There was no open-top bus parade round the pitch last night so no dangerous whiff of a victory procession before the tournament had even begun.
Gregor Townsend, pictured, did not replicate the Ally Shuffle – Ally MacLeod’s bashful saunter onto the pitch, hand awkwardly stuffed in blazer pocket. And the players were not given individual introductions by the stadium announcer, along the lines of: “Ladies and gentlemen, this guy’s aptly-named. He might not be called Chib and he’s not Plunge either but he is as sharp-as, around the loose. It’s … BLADE THOMSON!”
Oh, and absolutely no one sported a bubble perm like Alan Rough, Asa Hartford and others in the Argentina 1978 mob (thank God).
This might have been billed as a World Cup send-off but the lessons from football 41 years ago have been well-learned. The bombast of that night may have been exaggerated – it wasn’t actually stage-managed by Cecil B. DeMille and Busby Berkeley, but the rugby team were intent on doing things their way, such as providing the crowd with a game. Hampden, you’ll remember, didn’t get one. Rugby in Scotland right now has no need to copy football, not when Murrayfield is packed out and Hampden often isn’t. Last night’s crowd was 53,406. So the sequence of 15 home sell-outs was broken, but this was still a remarkable gathering for a friendly against, with respect, less-than-stellar opposition, especially when compared with the smaller gate across the country for the far more crucial round-ball contest.
This was a quick rematch against a team thumped 44-10 by the Scots in Tbilisi last weekend, although Finn Russell, who stage-managed that victory with Berkeley-esque flourishes, was missing along with other first-choice names. The hope was the playmaker had flown to Japan early on a private flight (what’s wrong with that?) to rest up with enough of his favourite Pick ‘n’ Mix to last him possibly even until the semi-finals.
As the evening sun dappled the toppermost rows – all full – these fans know they’re guaranteed thrills. One of the slowest teams in the sport has transmogrified into one of the fastest. There was no Stuart Hogg either last night, but Sam Johnson and Darcy Graham – try-scorers at Twickenham in the greatest game of all time – were more than decent wow-factor back-ups.
In a slow, scrappy start, with Georgia almost scoring first and Zander Fagerson involved in front-row argy-bargy which would eventually earn him a yellow, Johnson and Graham did indeed combine for the opening try. Full-back Soso Matiashvili showed great endeavour to make an eel-like escape from his own line but was eventually caught. Blair Kinghorn began the surging break down the left; Ali Price finished it.
The second try quickly followed when Russell’s deputy borrowed a kick from Finn’s book of tricks, the dink over the last man for the winger, in this case Graham. It wasn’t the most accurate but the blond-streaked imp made the best of it, setting up Kinghorn.
Georgia were stuffy opponents who were keeping in touch via penalties but there was better precision about Hastings’ pass for the third try early in the second half, Johnson the beneficiary.
The game started to fizzle out after that, the crowd content to perform a Mexican Wave, something which wouldn’t happen at Hampden. There’s more cynicism in football and more hard-bittenness among the Tartan Army at the repeated failure to reach finals when of course the rugby team haven’t had to qualify for theirs.
But don’t criticise Murrayfield for its innocence, or its exuberant support for their flair-packed favourites. The crowd wanted a Graham try and it duly arrived. Next stop Japan, though not by bus.