IT ALL began so well. If supporting Scotland is all about managing expectations, everyone had come with their game face on.
“We always start out optimistic,” said Suzanne Howie, out to watch the match with her friend Gillian Thornton. “Whether there’s been a ball kicked or a pass missed. Ten minutes in, we might feel slightly differently.”
At the Caley Sample Room, within roaring distance of Murrayfield in Angle Park Terrace, the hard core gathered to get in the mood by watching Ireland -Wales while eating fish and chips. At tense moments - Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny bringing his team back into the match in the 59th minute - forks stopped half way to mouths. Nutrition was, apparently, less important than the hideous prospect of Ireland losing their lead.
An hour before the Twickenham kick-off, the bar was lined with men drinking beer in the three-quarters on position made popular by Elizabeth Hurley when confronted by the paparazzi. Elbow on gantry, shoulder back, leg forward, eyes on screen. The back half of the bar was set for lunch. When there is a game at Murrayfield, says manager Neil Park, they have to arrange it in the school refectory style, with all the tables pushed together, to fit everyone in.
“Everyone going to the match comes in here for lunch. Then they leave and other people come in to watch it on the telly. Afterwards, anything can happen.”
With its family license, this is where the next generation of rugby fans comes to be blooded in the terrifying business of supporting Scotland. Or, in the case of five-month-old Alexander Munro, to have a nap in his pram. “We brought him here for the All Blacks game,” recalls his father Angus. “He fell asleep after 20 minutes. As far as he knows, Scotland won.”
Today he sleeps through Scotland’s first try, missing Sean Maitland’s zip through the England defence. Everyone else in the pub goes crazy mental including another baby who starts screaming so loudly that her harassed parents have no choice but to leave, thus missing Owen Farrell nudging England ahead.
As the only Englishman in the pub, Edgar Anderson, is keeping a low profile. Watching the match with old friend Rob Cowieson and 11-year-old son Benjamin, he is gracious in superiority. “I have lived in Scotland for 25 years,” he says. “I support England quietly.”
Later on, when the referee intervenes after a high tackle, his table is split. Cowieson wobbles his hand to indicate a dodgy decision. Anderson toughs it out. “The scoreline was good for a while Rob. But it’s better now.” As the first half ends at 19-11, Cowieson adds: It’s not a humiliation. Yet.”
A few stats to fill the time until the match starts again. The crowd in the pub was 30 per cent female, including two Wags-in-waiting in full Saturday night finery with their backs to the screen who yakked throughout. Five per cent was Irish, in patriotic leprachaun-colored strips. They came to watch Ireland-Wales and stayed. Twenty per cent was wearing at least one item of SRU-themed clothing. Zero percent was wearing See You Jimmy hats, kilts or woad. Beer was the drink of choice although a signficant minority went for wine. Elise Campbell, Tracy Duff and Claire Hannah, out for a girly-rugby lunch, recommended the Romanian Sauvignon Blanc. “They had run out of the New Zealand one,” said Claire. “The Romanian was not at all bad.”
In the second half, with the score at 26-11, the mood in the room changed. Unless the guys in the blue shirts were actually doing something significant, there was a noticably more chatting, texting and Facebook updating going on. Benjamin played Fruit Ninja on his iPod. Social networking was put on hold for some schadenfreudal whooping when England scored a try, only to have it whipped away by the referee, but it was going through the motions.
With ten minutes to go, when Stuart Hogg broke through and scored a try, it was like two minutes out of a different match. The bar was on its feet yowling, air punching and arm pumping. There was even a brief chorus of an unsavoury song. When Laidlaw converted, it was hard to believe that the score was just 31-18. But as the end drew nigh, that burst of adrenaline melted into grim resignation. As it ended, at 38-18, there were no tears or tantrums. It could, everyone agreed, have been much worse.
“I am disappointed,” admitted Gillian Thornton. “Especially with the referee, and with Scotland in the second half. They did nothing for 15 minutes.
“I just hope that next week they don’t completely change the team and send out 15 guys who have never met before and who stand there saying, who are you and what is this funny-shaped ball at my feet.”
She sighed. “But that’s what supporting Scotland is all about. Next week, we’ll be hopeful for a win again.”
“As long as Scotland stays within touching distance I’m happy,” says Donald John Morris. “Although I would have liked to see England brought up short after their All Blacks whitewash.”
Wouldn’t we all Donald. Wouldn’t we all.