Party like it’s 1999: Remembering Scotland’s Five Nations triumph

It is 20 years and another millennia altogether since Scotland last emerged victorious in what was the old Five Nations. They actually played five matches over the course of the campaign, although the Italy game didn’t count towards that year’s championship. The Scots lost just the once, to England at Twickenham by a narrow margin.

It is 20 years and another millennia altogether since Scotland last emerged victorious in what was the old Five Nations. They actually played five matches over the course of the campaign, although the Italy game didn’t count towards that year’s championship. The Scots lost just the once, to England at Twickenham by a narrow margin.

saturday 6 February 1999:

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SCOTLAND 33-20 WALES

The Scots were quick out the blocks with an early try from John Leslie. Wales hit back to take a half-time lead but the Scots ran out easy enough winners after adjusting to the loss of fly-half Duncan Hodge.

“Hodgey broke his leg, Taity came off the bench, Gregor moved to 10 and the rest is history, as they say! I think I kicked four from four that day,” – Kenny Logan, Scotland winger.

“That was the game when John Leslie scored the fastest try in international history after ten seconds,” – Jim Telfer, Scotland head coach.

“It is so important to win the opening game it takes all the pressure off you. You have to win the first game. It’s just huge. Winning that first game makes all the difference,” – Logan.

“We were losing at half-time but I remember in the dressing room it was Rudd [backs coach John Rutherford] talking and he had this great ability to fill you with confidence. All the half-time talk was about the two positional changes but Rudd just said, ‘keep doing what you are doing’.” –Logan.

Saturday 20 February 1999: ENGLAND 24-21 SCOTLAND

The closest Calcutta Cup at Twickenham for many a long year. The teams shared six tries, with the difference one penalty kick from the boot of a young Jonny Wilkinson after Kenny Logan had a rare off day.

“The team played very well against England on the day,” – Telfer.

“I work for Jim Aitken, who always reminds me he was the last Scottish captain to win at Twickenham [in 1983]. I got a 12-12 draw right enough [in 1989],” – Gary Armstrong, Scotland scrum-half and captain.

“I think we were the better team on the day. England got the rub of the green at a couple of lineouts just because people like Neil Back and Richard Hill were in the ref’s ear all the time,” – Gordon Bulloch, Scotland hooker.

“I missed four kicks at goal, all from long range which I would normally expect to make but I had a knee injury and I couldn’t swing hard through the ball. It still haunts me a little bit that game,” – Logan.

Saturday 6 March 1999:

SCOTLAND 30-12 ITALY

It is often forgotten, and it was not part of the official Five Nations, but Scotland beat Italy in the one-month break between playing England and Ireland.

Saturday 20 March 1999:

SCOTLAND 30-13 IRELAND

Ireland were an entirely different prospect 20 years ago and the Scots were never seriously rattled. Cammie Murray was outstanding and Gregor Townsend chipped in, as he did in every game during that campaign, with one try.

“Cammie Murray played great that day, he scored two tries,” – Logan.

“I felt a burning feeling in my thumb and I had ripped the ligaments off it. They call it ‘Hillend Thumb’ because so many skiers get it. I stayed on the pitch and got it sorted afterwards,” – Armstrong.

“Stuart Grimes scored an amazing try against Ireland that year that started off from deep inside our own 22 metre line and I actually touched the ball in the build-up!” – Paul Burnell, Scotland prop.

“Most teams at the time threw to two or four or maybe to the back of the lineout. I remember we were one of the first to really mix it up with dummy jumpers and all the rest. Martin Leslie took a lot of ball standing at five. Hugh Campbell [forwards coach] was the man responsible,” – Bulloch.

SATURDAY 10 April 1999:

FRANCE 22-36 SCOTLAND

A crazy, unpredictable and utterly unforgettable game with eight tries in the first half, five of which fell to Scotland, and just three points in the second 40.

“We were getting pummelled in the opening minutes and Thomas Castaignede got injured scoring a try and got carted off. The next 30 minutes was the best rugby I have ever seen from a Scotland side under my direction,” – Telfer.

“It was a hot day and we were the underdogs because when the sun shines the French like to play a bit. Instead we played a French style of rugby, running it from all corners of the field. Kenny Logan missed one kick at goal because he had been watching himself on the big screen behind the posts...although he didn’t admit it until after the game,” – Armstrong.

“I had to return home immediately after the match because my wife was expecting our first child so I missed all the celebrations. In the end Charlie appeared two weeks late. – Burnell.

“The match was stopped for a long time for an injury to Castaignede and then [Scotland 
full-back] Glenn Metcalfe cut them to ribbons. It was the start of that era when forwards and backs became interchangeable,” – Bulloch.

SUNDAY 11 April 1999

WALES 32-31 ENGLAND

The day after Scotland’s win in Paris, Wales faced England in the final match of the Championship. A Welsh win handed the title to Scotland and denied England a Grand Slam.

“What you have to understand was after that Paris victory there was no talk of us winning the Championship whatsoever. England were becoming a very good team and while this was technically a Welsh home fixture it was held at Wembley [while the Millennium Stadium was built],” – Telfer.

“I think Wales were losing quite heavily but turned things around in the second half and then Scott Gibbs skipped past three or four Englishman to score. And 15,000 fans came to see us presented with the trophy at Murrayfield.” – Armstrong.

“It was one of those seasons when everything clicked. Taity scored two tries against England. Gregor had his best ever season at 10 and Gary as captain was absolutely brilliant,” – Logan.

“I was watching at home and as soon as the final whistle went I had every journalist in the land calling me for a reaction. The SRU invited us up to Murrayfield on the Monday night and there was a presentation of the trophy to Gary. It is a little bit of history because Scotland will forever be the last Five Nations champions,” –Telfer.

“I was watching the Wales game with [Wasps team-mate] Simon Shaw in his house and a few of us met at Heathrow for a few beers because, I think, the Leslie brothers and Glenn Metcalfe were going back to New Zealand. Gats [Warren Gatland, the then Wasps coach] told me to take a couple of days off to celebrate!” – Logan.

“It was my second Championship and I thought to myself, ‘well, there’s lots of time, I’ll maybe pick up another one or two of these!’” – Bulloch.

Scottish Rugby has chosen not to mark the 20th anniversary of this win with any special ceremony. “There isn’t anyone left there who knows much about what went on back in 1999,” – Telfer.