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Six Nations: Fusaro joins Calcutta Cup debut list

Scotland flanker Chris Fusaro makes his debut in the Calcutta Cup today. Picture: PA

Scotland flanker Chris Fusaro makes his debut in the Calcutta Cup today. Picture: PA

  • by DAVID FERGUSON
 

JASON White knows how Chris Fusaro will be feeling as he prepares for his entrance into Test rugby in the unique cauldron of the Calcutta Cup today.

Fusaro’s coach at Glasgow, Gregor Townsend, is acutely aware of the emotions too as the 24-year-old openside flanker follows them and 200 other Scotland internationals in making their debuts in this historic fixture that includes winning captains Andy Nicol and Jim Aitken, as well as Ian McLauchlan, Pringle Fisher and early Scottish legend Andrew Don Wauchope.

For all that the coaches and players strive to treat this match as the same as any other international, and some from outside the country are utterly perplexed as to why players uniquely lift themselves to greater performances in this one, valid pointers to other problems, there is no escaping the fact that, no matter the era and the changes in the game, the Calcutta Cup still stirs something very different in Scots.

Fusaro spoke openly this week about his own pre-match ritual, which tends to be losing his breakfast in the dressing room toilet before running out for kick-off, but he would not be the first to experience nerves ahead of this game. One who insists that he did not feel that way is White, whose memories of facing England rank at the top of his career highlights as his debut in 2000 ended in a 19-13 victory and he captained Scotland to their next triumph, in 2006.

He said: “It maybe seems strange now looking back but when I made my Scotland debut in that game in 2000 I was just 21 and felt young and invincible, so I wasn’t too worried. It probably helped that we won that first game – what was there to be worried about?

“In the middle part of my career, I started to develop nerves a bit, but then latterly they went again, I guess because you realise it’s just something you want to do, and can do, and it’s a great honour to be part of it all.”

Fusaro will be the 111th Scotland player to make his debut in this game since 1900 and the 60th since the end of the Second World War. Here, five of his predecessors, White, Townsend, Ian McLauchlan, Christy Elliot and Jim ‘Basher’ Inglis, relive the day when the Calcutta Cup brought a first taste of international rugby.

• IAN McLAUCHLAN (Jordanhill, 1969)

Memories of debut

“I honestly don’t remember much at all because it went past in such a flourish. I remember finishing up feeling very disappointed that we’d lost [8-3], and feeling that we could have done better, but you always felt that way after a defeat. The strange thing was going to the Park Lane Hilton at night and sitting down to dinner with 1,500 English supporters, mainly guys from English Counties. Total prats. That wasn’t where you wanted to be really.”

Pre-match routine

“I found out I was in the team while skiing at Glenshee. As a PE teacher, I was up there on the slopes with a group of young adults from a further education college in Glasgow, and someone called the lodge where we were staying. I ceased skiing immediately.

“We got together on the Thursday afternoon. Jim Telfer was captain and you all just came together and played from what I remember. But we certainly took it seriously. No doubt about that.”

Calcutta Cup memories

“I didn’t grow up watching rugby so I’d only seen a few international games, travelling through to Murrayfield with Jordanhill after playing in the morning. I wouldn’t say that I devoted much time to thinking about rugby. After I became an internationalist I certainly devoted plenty of time to it and the Calcutta Cup became a huge game for me.

“We played England twice in 1971 and won both times, the second game being the Centenary Match, and, a bit like now, that was a time when the Glasgow [district] team was going really well. We had a Glasgow front row of myself, Quinton Dunlop – who also made his debut against England – and Sandy Carmichael, Alastair McHarg and the Broons, Peter and Gordon, also in the pack. There has always been an edge to this game. It will be the same this weekend. It remains a very special game.”

Advice for Fusaro

“I’m sure people have told him not to worry about the game until the 5pm kick-off. You can’t play it ahead of time is what I’d say to him.

“Chris is a very experienced professional player and he will do well. He deserves this chance. He’s played outstandingly well for Glasgow for the last couple of years, and I wish him and all the boys all the best.”

Can Scotland win?

“There is no doubt that we have a team that can win this. How? By keeping themselves in English faces. Match them up front and I think we’re actually better than them in the backs – all we need to do is get the ball and we’ll win.”

• JASON WHITE (Glasgow Caledonians, 2000)

Memories of debut

“We had lost all the games in that championship so the guys were on a downer but there was a great resolve and I saw it as a great opportunity for me to step up and see if we could change things for the squad and the country.”

Pre-match routine

“My roomie was Budge Pountney and he was great at reassuring me and talking to me through the week, keeping me quite relaxed. He spoke to me a lot about the England guys, their weaknesses and how we had to get stuck into them. Before the game ‘Geech’ [coach Ian McGeechan] said a few words about me and Richard Metcalfe, who was also making his debut, and I didn’t realise until a few games later that that had been a special mention for my first cap. I thought he’d just picked me out for a special word!”

Calcutta Cup memories

“In that first match I remember coming out of the tunnel and seeing the ticker-tape coming down off the roof. It was incredible. Nudger [captain Andy Nicol] made a mistake at the breakdown and [Lawrence] Dallaglio ran outside him and inside me, and I remember being devastated, thinking I’d made a massive howler, but it turned out to be Nudger’s mistake, which I felt better about!

“We never had any luck at Twickenham, always going down there with hope and belief but it never coming off, but Murrayfield was just completely different. I don’t think the supporters up here realise what a difference they make to the team.

“The key on the pitch is to stay in the game because, when you’re close, there will be a moment in the game where something happens that sparks the crowd into life, and you get this oomph of confidence that seems to come down off the stands and right through you on the pitch. That was the case in 2000, in 2006 and every other time I played at Murrayfield.”

Advice for Fusaro

“Poor Chris is always sick before games, I read this week, but he’ll be fine. He’s not a youngster, at 24, he’s played top-level rugby and needs to do what he’s being doing, just a bit quicker and a bit harder. In the games that I’ve seen him, he’s not the kind who will stand back. Naturally he will want to get into their faces and that’s why he’s been picked, so the advice would just be ‘go out and do what you do’.”

Can Scotland win?

“Of course. England’s form over the past 12 months has been way better than ours, so we yet again are up against it with a team higher in the world rankings, but the differences between teams now are not great and if we finish off some of the breaks we’re making we have a very good chance of winning.

“The forecast seems to suggest bad weather at some point, but that’s a given for the Calcutta Cup up here, and it can be a leveller so long as our discipline is good and we play the game in the right areas of the ground.”

• JIM ‘BASHER’ INGLIS (Selkirk, 1952)

Memories of debut

“I remember running down the Murrayfield tunnel as if it was yesterday and I can remember getting the ball in the first lineout. The strange thing was I played most of my rugby for Selkirk and the South at loosehead prop, but I got capped at tighthead. I never knew why and never asked! I’d been for a long walk on the Sunday before from Selkirk to Innerleithen and, when I got back to Selkirk, everybody was congratulating me. Our local journalist Walter Thomson, known as ‘Fly Half’, had found out the team and they were all shouting and bawling that I was in. There was a chip shop down the road and I went in there on my way home and Mrs Douglas gave me a fish supper ‘on the house’. You don’t forget things like that!”

Pre-match routine

“We went down to train at Raeburn Place on the Friday and there were only 13 of the Scottish team there Norman Davidson and Jimmy Johnston from Melrose weren’t there, but I don’t know why. No coaches then, of course, either.

“Selkirk were playing Melville Colleges on the Saturday morning and I walked out of the North British Hotel where the Scotland team were staying and up to Inverleith to watch them play and they won. Everyone was coming and asking for my autograph, which was a very nice thought, but I walked back to the hotel and nobody asked where I’d been. I could have been under a tram and no-one would have noticed!”

Calcutta Cup memories

“I got my fingers broken at the Gala Sevens shortly after that Calcutta Cup match and I never got back in again, but I can say I’ve been there and done it, and it was a great honour.”

Advice for Fusaro

“I haven’t seen a lot of the lad, but good luck to him. I felt for Kelly Brown, and it’s tough on him, but that’s international rugby for you. We need an openside flanker and I’m looking forward to seeing this young lad go at the English.”

Can Scotland win?

“Of course they can. They need to pick it up after that shambles in Ireland, but they will, hopefully, rise to the occasion and pull it off. I won’t be there, unfortunately – £75 a ticket and the price of lunch in Edinburgh these days is a bit much for us pensioners!”

• CHRISTY ELLIOT (Langholm, 1958)

Memories of debut

“The whole thing went by so quickly it’s hard to have clear memories. I do recall Ken Scotland had a couple of kicks that didn’t make it and Jim Greenwood was captain and he gave the ball to me, and I kicked the penalty and it went straight over. We were leading 3-0 but GWD Hastings, the England prop, kicked one later on and it finished in a draw. We had chances to win, but that was a good English team, players like Jeff Butterfield, MS Phillips, Dickie Jeeps and Peter Jackson, so it was a good result.

“We beat England in 1964, and had beaten Ireland and France, having also drawn with the All Blacks,, but we lost to Wales with a drop-goal in the last few minutes, so we shared the championship that year. Things can turn quickly in international rugby and that can happen in this championship.”

Pre-match routine

“I didn’t know I was playing until three hours before kick-off so I didn’t have time for any routine. I had been called up on the Sunday as cover for Arthur Smith, whose father had died, and on the Saturday, about ten minutes past 12, I was told I was in the team. The game kicked off at three! From then on everything just flew past in bit of a flash.”

Advice for Fusaro

“Go out and play and try to take it in and enjoy it. That’s the big thing. The game goes faster at international level and it will be over in a flash for him, but hopefully with a good result.”

Can Scotland win?

“They can beat England. They just need to get their act together. England will be up for it, the captain was saying that in The Scotsman this week I saw, but they can be beaten.”

• GREGOR TOWNSEND (Gala, 1993)

Memories of debut

“It was the last game in the championship and I’d been on the bench for the previous three games without getting on so was ready for a long afternoon in the stand.

“We had a signal that if someone was seriously injured, a towel would be thrown down. Craig [Chalmers] went down after about 20 minutes and he usually always got up so I didn’t pay a lot of attention, and then I saw the towel go down, and I thought, ‘right, this is it – my chance’.

“I had a long time to wait to get on because Craig had broken his arm and needed treatment. I went for a stretch and looked up at the tall stands around Twickenham, and started planning in my mind how I’d run things at stand-off, but then Geech [coach Ian McGeechan] came and said, ‘you’re going on at inside centre’, which was a position I don’t think I’d ever played.

“I can see what he was thinking, first cap, away from home, take the pressure off, but I thought it was more risky playing me out of position. My first ten minutes did nothing to change that view. I didn’t really know where I was, the game was going by in a flash and I missed a couple of tackles. Barnes, Guscott and Underwood scored and the game just seemed to go from us like that. But I got to grips with it in the second half and loved the atmosphere and by the end of the game I wanted more of it.”

Calcutta Cup memories

“I got injured and missed the autumn that year, but came back for my first start against Wales the next season and then played England at stand-off and scored my first Test drop-goal and thought we’d won it, but England scored an injury-time penalty. I maintain I scored a drop-goal against Wales, but the ref didn’t give it. It was definitely over.

“We had a lot of close games with England, the Grand Slam decider in 1995 and we were going for Grand Slam again in 1996, but lost them both, which was really agonising. There were a lot of tight games, just like games at Murrayfield in the last ten years, and I think we’ll see the same again this weekend.”

Pre-match routine

“We met up two days before the game then, still amateur, and so everything was really intense, with the game-plan and studying all packed into those days. Geech was coach and he was very thorough, and he highlighted Stuart Barnes and his ability to pass off his left hand ahead of that game I remember, saying he would look to make a break right to left but pass left to right. He did.”

Advice for Fusaro

“As his coach at Glasgow I am just delighted for him. He will be getting advice from plenty of people, but he just needs to remember that he is in the team for a reason. He has played well in the last few games. He is very competitive, a really proud Scotsman and it will be a huge day for him. He will give everything and will not wait for anything to happen, maybe as I did in 1993.”

Can Scotland win?

“They can. England have struggled to play well at Murrayfield over the last ten years, and I think we’ll see an improved performance from the Scotland team. Had they taken one or two of their opportunities in the first half in Ireland that would have been a different game.”

SEE ALSO:

Rory Lawson on England’s key man

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