Calcutta Cup: How Bill McLaren helped fuel England’s overconfidence ahead of 1990 Grand Slam decider

He was the doyen of sports commentators whose neutrality and sense of sportsmanship saw him revered by rugby fans around the world.

But Bill McLaren may have had an unwitting role to play in helping Scotland beat England in the legendary 1990 Grand Slam decider.

In a new film about the match, Rob Andrew, England’s stand-off in the winner-takes-all clash, has claimed McLaren helped fuel the visitors’ sense of complacency on the eve of the game at Murrayfield.

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It was the first time the two nations had met in a Grand Slam decider and England were overwhelming favourites. But Scotland upset the odds to win 13-7 in Edinburgh and claim the Calcutta Cup, Triple Crown, Five Nations Championship and Grand Slam.

Former England stand-off speaking in The Grudge. Picture: BT Sport

In The Grudge, which will premiere in Edinburgh on Wednesday and be broadcast on BT Sport on Friday, Andrew says England paid the price for their overconfidence, lapping up the praise of McLaren. The broadcaster, who died in 2010, aged 86, commentated on rugby for the BBC from 1953 until his retirement in 2002. He was meticulous in his preparations and would watch teams train to familiarise himself with their personnel and tactics. He visited England’s base in the Borders on the day before the 1990 clash.

“I don’t know whether we were lulled a little bit because we were full of confidence,” Andrew said. “We went to Peebles to train and the legendary Bill McLaren, who was commentating on the game, would always come and watch people train.

"We had this run-through on the Friday morning and we trained really well. Nobody dropped the ball, we did it all at 100 miles an hour, and Bill said ‘you guys look amazing, that was the best training session I’ve ever seen, you’re going to be fantastic tomorrow, Scotland haven’t got a chance’.

“When you look back on it, maybe it was a bit of kidology and maybe that did catch us out a little bit.”

Scotland's Chris Gray, David Sole and Finlay Calder the 13-7 win over England at Murrayfield in 1990. Picture: David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images

Scotland won thanks to a try by winger Tony Stanger and three penalties from stand-off Craig Chalmers. It was a seminal moment in Scottish sporting history and remains Scotland’s last Grand Slam success.

John Jeffrey, a key member of the triumphant side, said the game assumed even more significance because the annual Scotland-England football fixture had been discontinued in 1989 because of crowd trouble. “They cancelled the Scotland v England football matches, so all of a sudden we were getting people at Murrayfield who were supporting the rugby team who had never supported it in their whole life,” he said. “But this was their one chance in the year to say ‘we’re Scottish and against the English’.”

The Grudge, inspired by the book of the same name by former Scotland on Sunday and Scotsman chief sports writer Tom English, makes the claim that passions had also been aroused by the political backdrop. Scotland had become a testing ground for the deeply unpopular poll tax, introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative administration the previous year.

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Roger Uttley, who was assistant to England coach Geoff Cooke in 1990, said: “If you look back politically at the time, I mean, that framed the whole England-Scotland relationship really, that the Scots deemed that all power was set down in Westminster and that they were getting the short straw. The poll tax was having a devastating effect, Thatcher was vilified. The feeling that emanated from the Scots down to us was, ‘bastards – we don’t like you and we don’t respect you. We will do everything in our power to unsettle you’.”

Captain David Sole leads the Scotland squad in song after the 1990 Grand Slam decider. Picture: Alan Macdonald/The Scotsman

The Grudge, the latest in the BT Sport Films series, premieres on BT Sport 1 at 10.15pm on January 20.

Bill McLaren at his commentary position at Murrayfield. Picture: David Davies/PA



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