SCOTLAND have actually beaten New Zealand at rugby in an international match that retains a strong affinity in Scottish rugby history.
The win occurred at Murrayfield in 1946 and was one of a series of Victory Internationals played after the end of World War Two. Having played a key role in the war, and having lost many men in battle, New Zealand send their top squad of players to the UK to take part in the matches.
Not all of the players were or would become full internationalists, as was similar with the Scotland team, but ten of the players who faced Scotland in black that day either were or went on to earn full caps, including the Kiwi scrum-half and captain Charles Saxton and the legendary Fred Allen, who was later to pilot a new era for All Blacks rugby as coach.
As all nations had lost rugby players during the war, unions agreed that the matches be classified as unofficial internationals and that no caps be awarded. The Scotland captain was Keith Geddes, the London Scottish full-back, who would go on to lead the side through all six Victory Internationals, and claim wins over Wales, Ireland and England, and also claim four official caps in 1947.
A cousin of Geddes’, Keith Chalmers-Watson, told The Scotsman: “As usual, just prior to playing New Zealand, we are reminded that Scotland have never beaten the All Blacks.
“But I am sure your readers would take some comfort to be reminded [of that game]. My cousin, Keith Geddes, captained the side and I believe that he was the first son of a past captain of Scotland to captain the side.
That is indeed the case, Keith’s father Irvin Geddes having captained Scotland on the last of his six Test appearances, a 16-10 win over England in 1908. He also enjoyed success against Southern Hemisphere opposition, his first cap coming in the 6-0 win over South Africa at Hampden Park in 1906.
There was no doubting the significance of the win against the All Blacks in 1946, however. The Scotsman match report at the time carried the headline: “Scotland’s memorable rugby victory”.
The report began: “In a memorable resumption of international rugby at Murrayfield on Saturday, Scotland’s new and untried Test team exceeded the most optimistic expectation by defeating the New Zealand Army tourists for the first time on their tour by a goal and two tries (11) to a penalty goal and a try (6).
“No more punishing or exciting contest has been seen on the ground,” it continued, “unless it was the opening match between Scotland and England in 1925. The first to prove that the Kiwis are not invincible, the winners were wildly acclaimed by the crowd, which was close on 40,000, and included Mr Peter Fraser, Prime Minister of New Zealand.
“Showing a magnificent spirit right from the beginning, Scotland well deserved their success. It could not be claimed for the Kiwis that they were not at their best form; they showed some of the cleverness which has been so widely commented upon during their tour, but the truth was that they were not given the anticipated scope by the Scots.”
The writer went on to praise the Scottish pack as providing the foundation for victory, with a “livelier pace than was thought within their powers”. He picked out Douglas (WID) Elliot as a stand-out in the Scottish side, both for his general play but also because his physique, “more than any of his colleagues, approximated more closely to that of the Kiwis”.
Further complimenting the Borderer who would become one of Scotland’s greatest back rows, he wrote: “Time and again he was at the head of hectic Scottish forays. Besides, he linked up cleverly with his backs to prove that the tourists had not a monopoly of forwards who could run like three-quarters.”
He praised the New Zealand tackling and picked out Manawatu No 8 Jack Finlay and Canterbury prop McPhail for special mention, but said that Scotland’s defence was “much more consistent than most people expected”, and pointed out that Hawick winger John Anderson, who had recently moved to London Scottish, scored two good tries despite seeing very little ball.
Anderson was a colourful character. A prisoner-of-war for four years, he was a professional sprinter and regular at the Powderhall Sprint and he would sign professional forms with English Rugby League club Huddersfield after the 1946 match, so left without an official cap and does not feature in Scotland’s international records.
He scored the winner after chasing an attempted drop-goal by Glasgow Accies centre Russell (CR) Bruce which drifted wide, Glasgow HSFP centre William Munro having scored the second try which, converted by Doug Smith – later a British and Irish Lion – nudged Scotland in front.
There might appear to be more than a little similarity between the teams and some players of then and now, not least Borders back rows with leading roles to play, that might lend some inspiration to Kelly Brown’s side as they attempt to repeat that one prized victory 66 years on.
Scotland: K Geddes (London Scottish, capt); J Anderson (Hawick), W Munro (Glasgow HSFP), C Bruce (Glasgow Acads), D Smith (Aberdeen University); I Lumsden (Watsonians), A Black (Edinburgh University); I Henderson (Acads-Wanderers), G Lyall (Gala), R Aitken (London Scottish), A Watt (both London Scottish), J Kirk, W Elliot (both Acads-Wanderers), D Deas, J Orr (both Heriot’s FP).
New Zealand Army Team: H Cook; J Sherratt, J Smith, W Argus; F Allen, J Kearney; C Saxton (capt); N McPhail, F Haigh, J Simpson, A Blake, S Young, S Woolley, K Arnold, J Finlay.
Referee: C Gadney (England).