Iwan Tukalo on how he knew Scotland would win 1990 Grand Slam decider

A whisker away from a full three decades on and the magnitude of what was achieved by that legendary band of brothers on 17 March 1990.

Iwan Tukalo, Sean Lineen and Scott Hastings sing Flower of Scotland before the 1990 Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield. Picture: Alan Macdonald
Iwan Tukalo, Sean Lineen and Scott Hastings sing Flower of Scotland before the 1990 Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield. Picture: Alan Macdonald

There is a moment, while looking back on that seismic 13-7 win over England at Murrayfield when Iwan Tukalo asks for a moment as the emotions get the better of him and he starts to well up.

“It was the team talk [at the Braid Hills Hotel before heading to the stadium],” recalled the now 58-year-old when asked when he felt a famous win over Will Carling’s 
red-hot favourite England side was possible.

“Normally it was a little bit like being back at school, with the teachers – the coaches – at the front and then our chairs set out in rows. But this time all the seats were in a circle, and on the front of each chair was a jersey, but you couldn’t see the numbers, just the thistle.

“So when we walked in it was, ‘Oh, wait a minute…’ They said, ‘Come in, just sit anywhere’. So Geech [Ian McGeechan] gets into the circle and started to talk to us about tactics, basically replaying all the things we do when we’re in certain parts of the field.

“Then he stepped out of the circle and Creamy [Jim 
Telfer] stepped in. He started on this whole thing about not just playing for the jersey, but for yourselves, your friends and families, saying, ‘If 
you win this game, it is 
life-changing for you’.

“At the end he said, ‘There is a jersey on the front of your chair...’” It is at this moment Tukalo becomes choked with emotion, but is briefly able to continue. “‘Pick that jersey up and give it to the person it belongs to and make a commitment to them’. I had JJ’s [John Jeffrey’s] and I just said, ‘JJ, there’s your jersey, I won’t let you down’. So for me, after that nobody was going to beat us that day.”

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. No, actually don’t. The stories of that momentous day have been well told down the years but no Scot will ever tire of hearing them.

The Grand Slam, Five Nations Championship, 
Triple Crown and Calcutta Cup were all at stake. Hooker 
Kenny Milne famously quipped: “Well, we’re bound to win one of them.”

Tukalo, who had scored a dogged try in the France game at home earlier in the campaign to help set up the Slam decider, believes McGeechan and Telfer deserve as much credit as the players who went on to carry out their instructions almost to perfection.

“We were fortunate and blessed to have Geech and Creamy as our coaches,” said the Edinburgh man who was playing for Selkirk at the time. “They were masters of the understatement in many respects. One of the things they did throughout that campaign was to keep us away from 
the press.

“We stayed at the Braid Hills and were oblivious to all that was going on despite the fact it was going to be the biggest game of our lives. That truly hit home on the day of the match when we had the team talk.

“After that, we went back to our rooms to put our bits and pieces together before we headed off. I shared a room with Soley [captain David Sole] and he is not the most talkative of individuals.

“The beds were side by side and there was a TV at the end. The nerves were jangling and there was a deathly silence, so I said to Soley, ‘Do you mind if I put the TV on?’

“So I put it on and it just so happened that the opening credits of Grandstand came on. It was every Scotland-
England sporting event that had ever happened, not just rugby but football, boxing and everything else.

“It only lasted a couple of minutes and then there was silence. We just looked at each other and just went, ‘F***!’ That’s when it hit home.”

Once at the stadium, Tukalo said the fires continued to burn hotter long before the famous Sole-led slow walk from the tunnel and charged rendition of Flower of Scotland.

“When we went out onto the pitch, all the England wives and girlfriends were standing there being interviewed on the bottom of the pitch. Talk about a red rag to a bull. ‘You are on our turf, you have got no effing right to be on the pitch until the day is done’,” said Tukalo.

“All these little things just made me think, ‘There is no way we are losing this game now. It is not going to be my fault. I will do everything in my power’...

“For me it got frustrating because all the action was on Tony’s wing. I just wanted to roll my sleeves up and get stuck into it. I just had to stand there saying, ‘Come on guys’.”

Come on they did and the most illustrious win in 
Scottish rugby was sealed thanks to opposite wing Tony Stanger’s famous try.

Tukalo is the mastermind behind the gala dinner which will be held in May and attended by every member of both the 1990 and 1984 Grand Slam sides, raising money for the Hearts and Balls charity. It will be a unique chance for them all to be in the same room again. “It’s like life, you move on. Some guys like Damian ‘Del Boy’ Cronin and Paul Burnell live down south so you maybe see them if they come up for an international. But other than that, not that 
frequently. Hence why I had this idea for the anniversary,” said Tukalo.

“I was at Murrayfield when Jim Calder scored his try against France [to seal the 1984 Slam]. To have that inspiration when it was our turn to have the same opportunity to repeat it, to know it was achievable… those guys were an inspiration.”

l The 1984 and 1990 Grand Slam Celebration Dinner in aid of Hearts and Balls will take place at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre on Friday 8 May. Tables can be booked at heartsandballs.org.uk.