Rugby: Pumas 'weren't worthy'

WHEN Scotland's rugby team run out against Argentina at Murrayfield on Saturday nostalgia will pour over at least one spectator who knows what it is like to tackle the Pumas in the heat of an international.

But for Bruce Laidlaw, who will be an honoured guest of Scottish Rugby along with other members of the 1969 tour party to South America, memories are virtually all he has to remind him of the only occasion he pulled on the dark blue jersey and tasted Test match action – in a 6-3 win to boot.

Politics of the day saw that Argentina didn't rate with the Scottish Rugby Union as worthy opponents and never mind that the first Test, also in Buenos Aires, had produced a 20-3 home win over a side containing seven of the Scots who'd started the year by beating France in Paris.

It took until 1990 for caps to be awarded but despite coming close, but not close enough, to a cap, Laidlaw is happy with his lot.

"The SRU didn't want Argentina to say they had beaten Scotland and what I remember was that I was actually out there on a wonderful rugby tour playing in a Scottish jersey alongside some colleagues who'd been on Lions tours," said Laidlaw.

Modestly, he also hints that scorelines might have been distorted by the fact the non-cap status of the game precluded the need for neutral referees which, it becomes clear, might have made a difference. "I remember in one tour match that every time the ball went inside our 25 yard line, as it was then, a penalty was awarded against us.

"It is also fair comment that the Argentineans were, to say the least, aggressive as they set about seeking the scalps that would get them more recognition. It was just a great experience on what was my only tour with Scotland, even if I was a bit naive about the political climate out there at that time. This was the era of supreme political unrest where youngsters disappeared if they disagreed with the way the country was being run and there were angry protests in the streets.

"There was so much unrest because of a general strike and up country in Rosario we were confined to our hotel while helicopters flapped overhead before swooping down to pick up protestors.

"After my 800th game of cards I cracked and went for a walk on my own believing that if I kept turning left I'd end up back at our hotel. I stumbled into a crowd surrounding a burning bus and I've never run so fast in my life as I did then."

A few days later Laidlaw lined up for the biggest match of his career in the centre role occupied earlier in the tour by another Royal High FP, subsequently uncapped and also invited on Saturday, Arthur Orr while West's Ian Murchie also played in a Test on that tour without ever being capped. That day Laidlaw, who worked for Edinburgh Council before ending his working life as a manager at the National Gallery of Scotland, had a first taste of the power that would, by 2007, make Argentina third best in the world.

"At the time we played Argentina I would have ranked them as top ten and as they developed you could see how they continued to make life difficult for opponents at the breakdowns. Nothing will have changed in that Scotland have to settle early on Saturday and stop them disrupting if Murrayfield is to see another win to follow that great victory over Australia last week."

Moving up to date, any player since 1993 has been eligible for a cap even if they appear for a matter of seconds as a blood substitute. So, how does that square with an 80-minute stint at international level recognised by the Argentinean hosts with a plaque engraved "B Laidlan" while both teams signed and presented the match ball which he has to this day?

Laidlaw is sanguine, saying: "Yes, I'd have loved a cap mainly to show my father who would have been especially proud but there's no point looking back."

Scottish football has introduced retrospective caps for players whose omission from the records was due to the fact they "only" played against countries outwith the home associations and Laidlaw is aware of the practice.

"The late rugby correspondent Brian Meek mounted a campaign some time ago citing as a precedent the New South Wales Waratahs from the 1920s who played the All Blacks and were only recognised years later when it was acknowledged that was effectively the Australian team of the day, but that didn't come to anything in Scotland.

"Besides, I've got my memories ... and my ticket for Saturday's game to see if (coach) Andy Robinson can keep doing for Scotland what he clearly did in improving the Edinburgh team."

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UNSUNG HEROES OF SCOTTISH RUGBY

A TOTAL of 29 players have represented Scotland in non-cap internationals without having gained full recognition either before or afterwards. These include current Edinburgh coach Rob Moffat, a winger who came off the bench to help seal a victory over Japan in Tokyo in 1977.

Full list: Willie Anderson (Kirkcaldy), David Ashton (Ayr), David Butcher (Harlequins), Jim Carswell (Jordanhill), Ally Donaldson (Currie), Ian Elliot (Hawick), Steve Ferguson (Peebles), Gareth Flockhart (Stirling County), Nick Grecian (London Scottish), Gary Isaac (Gala), Stuart Johnston (Watsonians), Ronnie Kirkpatrick (Jed-Forest), Bruce Laidlaw (Royal High FPs), Stuart Lang (Heriot's), Colin Mair (West), Rob Moffat (Melrose), Mark Moncrieff (Gala), Stewart McAslan (Heriot's), Ruari Maclean (Gloucester), Ian Murchie (West), Arthur Orr (Royal High FPs), Hugh Parker (Wigtownshire), Stuart Paul (Heriot's and Watsonians), Kevin Rafferty (Heriot's), Craig Redpath (Melrose), Rob Scott (Selkirk and London Scottish), Kevin Troup (London Scottish and Edinburgh Accies), Garry Waite (Kelso), Fergus Wallace (GHK), Grant Wilson (Boroughmuir).

Scotland's non cap international games: Argentina (3), Canada, Fiji (2), Japan (4), Portugal, Spain (4), Tonga (2), USA, Western Samoa, Zimbabwe (5).

List does not include matches against a French XV or the Barbarians.

• The Predictor: Guess the outcome of Scotland v Argentina