Aidan Smith: Were those flip-flops the reason Scotland only finished fourth in Six Nations?

For rugby it’s been a week of naming names. Who makes the Six Nations’ team of the tournament? Who’s put down markers for the Lions?

Maybe like me these past few days you’ve been a sado-masochistic Scot, scanning the lists and tuning into the podcasts knowing only too well that few if any of Gregor Townsend’s men will feature. But you’re prepared to grimace and wince - that thistle-in-the-jockstrap feeling - because you’re invested in what they do.

Duhan van der Merwe. He’s the only player wearing dark blue I could find in the best-of XVs and by no means every selection. But two other Scots have been mentioned in dispatches, if not quite by name.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This duo pitched up post-match after Scotland’s opening-weekend win in Cardiff and appalled Sam Warburton. They were “cocky,” according to the former Wales and Lions captain. They were “really arrogant”. Wait, it gets worse. They were - what, chucking the match trophy around and denting it? Impersonating Charlotte Church and Kathryn Jenkins with joke-shop boobs? Ballsing up pronunciation of that very long Welsh town name for a laugh? No, get this: the players who brought disgrace upon themselves and their country were “wearing flip-flops”.

Former Wales international and pundit Sam Warburton took aim at Scotland players for wearing flip-flops and drinking beers following their Six Nations victory in Cardiff.Former Wales international and pundit Sam Warburton took aim at Scotland players for wearing flip-flops and drinking beers following their Six Nations victory in Cardiff.
Former Wales international and pundit Sam Warburton took aim at Scotland players for wearing flip-flops and drinking beers following their Six Nations victory in Cardiff.

Here was the proof. Incontrovertible evidence that Scotland were not credible championship aspirants, an authentic, serious team dedicated to striving for the great prizes. Hang on, Warbs could deduce all of that from a glance at what these guys were wearing on their feet? More or less …

“I am not going to throw them under the bus so they will remain anonymous,” he said, “but they were senior players in the Scotland team at the moment. I remember watching and, in my head, I thought it was shocking from a cultural perspective. They came in, beers in their hands, still in the kit, flip-flops, giving it the big one.”

So let’s try and analyse this. Scotland have a bit of previous with alcohol. It’s got some of the current generation into bother during the Six Nations (and one illustrious ex-member since hanging up his boots). This, though, wasn’t a late-night sesh with the participants cutting loose, but what we’re entitled to think was the more controlled environment of a Q&A session.

The reaction of some Scottish fans to Warburton’s remarks has been bafflement. “Rugby players drink beer after winning - shockeroonie!” was the ironic post on X from Mark McSherry, an old journo pal now based in New York. Others, though, were able to detect a familiar Scottish trait and failing, that of getting carried away after just one victory. Yes, but it was a victory in Cardiff, something not achieved in the previous 22 years. Scotland squeaked through the match, so it would be illuminating to learn how the dressing-room went from what must have been almighty relief to rampant triumphalism. I wasn’t there and no other accounts have emerged. So we’re stuck with the Warburton assessment of the twin Scots emissaries “giving it the big one”, though unhelpfully the Welsh legend doesn’t get specific about what was said.

What do we think he means by “shocking from a cultural perspective”? It’s an eye-catching phrase and one which he must have thought would please his sub-editors at the Times for whom he pens a column, but once again he scrimps on detail and there’s no further elucidation.

Was Waburton shocked by the Scots’ raggle-taggle deportment? If I’d been at the game, and fortunate enough to be able to hear some of the players’ thoughts afterwards, I wouldn’t have minded that they were still a bit muddy from the contest - indeed I think I would’ve preferred it. Perhaps Warbs is being a bit anal here. “Puritanical,” was the verdict of another Scottish fan on X. “Let’s put this in perspective … the guy used to celebrate by allowing himself a small bar of Fruit & Nut.”

Warburton is now making his way in the media, in print and on TV. A zillion words are spraffed weekly by ex-pros from all sports. Most of them are anodyne, epicly uninsightful and statements of the bleedin’ obvious - just so much pundit landfill. Former rugby players can often be smarter than former footballers and try to make their comments interesting. I commend Warburton for not being bland, and of sparking debate, although obviously his boldness stops short of naming the guilty in his eyes. Does anyone know their identities? If not, should we just remember them as “Flip” and “Flop”?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Should we be remembering them, and their actions, at all? Not in my eyes. There’s little of real value to be gained from what comes out of sportspeople’s mouths in the immediate aftermath of a contest - but real value is not what’s wanted at that time. Rather it’s something said, and possibly regretted, in the impassioned heat-of-the-moment. Maybe Warburton in these instances was always as measured as the little squares of his chocolate bar - well, good for him. Whatever was uttered in Cardiff, was it really any more than two guys being ebullient and enjoying the moment, one that had been a long time coming?

Can it really be reckoned to exemplify the Scottish sporting condition? For our rugby team was it really carried round this year’s Six Nations by all 23 members of the match-day squad as some kind of article of faith? And was it really the cause of the second-half collapse in Rome, which turned out to be the difference between a campaign where we’d all now be reflecting on the positives rather than the negatives?



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.