Rome by a minimum of 42 points to stand any chance of entering the equation.

The days that followed will never be forgotten, lets hope Wales can go back to future this weekend and make the past a more familiar country where they do things exactly the same.


Scotland: Paterson (Edinburgh); R Lamont , (Glasgow), Craig (Glasgow; Henderson , 75), Southwell (Edinburgh), S Lamont (Glasgow); Parks (Glasgow; Ross , Leeds, h-t), Cusiter (Borders; Blair , Edinburgh, 44), Smith (Northampton), Bulloch (Glasgow, capt), Kerr (Leeds; Douglas , Borders, h-t), Grimes (Newcastle; Hines , Edinburgh, h-t), Murray (Edinburgh), Taylor (Edinburgh), Petrie (Glasgow), Hogg (Edinburgh).
Tries: Craig, R Lamont, Paterson. Cons: Paterson 2. Pen: Paterson.

Wales: Morgan (Newport-Gwent); R Williams (Cardiff; Luscombe , Newport-Gwent, 69), Shanklin (Cardiff), Henson (Neath-Swansea; Sweeney , Newport-Gwent, 75), S Williams (Neath-Swansea); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne), Peel (Llanelli); Jenkins (Cardiff), Davies (Gloucester; McBryde (Llanelli, 50), A Jones (Neath-Swansea; Yapp , Cardiff, 64), Cockbain (Neath-Swansea; J Thomas , Neath-Swansea 71), Sidoli (Cardiff), R Jones (Neath-Swansea), M Williams (Cardiff), Owen (Newport Gwent).
Try: R Jones, R Williams 2, S Williams, K Morgan 2. Cons: S Jones 5. Pens : S Jones 2.
Sin-bin: Cockbain 61.


Referee : J Kaplan (S Africa). Att : 63,431.


Scotland 22-46 Wales
70 mins: Superb end-to-end rugby results in a Paterson try. Stephen Jones and Morgan combine to send Luscombe through who then stubles resulting in a counter attack going the length of the field, Paterson collects Southwell’s chip ahead. He converts his own try.

Scotland 15-43 Wales
68 mins: Rory Lamont’s brute strength earns him a try. Paterson opens the gap and Lamont arcs his way past Shane Williams and Shanklin for five points. Patterson converts

Scotland 10-43 Wales

53 mins:  Craig slides in for the home side’s first try. Scotland make the most of their numbers, the ball run all the way down the line to Craig. Paterson succeeds with a conversion from right on the touchline.

Scotland 3-43 Wales
49 mins: Some wonderful welsh passing leaves the Scots mesmerised and  Wales are awarded a penalty. Peel takes it quickly and Rhys Williams receives the ball out wide to touch down despite protestations from the Scots. Stephen Jones misses his chance for two points.


Scotland 3 Wales 38
40 mins:  Morgan produces another try fout of nothing. Peel  slices through the opposition’s defenders. Morgan runs a delightful angle and is in the perfect place for the try-scoring pass. Stephen Jones converts.

Scotland 3-31 Wales
27 mins: It’s try number four for Wales as Kevin Morgan acceleratess across the line. following a Shanklin dummy, Stephen Jones then maintains his 100% kicking record with the conversion

Scotland 3-24 Wales
23 mins: Scotland win a line out penaly Chris Paterson gets his first kick through the uprights.


Scotland 0-24 Wales

19 mins: Stephen Jones kicks a penaly


Scotland 0-21 Wales

14 mins: Stephen Jones breaks clear and feeds Shane Williams who youches down near the posts a simple conversion follows from Jones


Scotland 0-14 Wales
11 mins:  Rhys Williams  throughintercepts and run the length of the field after Scotland had looked certain to score with players queuing up outside Dan Parks, who instead opted to loft the ball into the hands of the fast-approaching Williams. Stephen Jones converts the try.


Scotland 0-7 Wales4 mins: Ryan Jones produces a scintillating break after a loose kick by Hugo Southwell. Jones has plenty of support and gets the final pass back from Martyn Williams for the try after a series of slick passes. Stephen Jones nails the conversion.










Paris The Auld Alliance And The Young Ones

There is something special about Paris in the winter, the moment you step off the train at Gare du Nord, the smell of coffee engulfs you as you hit the dark misty grey gloom lit up by the neon lights of the cafes and bars in rue dunkerque.

Paris does the cold dark miserable season like no other city, with its inimitable style and class.

But Paris had a surprise in store this weekend, supplying blazing sunshine and temperatures of fifteen degrees, it was more Marseille than Montmartre, the pavement cafes doing a roaring trade with the tartan army sipping their cafe cremes with an insouciance and panache, was this really the Six Nations ?

Historically France and Scotland have a very special bond, in 1942 Charles DeGaulle described it as the oldest alliance in the world

“In every combat for five centuries when the destiny of France was at stake, there were always men of Scotland to fight by the side of the men of France, and what Frenchmen feel is that no people has ever been more generous with its friendship”

The auld alliance with France was first agreed in 1295 built on France’ need to curtail English expansion.

The canny Scots were given the pick of the best French wines as a result of this accord.

There was no sign of the  auld alliance in Paris yesterday, the scots may have fought with Joan of arc at the battle of Orleans, but watching Guirado hit Gray underlined that friendships were on hold for at least eighty minutes.

Under crystal clear azure skies the anthems roared and France got off to a roaring start, Penaud got over the line after six minutes, only for the TMO to disallow the try in fact Les Bleus had three tries disallowed and scored four not a bad return, although the clock had reached 88 minutes before Alldritt scored the fourth and bonus point try.

France played with the sun on their backs and in their hearts, it was evident they were playing for each other and with eachother, there were flashes of finesse, but bucket loads of desire.

The young guns Dupont, Ntamack, Penaud, Ramos and Bamba brought a freshness and an energy and that old warhorse Guilhem Guirado was his usual magnificent self.

As seems to be the way with matches in Paris, this one lasted 88 minutes and 49 seconds, with Gregory Alldritt scoring France’s fourth and bonus point winning try to the delight of the tricolour waving sun kissed supporters at the sacre couer end of the ground

Joy for once was the visible emotion etched in the faces of French rugby players, no spring revolution here just the relief of a victory which they hope will sprout the shoots of blossoming growth, although folks from Calais to Carcassonne will not be holding their breath, but maybe youth is the answer for France, and as in the words of the song:

The Young’s ones shouldn’t be afraid

To Live, Love, while the flame is strong

For we may not be the young ones very long”.

Paris a bientot !

Deborah McCormack And The Thirty Cap Curse

There are people you meet in this game that impress on so many levels, immense dedication is a pre requisite at the top-level, but to be a thoroughly decent human being is not necessarily part of the job description, neither is the ability to face adversity with a smile and without a hint of self-pity.

When you come across someone who has all these qualities by the bucket load, it makes you realise that this great game of ours is well and truly blessed.

Deborah McCormack is one such individual, I am honoured and privileged to know her, but even more privileged and honoured to be able to call her a friend.

On Saturday night in Lille, all being well, she will win her 30th Scottish cap, ever since I broached this impending milestone with her,at the start of the season, she has suffered a whole load of injury setbacks, so much so we have talked about a 30th cap curse, so I will be as relieved as anyone when she sets foot on the pitch at Le Stadium, in Lille, to face France this weekend.

Debs has hardly played all season after injuring her shoulder playing for Harlequins in the opening Tyrrells Premiership match at Gloucester-Hartbury on September 8 last year,she did not play again until January 29.

An integral part of Shade Munro’s plans, she was called up to face Ireland in the last round of the Women’s Six Nations, playing a lung busting forty one minutes on the back of sixty minutes game time during the last five months a remarkable effort, the official match stats also show that she put in 12 tackles during those forty one minutes.

Debs back story has been highlighted in some of my earlier articles a tale that encompasses Motherwell, Medway and Sydney, but today we celebrate a significant milestone in her international career, one that began in 2014 against Ireland.

Her life and rugby career to date has been indelibly linked with waterways, or to be precise, three rivers, the Medway, the Clyde and the Parramatta river, this current milestone in her international career is signposted by yet another waterway, the river Deule, which flows through Lille, from Lens, before it flows into the Lys in Deulemont.

I’m sure all family friends and supporters (of which there are many) will raise a glass to this popular Harlequins forward on Saturday night, I for one will be nervously clutching a glass of red and crossing my fingers until referee Sara Cox blows that first whistle and the 30th cap curse is finally lifted.

The Baguette That Ruined The International Career Of Gaston Vareilles 

As France face Scotland in Paris next weekend, I take you back to when the sides faced each other in the French capital in 1911.

The result gave France their first ever win in the Five Nations Championship.

The fact that France won 16-15 is overshadowed by the tragic tale of a young Frenchmen selected to play on the wing that day, no doubt overflowing with a mixture of nerves and excitement as he headed northwards, by train, through the beautiful French countryside, on a day he would never forget, for all the wrong reasons.

Gaston Vareilles was a wing at Stade Francais, and when the train stopped at Lyon station, Gaston popped off the train to visit the station buffet for a baguette, by the time he had been served, he returned to the platform to see his train heading off into the distance.

Back in Paris, one of the spectators, french sprinter Andre Franquelle voulnteered to make up the numbers, and he did rather well, in fact he went on to earn another two French caps.

Poor old Gaston did eventually make it to the stadium in time for the kick off, but was told in no uncertain terms where to go.

He never played for France again, and ended up working as a planter in French Indochina, before his death on 15 January 1929.

However Gaston also holds a more uplifting statistic to his name, he scored France’ first ever drop goal against Wales in Cardiff in 1908, a slice of good fortune as the home crowd sang bread of heaven, but sadly it is that station baguette that he will be always be remembered for.

Time For France To Launch Another Best Sella

When the name Waterloo is mentioned most people automatically think of one of three things, the battle, the station or ABBA.

France arrived at St Pancras terminus ahead of their Six Nations match against England, the previously mentioned station might have been too much of an omen for a heartbroken team, who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory a week earlier at stade de France against Wales.

1815 was the year in which the Battle of Waterloo took place, at 1815 yesterday Twickenham was pretty much empty, with the exception of a few folk dressed in white and blue, the differing emotions shown in the opposing colours could not have been more contrasting.

A crest fallen French supporter dropped his plastic pint glass as he walked disconsolately away down Rugby Road, the stylish way in which he re-gathered it at ankle height showed more desire and artistry than his national team had displayed all afternoon.

The old cliche “Which France will turn up” was totally negated yesterday when one failed to show up at all.

Down in the South of France, at the Bar de l’esplanade in Tonneins, the locals must have looked on with a mixture of disbelief and melancholy, there was a time when one of their own sons strode the field of dreams, a time when France strutted their stuff with a certain panache and Elan, they ran at angles that Pythagoras would have swooned at, those were the days mon ami.

Tonneins is an unremarkable town in the Lot-Et-Garonne department of France, until the early 2000’s it was the tobacco capital of France, but now the town that stands above the river Garonne between Marmande and Agen has an agricultural emphasis producing maize, rapeseed and sunflowers.

An unremarkable town, maybe, but in 1962 it produced one truly remarkable rugby player, Phillipe Sella, the Prince of Centres who played 111 times for France scoring 125 points from 30 tries.

Phillipe Sella and I were both born on February 14th, sadly that is where our similarities begin and end, if only I had been granted an ounce of the sheer rugby  magic he possessed then I would have been truly blessed.

His French debut came in Bucharest on Sunday 31 October 1982 in a 13-9 defeat to Romania, to add injury to insult he had to spend the night in hospital with concussion following the match.

In his 111 appearances for Les Bleus he tasted victory on 72 occasions drawing 5 times and losing 34 matches, France won six Five Nations titles during his reign, including a Grand Slam in 1987.

Phillipe’s final international appearance came on 22 June 1995 in Pretoria during the Rugby World Cup Third place play off match where  France beat England 19-9.

Regarded as one of the world’s best ever centres it is sometimes forgotten that Sella played on the wing for his first seven games in the French shirt, before switching to the midfield for a glorious career where his centre partners included such illuminaries as Didier Cordoniou, Denis Charvet, Franc Mesnel and Thierry Lacroix.

In 1986 he scored Try in each of France’s 5 Nations matches, a remarkable feat achieved only by a very select few.

Phillipe Sella is “Mr Agen” he played for the club for thirteen years between 1982 and 1985 before heading across the channel for a spell with Saracens.

He retired from rugby in 1998 before heading home his beloved Agen, where he is currently director of rugby.

I’m not sure what state is lower than the doldrums, but France inhabit that area, in fact they own the lease, what they wouldn’t give for another best Sella.


In The Line Of Fire Bombardier Beth Dainton

The ability to think cope and react in the pressurised environment of the elite womens game is a pre requisite,so if you have undertaken a tour of duty as a precision fires gunner in Afghanistan then it is safe to say you know all about real pressure and in comparison to sport the stakes and the levels are incomparable.

Bombardier Bethan Dainton has experienced both ends of the spectrum.

Beth served with 74 Battery (The Battleaxe Company) 39 Regiment Royal Artillery, who provided precision artillery support to 16 Air Assault Brigade in Helmand Province, operating throughout the region at forward operating bases and checkpoints firing at targets believed to contain insurgents, decorated for her efforts,she was awarded the Operational Service Medal at a ceremony in Newcastle   

Born in Hengoed on 12 April 1989, Beth has represented Wales on the track, at cross country and on the rugby field.

She didn’t start playing rugby until 2015, yet remarkably made her Wales debut in the 2016 Six Nations against Ireland, going on to win five caps in the red shirt.

A serious foot injury sustained on international Sevens duty kept her out of action for nearly all of the 2017/18 season, and after a lengthy  gruelling rehab she has now a run of games relishing her switch from wing to flanker and enjoying a new rugby lease of life in the number 7 shirt.

A 2019 Tyrrells Premiership winners medal would be a perfect contrast and go together  nicely alongside the one earned on the battlefield.

The Last Metro France v Wales

Saint-Denis at midnight and the France captain is still doing the media rounds muddied bruised and exhausted after the opening game of the 2019 Guinness six nations.

Nine o’clock kick offs may be good news for the home supporters who can indulge in a leisurely dinner pre match but for players it is the final knockings of a very long day.

As Friday night nudges into Saturday morning Guilhem Guirado can finally grab a shower after the endless round of media commitments time to start the long process of unwinding it will be many hours before he can finally get the kind of sleep a warrior deserves, although sleep may be in short supply after the extraordinary events on the field.

The dark streets of Saint-Denis illuminated by neon hotel signs and dimly lit bars are nearly empty as the last metro ferries supporters back to Gare du Nord and central Paris.

An uneasy peace descends on the Stade de France the moonlight reflecting in the Icy puddles as the shutters on the food outlets echo to a close in the Parisian night,the final espresso dispensed.

On a bitter cold night the warm red shirts of Wales created a comeback that Lazarus would have found difficult to comprehend, as they turned around a 16-0 deficit at half time to score three second half tries and earn a 24-19 victory.

It was Wales biggest ever half time turnaround in a 5/6 Nations match and the look of sheer desolation on the French faces at full time was haunting.

Even with Poirot in the front row it is difficult to unfathom the mystery of how France let a big lead slip

But there is no time to dwell the matches come thick and fast in the Six Nations, France and Wales will head in opposite directions for Round Two next weekend.

In 1888 Vincent Van Gogh left a dull grey Paris and headed south by train for the unique almost heavenly light of Provence, the artists of Wales headed south to the CĂ´te d’Azur on Saturday where they will camp in Nice in preparation for next weeks game with Italy.

Warren Gatland will be hoping things warm up in both rugby and climate terms and they will looking for an eighty plus minutes performance at Stadio Olympico.

France face a daunting trip to Twickenham next week, and Jacques Brunel will have to repair badly dented hearts and minds, it is an ill icy wind blowing around the stade de France and it’s blowing directly in the face of French rugby.