Six Nations: Ex-Scots on Twickenham dry spell

Scotland celebrate versus England at Twickenham in 1983. Picture: Hamish Campbell
Scotland celebrate versus England at Twickenham in 1983. Picture: Hamish Campbell
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Scotland have won at Twickenham just four times in the last century, most recently in 1983. Stuart Bathgate asks six former caps why

There are some teams who, to use the cliché, do not travel well. The further from home they go, the more vulnerable they are to surprise defeats.

Scotland are not one of those teams. They have invariably shown the same will to win on their travels as they have done at Murrayfield. Even in the past couple of years, hardly a vintage period for the national team, they have won in Australia and Argentina.

And yet they hardly ever win at Twickenham. It is the easiest journey of all to make, to a city which many of the squad know well, but Scotland have won only four times since the annual fixture with England was first played there in 1911.

They retained the Calcutta Cup with a 16-7 victory in 1926, the year after their first Grand Slam. They won the Triple Crown there in 1938, winning 21-16 in the fixture which became known as Wilson Shaw’s match.

The next win did not come until 1971, but that 16-15 result was one of four consecutive victories for Scotland. The other three all came at Murrayfield, including the RFU centenary match just a week after the Twickenham triumph.

Most recently, they won in 1983, by 22 points to 12. Another Grand Slam was just a year off, and such was the ability of the Scotland team who won that day, they could reasonably have expected to notch up another few wins there over the next decade or so.

But those wins did not materialise. Not in the 1980s, not in the 1990s, and not, so far at least, in this century either. A 12-12 draw in 1989 is the closest Scotland have come since ‘83 to pulling off another victory at the place the English call HQ.

Is this poor return just a statistical quirk, or are there specific reasons for it?

This week, Scotland stand-off Ruaridh Jackson said that Twickenham has the most antagonistic atmosphere of all Six Nations grounds. Could that play a part?

We asked six former Scotland internationals, whose careers span half a century, to assess the national team’s poor record there.


Played in the 3-3 draw at Twickenham in 1959. Never won there.

“It’s pretty dire. I played four times at Twickenham and didn’t win, and on the first occasion we lost by four tries to nil, which was a bit of a hammering in those days. That England side was the best international team I played against. It was second to none, including the All Blacks and the Springboks.

“But apart from that one game there was never much in it. In the 1963 game we were 8-0 up, but lost 10-8.

“England regularly fielded very strong teams over my time, and the sheer weight of numbers accounts for a lot. Fifty years ago, the received wisdom was that if England got their selection right, with a good captain, they were very hard to beat.

“They didn’t often get it right. But when they did, with a good captain… well, think back to Martin Johnson, Will Carling, Bill Beaumont.

“I played at Twickenham a lot, for the services and at university as well, and I honestly don’t think it’s any more intimidating than any other international ground. The terracing used to be pretty close to the pitch, which made it slightly more in your face.”


Scored the winning points at Twickenham in 1971.

“It wasn’t more difficult for us. I played there on four occasions and only lost twice – we got a draw in 1965 and then the win in ‘71. In my era, the difficult place to go was Wales. In my ten years in international rugby, Wales had a great team.

“Who can tell why our record at Twickenham is so bad? You approach every match as a one-off, not as part of a long series, and there were other games we should have won there. In 1973, for instance, we could have beaten them, but we lost 20-13.

“And in 1965 we could have won. David Chisholm went to his grave saying he had scored. The try wasn’t given, but with modern technology it would have been.

“This afternoon it will depend on who performs on the day. Regardless of what has gone before. I’m always optimistic: I don’t ever accept losing. Our father brought us up so we were always very surprised when we lost. We expected to win, and these days I try to take that attitude on to the golf course.”


Played in the victorious 1983 team.

“I remember a tight game and a couple of leatherings as well as that win at Twickenham 30 years ago. And the draw in 1979 as well.

“I didn’t think there was any difference between the atmosphere at Twickenham and at other grounds. It was right noisy, but no different from Wales, Ireland or even France.

“England usually had the best players, but they didn’t always put them on the pitch. But sometimes our game against them was the last game of the season, and when that happened they would have worked out their best team by then.

“There’s a lot of good players who have not won at Twickenham, but when we went there we never used to worry about what had gone before.

“We probably didn’t even know what had happened when Scotland teams went there in the 1920s or ‘30s.

“We’ve no form going into this game and England have. They beat the All Blacks: we lost to Tonga.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t win, but we’ll have to match them for physicality.”


Played alongside Renwick at Twickenham in 1983.

“I loved Twickenham. I know our players loved the atmosphere of really noisy, raucous crowds.

“Guys in the enclosure were at eye level, and so close they could almost speak to you. That spurred me on.

“It doesn’t matter what ground you’re at, it’s hard for a Scotland team to win.

“But we won at Twickenham in 1983, and we should have won again in ‘85, when four or five of us were chasing a bouncing ball and if it had bounced the right way we would have scored and won [it didn’t, and Scotland lost 10-7].

“We were close in every game we played against them.

“In the 1983 victory we were under pressure in the scrums, but we managed to secure our own ball fairly well, and that was very important. As a side we knew we could play in a certain way, and it worked on the day.

“For me, this weekend’s game comes down to the front row getting on top of the scrums, because we do have the game-breakers in the backs. I honestly don’t think they’ll have a care about the past.”


Also played in the last Scotland team to win at Twickenham.

“I played there when we lost in ‘81 and when we won in ‘83, and I played for Stew-Mel there when we won the Twickenham Sevens. It was just a very open venue. The crowd tended to be quite British – not hugely partisan compared to France and Wales.

“When we played there, England were not that good, and their team was not full of big names. In ‘83 we had ten Lions, and I don’t know of a Scotland team before or after that had quite so many. Eight had been Lions, two would go on the tour later, and David Leslie should have been picked – and I say that as someone whose place he would have taken.

“I always remember the day before the game, their captain, John Scott, was interviewed and asked about the match. He said he was more worried about his after-dinner speech…

“This Scotland team is not full of people for whom a journey to Twickenham is a big adventure. It’s a strong team who can compete, and I think [assistant coach] Dean Ryan has been a very positive influence.”


Won Grand Slam against England at Murrayfield in 1990. Never won at Twickenham.

“There should not be any particular reason why we’ve not won there for so long. We’ve won twice in Australia recently, and you’d expect that to be a tougher place to go to.

“We’ve always struggled to beat the All Blacks, which is down to the quality of the teams they produce. We always expected a difficult match at Twickenham, but we never went there thinking it would be tougher than any other venue in the Five Nations, and I never found it any more hostile.

“In my era it was hard for us to win in Paris as well. You play at France and England in the same year, and you tend not to fare so well in those years.

“The record becomes a millstone round your neck if you let it, though you know it’s not impossible. I work as the talent manager now at the Sport Scotland Institute of Sport, and one of the things our psychologists do is prepare people for performing at away grounds. Home advantage does exist, but it can be overcome.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to Scotland’s record there. It’s just likely over the longer haul to be a stiffer test than Ireland or Wales, because of England’s numbers and resources.”