In 1984 when Scotland won their first Grand Slam in almost six decades, they were operating without a map, without history on their side and without the support of the pundits of the day. Little wonder then that coach Jim Telfer, remembering the delirium of the dressing-room after the clinching victory over France, remarks: “It was like we’d reached the South Pole. It hadn’t been done before. I couldn’t believe it.”
The Slam had been won previously, but not so anyone could really remember. Even Scotland’s last Triple Crown had been way back in 1938. In a BBC Scotland documentary being screened tomorrow night, Telfer thinks back to the game against Ireland in Dublin. The job was by that point half-done; even so there’s uncertainty in his voice. “I had no benchmark as to how to prepare a team for a Triple Crown,” he says. He did after that; 32-9 to the Scots.
History, when it’s summoned by the programme, offers little guidance. From the 1925 Slam team, hooker JCH Ireland says that no-one in his day gave any thought to being all-conquering; they were only concerned with beating – guess who? – England. Of that year’s encounter with the Auld Enemy, stand-off Herbert Waddell recalls that someone got kicked in the head, with the victim’s father then setting about the culprit with an umbrella. Apart from that, a “very clean game”.
Back to ’84, though, and a lovely thread running through the film is the astonishment which greeted Scotland’s ach-ievement. Future England World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward, at outside centre for what was the 100th Calcutta Cup match, remembers his astonishment when confronted by a ball-dribbling David Johnston en route to Scotland’s 18-6 win. “It seemed to happen in slow-motion. ‘Well’, I thought, ‘he’s not going to be able to kick it properly’. But he did, and then he did it again. ‘Uh-oh, he’s going to score’.”
We can only guess at player-turned-telly expert Nigel Starmer-Smith’s astonishment. Square on to the camera, chin determinedly set, and presumably unimpressed by Scotland’s charge, he makes the routine prediction: “I’m not going to back away from what I said at the start of the tournament. This is going to be France’s year.” Or the astonishment of England captain Peter Wheeler who reckoned France were “unbeatable”.
The French who were also going for the Slam – captain Jean-Pierre Rives, world’s-best-centre Philippe Sella et al – must have been pretty flabbergasted themselves after the 21-12 vanquishing. “We’d been completely outplayed in the first half,” says Telfer.
The turning-point was Jerome Gallion failing to get up from a juddering clash with David Leslie. It is not known whether the scrum-half’s father then went looking for Scotland’s force of rugby nature armed with a parapluie.
As the programme reminds us, ’84 is quite a long time ago. David Coleman presides over the Grandstand coverage, the oracle of all our Saturday afternoons, once upon a terrestrial time. And commentator Bill McLaren is free to describe Scotland full back Peter Dods’ addressing of the ball as involving “a hitch and a twitter” – happy in the knowledge that none of these terms would become the means by which we might be able to get that bit closer to celebrity perishers Justin Bieber and Kim Kar- dashian.
As Woodward remarks, this was the pre-pro-era age of the heavy ball which liked to scoop up rain-water. He doesn’t think England’s kicker Dusty Hare would have missed all those shots at the posts from 30 years ago if the teams had been playing with the modern ball. Then he smiles and says: “I’m just trying to think of as many excuses as I can … probably it wasn’t down to the ball.”
Certainly, he adds, ball and conditions favoured the Scots in the ’84 Calcutta Cup, being a team who liked to “kick ahead”. A chuckle, then: “Some would argue, anyone’s head!” This is quite a good joke but ’84 was Scotland’s year and it’s surpassed in the film by Roy Laidlaw recalling the injury he sustained in the Ireland match. The scrum-half scored two tries in the first half but had to go off with concussion.
Applying their version of Parliament’s 30-Year Rule, our heroes give up some Slam secrets. Yes, Leslie’s pass to Iain Paxton for the latter’s try against Wales was forward. Yes, Jim Calder was offside scoring his try in the France game. Calder remembers Wales No 8 Eddie Butler crying in the loos at the post-match dinner after the first game of the Slam, 15-9 to us.
• Grand Slam ’84 is on BBC2 tomorrow at 10pm.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE