My first Scotland v England game was two years ago and it wasn’t a great experience. I stayed in a pretty ordinary hotel in Charlotte Square and on the Friday evening we had dinner with the Scottish committee in the College of Surgeons which was nice but unremarkable. As we returned before 11pm I went out with a friend down Rose St which is parallel to Princes St and is lined with pubs and bars, but it was incredibly quiet and we were back at our hotel by midnight.
On the Saturday morning we had time to explore Edinburgh and my impression was of a grey, dour city with lots of history but little to do. At game-time the coach dropped us off at one side of Murrayfield stadium but we had to walk a mile or so through the drizzle to the other side to a huge marquee where we were briefly entertained at the pre-match function by John Bentley, John Jeffrey and Scottish BBC commentator Jill Douglas.
As I went into to stadium before kick-off I could feel the hostility of the Scottish crowd towards the auld enemy, and during the game any attempts by the English supporters to cheer on their team were met with boos, whistles and jeers. The ensuing 15-15 draw was treated as a victory by the home support and the post-match function saw the hosts barely disguising their derision at England’s performance.
So to the 2012 match at Murrayfield. It would be fair to say that I wasn’t brimming with excitement at the thought of going to Edinburgh again having had a pretty miserable time, but there was more to look forward to. Rather than an experienced England squad building towards the 2011 World Cup I would be watching the first game of a new era with young, exciting players who would be the platform upon which the assault on the 2015 World Cup at Twickenham would be built.
The hotel this time around was the Balmoral just two minutes from Waverley Station which was very much better than the Roxburgh. I managed to meet up with a crowd from Norfolk for a beer or two before changing into black tie for dinner with the Scottish committee at Edinburgh Castle. We were shown the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Scone before the dinner where we were very warmly welcomed. A haggis was piped in and we were were given a lively rendition of Robbie Burns’ Address to a Haggis before food, wine and not a little whisky was served.
The conversations I had with a some of our hosts were about how important the alliance between the four home nations is, and that when the English RFU is in disarray it has a detrimental affect on all the others. Bill Beaumont’s failure to be elected IRB highlighted the split in the game with the Southern Hemisphere plus France and Italy on one side and the UK, Ireland and North America on the other. Courting the smaller nations will be very important to both factions and it is crucial that the traditional alliances such as that between England and Scotland remain strong.
A Saturday morning trip on a tourist bus confirmed by impression of Edinburgh as a grey city with an interesting past and if it wasn’t for the rugby I doubt I would make a habit of visiting. So I was pleased when the time came to board the coach to Murrayfield where I am glad to say we were dropped off at the entrance to the President’s Suite where we were welcomed by the Calcutta Cup.
That morning’s Scotsman newspaper had twelve pages dedicated to the game, far more I’m sure than any English paper. The cover page had two pictures; one of Andy Robinson playing for England and the other of Stuart Lancaster playing for Scotland U21s! The rest of the coverage was about how Scotland should win the game against an inexperienced England and get revenge for the World Cup defeat which saw the Scots fail to reach the quarter finals for the first time ever. This mirrored the English press which had Scotland as favourites.
I spent my time at the pre-match reception talking to Kath Vass, an SRU committee member, and her friend Wendy about the intensity of a Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield. They confirmed what I thought to be true, that beating the English is more important than any other game and it was interesting to hear the deep-rooted prejudices that exist; the English are arrogant, they only want to win, etc. Wendy in particular was very honest in that she knew to have these biases wasn’t sensible and that to some extent they colour her enjoyment of a Scotland v England game, but they are ingrained almost from birth by the history of the two countries.
The atmosphere at the game was different to that of two years ago. There was a nervousness about how Scotland would perform against this new England side and as the game progressed the passion of the Scottish support turned to something approaching desperation as the lion’s share of possession the home side enjoyed wasn’t turned into points on the board. Solid English defence and a couple of poor decisions by Scotland were the difference between the Cup staying North of the border and returning South.
At the post match dinner news of cancelled flights back to London began to filter through. Fortunately for me I was already booked on the 9:30 train to Kings Cross on Sunday morning even though it meant curtailing the post-match celebrations in what was a muted Edinburgh on Saturday night.
I enjoyed my trip this year so much more than 2010 and it wasn’t just down to a win. I sensed a slight change in attitude from the Scots in general that saw the historic rivalries not forgotten, but put more into perspective in what is a global game. I will look forward to welcoming new friends to Twickenham in 2013 and returning to Edinburgh in 2014.