THE peerless Scotland stand-off John Rutherford played against England nine times in all throughout a stellar career. He won three of those matches, lost four and drew two. He returned from injury to make his first appearance of the 1983 season in the final match against England in a Scotland team that had yet to register a win. Some things never change. I mention that the class of ’83 was the last Scotland side to triumph at Twickenham and Rutherford seems unfazed by this uncomfortable fact.
“Well,” he replies, “we need to put that right, although I don’t know exactly how we’ll go about it! In my day there wasn’t a huge gap between us and England and Twickenham didn’t hold the same fears for us then as it seems to do now. Still, England at home were no pushover. We got hammered into them in attack and tackled everything that moved when they had the ball, just like Scotland have always done.”
The visitors prevailed 22-12 that day, with Rutherford and his revered half-back partner Roy Laidlaw in sparkling form. The scrum-half had been relieved of the captaincy before Twickenham and a weight seemed to have lifted from the Jed man’s shoulders. He scored a fine try early in the second half and the victory was sealed when Tom Smith, a former basketball international who was winning his first cap, scored from a lineout.
For Scotland, the win in London proved to be the springboard for Grand Slam success the following season. Like the 1983 team, this year’s model travels south next weekend on the back of three defeats but Rutherford believes the Scottish trait of prospering in adversity can apply at Twickenham on Saturday.
“We won in Paris in 1995 when no one gave is a chance. We completely outplayed France on the day and won it with a very good try from the Toony flip. Scotland can just do that sometimes, win when no one expects it to happen, so that’s what we have to hope for. Still England losing to Ireland last week was the very worst thing from our perspective.”
Whatever the state of Scottish rugby, “Rudd” is in great good spirits and with good reason. His home club Selkirk were promoted back into the BT Premiership last Saturday after an absence of four years. When asked where he was last weekend, Murrayfield or up at Rubislaw to see Selkirk defeat Aberdeen Grammar, Rutherford, right, confesses, just a little sheepishly, that he was cheering the “Souters” into the BT Premiership. He describes himself these days as no more than a spectator but Rutherford still chairs Selkirk’s rugby committee who, with great foresight, made what might have been the best signing of the summer.
“Peter Wright was let go by Peebles last summer so I thought we should move quickly here and he has turned out to be a fantastic coach for us,” says Rutherford. “Peter has given the boys the confidence and the freedom to play some great rugby and now we are promoted with three games still to play.
“The funny thing was that, when we interviewed him, Peter insisted that he didn’t like the spectators shouting at the referee! Pot! Kettle!
“I think Peter and Craig Chalmers are two very good coaches whose faces simply didn’t fit with Murrayfield. He is a very knowledgeable guy and I think Peter has the potential to be an outstanding coach at professional level.”
Rutherford has watched the Italy game on catch up and repeats what everyone else has said all week long. Scotland should have won and he cites the absence of Richie Gray as the decisive factor, given the form the big fella displayed in conjunction with brother Jonny prior to suffering that arm injury against Wales.
Rutherford also has words of encouragement for Peter Horne, whose missed touch finder was one reason Scotland failed to close out the match in a frantic final ten minutes. “I think Finn Russell has a great future,” he says. “And Peter Horne is a good player. I think he did all right apart from the missed touch and which one of us hasn’t done the exact same thing at some time? What he needed was an old head whispering in his ear, ‘just kick it 20 yards and we’ll win the lineout, drive it, put in a box kick and the game will be over’. But there was no old stager around to do that.
“Russell has a great all-round game and I like a stand-off that attacks the gain line. He has a good pass and kick and he offers a threat himself too, which you have to do these days. He has all the skills to excel and what I really like about him is that he is tough, he gets stuck in. He is a better defender that I was.
“So we now have a group of about five stand-offs that can do a job, Russell, the two injured guys [Ruaridh Jackson and Duncan Weir], Horne and the Edinburgh man Greig Tonks. We haven’t had that depth for a long time.”
The sorry nil from three for Scotland so far is only part of the story but Rutherford is obviously amongst the “crisis, what crisis?” camp. He has been delighted by the style of play that Scotland have showcased and argues that the team were not far away in France and could have beaten Wales with a kinder bounce of the ball and a better referee.
“I am much more bullish about Scottish rugby that I have been for years,” he says. “I have enjoyed the way we have played the game, we have a good group of players and a really good coach. Glasgow are doing well, Edinburgh are improving and the finances are in a good position. We should have beaten Italy and I am upbeat about the future.”
What about the more immediate future?
“Everything points to England winning,” he concedes, “but remember all those times that Scotland were not expected to win but did. Back in 1995 in Paris, there were a lot of fans pinching themselves because they couldn’t believe it was happening. We’ll have to hope for the same again.”
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