“It is only in sorrow bad weather masters us; in joy we face the storm and defy it”

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Round three of the RBS Six Nations is upon us and the gap week after the second round of matches will have been welcomed by some teams more than others. The fireworks of the opening weekend were always going to be tough to reproduce in week two, and for some teams there seemed to be a bit of a dampener on proceedings in the second round of the tournament. I believe that much of this was based on something that even the world’s very best players can’t control – the weather.. 

Famous American author Mark Twain once wrote that “everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it”. In rugby, teams must be capable of adjusting to the overhead and underfoot conditions presented on any given day. For the first round of games in Cardiff, London and Rome, conditions were almost perfect. With a dry ball, little wind to speak of and firm tracks, players were able to delight spectators with fantastic skills in fast, free-flowing matches. But seven days later the outlook was very different. Conditions in Dublin were dank and blowy, in Edinburgh a day of drizzle turned the ball into a proverbial bar of soap, while at the Stade de France in Paris it was the underfoot conditions rather than the rugby that caught the eye.

Yes, the match balls available in the modern day are grippy and make handling easier, but moisture, mud and grit on the ball still make it significantly trickier to pass and catch under pressure. As a result teams must be capable of tweaking their gameplan in line with the elements. Week two of this year’s championship showed how the weather has the ability to dilute the potency of attacks. Many teams chose to revert to high pressure, low risk gameplans, kicking for territory and looking to force mistakes from their opponents. Perhaps most significantly of all, all three fixtures showed how defence, rather than attack, can be the most dangerous weapon when the elements are testing.

Very rarely do we only have one Grand Slam contender after two rounds. Statisticians have trawled the history books as England, the only unbeaten team, find themselves in this position for the first time in a long while. They proved that they can play just as well in a dog fight as in the free flowing game of the opening weekend. In filthy conditions at the Aviva stadium they edged out Ireland with a stubborn and uncompromising performance, using a ruthlessly efficient form of high pressure rugby. 

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Defence wins games. England lost out on the possession battle but attacked the Irish when they had the ball, built pressure, forced errors and reaped the benefits. Ireland, meanwhile, made too many errors in their own half and gave the men in white enough of a platform to edge out a win, in the lowest scoring match in Six Nations history. 

For Scotland, their second match accentuated the ability to learn and improve quickly in a tournament that will fly by. Assistant coach Dean Ryan spoke prior to the Italy match about the foundations needed in a successful team. His focus on the fundamental elements of the game – defence and the tackle area – seems to have laid a solid platform and ultimately allowed Scotland to take a huge leap forward in a very short space of time. Admittedly, Italy are a different prospect playing away from the cauldron of the Stadio Olimpico in Rome but, to a man, Scotland rose to the challenges set and fronted up. Like England, they hassled and harried the Italians in possession and forced errors with a tangible energy at the breakdown. Three of Scotland’s tries came from turnover ball with the fourth coming from a set piece lineout executed with cold-blooded competence.

In Paris, France and Wales were both desperate to avenge first round defeats, with Les Bleus keen to display that their old va va voom was not lost. As yet, they have shown nothing to justify their status as pre-tournament favourites. In a match sorely short of highlights a George North try, David North pitch invasion and a farcical grass surface that ripped up like a poorly laid carpet were the talking points. Welsh defence coach Shaun Edwards once again takes much of the credit for the win, with his side preventing France from scoring a try at home in Six nations for only second time since 2000. Astonishingly, it is also the first time since 1982 that France have lost their opening two fixtures.

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It is perhaps not surprising that Scotland were able to achieve a win despite the less than ideal conditions against Italy. As a Scot myself, some of my own most memorable rugby wins have come when the weather has been ‘extreme’. The novelist Amelia Barr once wrote, “it is only in sorrow bad weather masters us; in joy we face the storm and defy it” – it’s not that us Scots prefer the rain, but we certainly have the advantage of practicing in it far more often than other nationalities! 

A man infinitely wiser than me once said “don’t knock the weather. If it didn’t change once in a while, nine out of ten people couldn’t start a conversation”. I’ve no doubt that after a weekend of six nations showdowns, come Monday morning the weather will be way down the list of conversation topics. Game on.

Aside

They say that a week is a long time in sport….

ImageWith an opening weekend containing energy, excitement and endless highlights, the RBS Six Nations Championship erupted into life with an extraordinary assortment of rugby. The six teams had mixed fortunes in their respective games but for all of the squads this week will have flown by.

The intensity of the Six Nations is ruthless. The physical demands of each of the games last weekend were tangible and teams will have worked hard all week on the training pitch to mend any frailties from their performances. Video analysis makes up a huge part of the modern day game. Teams will have debriefed their games, and the results will have been easier to swallow for some more than others. Every team has specialist coaches who will scrupulously inspect the footage before presenting to the squad. The presentations will typically highlight both the positive areas and the parts that must be worked on, covering every aspect of the game – attack and defence shape, execution, decision making, kicking, the tackle area and set piece. 

By sunrise the morning after the game statistics are produced by the team analysts and distributed around the squad. These sheets contain both the team statistics and individual player feedback ranging from distance covered (picked up on the GPS packs players now wear), to tackles made/missed, effectiveness at ruck clearout and number of defenders beaten. There is absolutely no hiding place – the statistics pull the pieces together and give players the facts in black and white, ensuring that each man is fully accountable to both coaches and team mates. 

I was in the North-West corner of Twickenham on Saturday afternoon for the Calcutta Cup showdown – England vs Scotland – and I didn’t need the statman’s feed (or the great in-game statistics on the BBC coverage) to work out that England dominated the game. What it did teach me though, is that when watching a game live from the stands, and especially one of that pace and ferocity, it is almost impossible to take everything in first time round. Sunday afternoon found me glued to the game for a second occasion, this time from the comfort of my sofa, picking up on the detail I missed watching from the stands.

The battle at the breakdown was something Scott Johnson and Dean Ryan highlighted prior to the match and was the key area Scotland lost out at. In the modern day game it is commonly seen as one of the areas which dictate the outcome. England in possession were accurate, efficient and aggressive. Crucially, they generated front foot ball giving Ben Youngs and, latterly, Danny Care the lightning quick ball that every scrum half in the world thrives upon. Watching live I didn’t appreciate the gargantuan effort the likes of captain Kelly Brown and his comrades put in at the tackle area in an attempt to slow things down. However this effort and bravery, more often than not, only momentarily halted the barrage of English attacks. 

Owen Farrell played like a seasoned campaigner way beyond his years. He was ably assisted by debutant sidekick Billy Twelvetrees who brought dangerous strike runners into the game and was threatening himself. A feature of play Stuart Lancaster has brought in under his tutelage of England is their ability to identify and attack space. This puts opposition defenders in two minds reducing the likelihood of ‘t-bone’ tackles and neutralising the strife at the tackle area. The ultimate result is quick ball, and it is little wonder so many of the Scottish players said afterwards that this was the most tiring game they’d ever played. Constantly defending is energy-sapping.

Though Scotland had only 38% of the possession and 36% territory on Saturday, they will be buoyed by their two outstanding tries. Stuart Hogg was Scotland’s best performer –  speedy and elusive from fullback, he created the first try with a searing break and scored the second after a 95 metre turnover counterattack. Sean Maitland looked classy and scored within ten minutes of making his international debut. Johnnie Beattie was physical, dynamic and a real handful throughout. Scotland only had ten days under their new coaching team to prepare for the England clash and I believe they will have taken another step forward in training this week.

(match stats – http://www.rbs6nations.com/en/matchcentre/7991.php?section=stats&fixid=153765)

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One game whereby the statistics didn’t tell the whole story was the opener between Wales and Ireland at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. Ireland rocketed out of the blocks absolutely dominating the first half. Brian O’Driscoll, earning his 121st cap, rolled back the years and lit up the game with an outside arch and sumptuous pass to put Simon Zebo into the corner for the opening try of the tournament. Ireland’s second try came when Rory Best charged down a Dan Biggar clearance. Regathering the ball 40 metres out, he found Jamie Heaslip with an audacious left handed pass. The pass from Heaslip to Zebo was wayward but with a touch that Lionel Messi would be proud of he controlled the ball with his left foot, flicking it and regathering. Two phases later, Cian Healy barged his way over from close range. At 23-3 down at halftime Wales were in disarray, inferior in every facet. 

O’Driscoll, in his final Six Nations tournament, stretched the lead immediately after the break, burrowing over for a try from close range. Ireland perhaps relaxed, Gordon D’Arcy left the field injured and Welsh scavenger Justin Tipuric entered the fold. His introduction provided the spark Wales desperately needed. Alex Cuthbert scythed through replacement Keith Earl’s channel to score from close range. With Rory Best in the sinbin for multiple team offences at the breakdown, the shift in momentum was confirmed when Wales created space for Leigh Halfpenny to dive in at the corner. Best had no sooner returned from the naughty step before Connor Murray was sent to the bin after constant raids on Irish territory. Craig Mitchell blasted his way over with a few minutes to play but it proved too little, too late.

The stats confirmed that it was a game of two-halves with Wales totally dominating all but four minutes of the second half with 79% possession and 81% territory! However, the 200 tackles Ireland made were clinical enough to hold off wave upon wave of Welsh attack and the lead they had built proved to be unassailable. Welsh coach Shaun Edwards made it clear in a post-game interview where he felt the game was won and lost – “That man O’Driscoll was the difference between the two teams. I wish someone had left him in Ireland”. 

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The final fixture between joint-favourites France and wooden spoon contenders Italy in Rome emerged from the shadows of Sunday afternoon as the stand out game of the weekend . With both teams dressed in the classy three-stripes of Adidas, you’d have been forgiven for thinking the dominant team in white were odds-on favourites France. It was, however, the passionate Italians who ran rampant, rattling the unpredictable French whose minds seemed to be elsewhere. In an era whereby rugby is viewed as being a game dominated by bulk, physical size and power it was refreshing to see the most diminutive player on the field, Luciano Orquera, dictating proceedings. At just 5ft7” and 79kg, the thirty year old played the game of his life kicking a dropgoal, two conversions and a penalty. Equally as significant was his sizzling break to send talisman Sergio Parisse in for the opening score after four minutes and his deft touch later in the game which created space for Castrogiovanni to score. An old coaching friend of mine often used the phrase “dangle the carrot in front of the donkey” and Orquera did this all day, executing kicks with accuracy, keeping the monsterous Italian pack on the front foot and subsequently defusing the French armoury. The Azzurri played like men possessed and were unwavering for 80 minutes. Les Bleus, meanwhile, had a bout of the sunday blues.

Statistics reflected a tight game. Italy won due to their ability to capitalise on visits to the French half. France only conceded four penalties in the 80 minutes yet Orquera and his replacement Burton kept the scoreboard ticking over with drop goals. Even on a day to forget, France had the chance to win the game at the death. The sporting gods, however, were smiling on Italy. Expect a backlash from France. They’ll bare their teeth soon, of that I have no doubt.

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It has been said before that a week is a long time in sport but whoever said it wasn’t referring to the Six Nations Championship. Last weekend’s matches have long been debriefed and opponents for this coming weekend previewed. Though players will have been fed a plethora of information there’s no danger of paralysis by analysis. The only thing that matters to all six teams taking the field this weekend is the statistic on the scoreboard at the final whistle.

I’d rather be out there creating more memories but one thing’s for sure, I can’t wait to see how things pan out. 

It’s early days but momentum is key….

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It’s early days but momentum is key….

The stage is set after months of anticipation – lineups have been named, players are poised and hordes of fans across Europe are warming their vocal chords, planning their entire weekends around kick-off. The RBS Six Nations is back. 

The premier tournament in the world’s annual rugby calendar begins this weekend and as always, after more than two months without an international, it is an incredibly tough one to predict. Many of the previews i’ve read have understandably based their early predictions on the form of the Autumn believing that the 2013 Six Nations is going to be a two-horse-race between the red rose of England and Les Blues of France. As a subplot, for four nations the spotlight shines even brighter, with the carrot of places on the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia this summer dangled in every round. 

The dust has settled on the results of November but the astonishing nature of England’s victory against the World Champion All Blacks has them approaching their opener against Scotland full of confidence and belief. Progress has been immeasurable across the last 12 months under the tutelage of Stuart Lancaster and his team of coaches, and what’s more they have the comfort of a home advantage for three of their matches. There is no doubt that collectively England will want to pick up where they left off at Twickenham against the All Blacks, and do their best to silence those critics who believe that the ABs, struck down by illness, were an easier target than usual. Chris Robshaw will, as ever, lead from the front with an effervescent workrate while Joe Launchbury aims to build on a reputation that has snowballed since his Autumn performances.

France, meanwhile, destroyed a wounded (literally) Australian squad, savagely grabbed the Argentinian Pumas by the jugular, and finished an unbeaten series with victory against a confident Samoan side brandishing the scalp of the Welsh dragon from Cardiff. Their domestic game is simmering with Toulon, Montpellier and Clermont Auvergne all pushing for European glory and head coach Philippe Saint-Andre has a squad in rude health to select from. The French face a tricky opener in Rome where they lost to the Azzurri last time round but the physicality, unity and guile that they played with in November is worlds apart from 24 months ago. With daunting trips to Twickenham and to Ireland’s Aviva Stadium later in the tournament they will need the power of behemoth number 8 Louis Picamoles, the twinkle toes of Wesley Fofana and the game management of halfbacks Frederic Michalak and Maxime Machenaud to prevail.

The Celtic connection struggled to navigate their way through the Autumn storm without severe damage, but are the cracks still open or have the necessary repairs been made to allow the Scottish, Irish and Welsh squadrons to relaunch? 

Scotland bounced back from the wooden spoon in the 2012 championship with a successful summer tour of Australia, Fiji and Samoa. But it provided only momentary respite with their EMC Autumn Series one to forget. Losses to the top 2 ranked teams in the world (New Zealand and South Africa) were tough but it was the shattering result in Aberdeen against a combative Tongan side that proved to be the end of Andy Robinson’s time in charge. As a result there is a very different look to the Scottish setup. Scott Johnson has quickly settled into his new role and has been forthright with his selection policy with one eye on form and the other on the future. Lest we forget, England were in a very similar position this time last year but have made progress based on performances and results – something which will be equally important for the boys in blue. Dean Ryan is an outstanding appointment as forwards coach. He will grab the bull by the horns and demand the very best of his men. His knowledge of English rugby is second to none and he has been straight talking in saying that he’d like to leave a few ‘bloody noses’ behind at the end of his short-term contract. Johnnie Beattie has discovered a new lease of life in the south of France and has the skillset to light up any game in a split-second. For years the firepower of Scotland’s attack has been questioned but with a quality pack providing set piece ball and the names of Maitland, Lamont, Visser and Hogg in the squad, expect them to ask plenty of questions of opposition defences. 

Wales are bruised and damaged after 7 consecutive losses through the second half of 2012, but go into the 2013 season as holders and Grand Slam winners last time out. Questions continue to be asked about the sustainability of their domestic game a the mass exodus to France threatens. Lions head coach Warren Gatland steps back from his role with Wales and the next 7 weeks will hold huge significance for players looking to impress him and book a summer trip to Australia. They start the tournament with a handful of injuries having been hit particularly hard with the loss of three established locks. However, in the shape of Alex Cuthbert, George North, Eli Walker, Leigh Halfpenny and Lee Byrne, they have an embarrassment of riches to select from in the back 3. Life, it seems, goes on without King Shane Williams. Adam Jones’ return to fitness at tighthead prop is a huge boost and will add to the horsepower of the scrum. With good ball Wales have always had individuals capable of a mesmeric moment of brilliance to break a game. They hope the opening game against Ireland will stop the rot and provide a launchpad for more success this time round.

Ireland’s loss to Wales at the Aviva Stadium in their opening game of the 2012 tournament showed just how crucial momentum is in the 6 Nations. Their opener in Cardiff carries even more significance as in round 2 they return home for a showdown with England. As a result they’ll be desperate to power out of the blocks. They fly over the Irish Sea boosted by the return to fitness of Sean O’Brien, Rob Kearney and talisman Brian O’Driscoll after a loss to the Springboks and big wins against Fiji (uncapped fixture) and Argentina in the Autumn. Their domestic teams continue to impress on all fronts. After a trio of Heineken cup wins in the last 4 years Leinster were narrowly pipped to a quarter final spot by a rampant Munster side in the final round. Ulster topped a tough group and sit pretty, 11 points clear at the top of the RaboDirect Pro 12. Jonathan Sexton has stolen transfer headlines in recent weeks and will be desperate to show why European rugby’s biggest spenders chased his signature so desperately. I know they typically love their food but i’ll never claim to know much about the dark arts of the front rowers in the scrum. Critics, however, suggest there is a vulnerability to the Irish pack. If they can hold their own and unleash the likes of new skipper Jamie Heaslip, pocket rocket prop Cian Healy and slippery wingers Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy in open play, they are sure to capitalise on exposed weaknesses.

Finally to Italy. They will be determined, under coach Jacques Brunel, to take the positives of an Autumn victory against Tonga and an excruciatingly narrow loss to the Wallabies into this years tournament. Treviso’s mid-table status in the Pro12 has them easily competing against many of their opposition week on week and with 3 games at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico the Azzurri will have their eyes on taking a scalp or two. If Sergio Parisse had been born in New Zealand he could have been an all time great All Black such is his talent and class. Their talisman will continue to lead from the very front with shaggy monster Martin Castrogiavanni anchoring a powerful and monsterous pack. The key to their achievements this year could lie in performances of lesser known players, the likes of young centre Tommaso Benvenuti and lock Francesco Minto.

 

Predictions, Predictions – Round 1

Wales vs Ireland

A fixture which, for years, i’ve loved to watch as a neutral. This one is every bit as appetising with a number of players looking to book an early spot on the Lions tour in June. It will be decided by fine, fine margins. There promises to be a fascinating showdown at halfback and a mouth-watering battle in the midfield where Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy combine for a record 48th time against the power and guile of Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts. Set pieces, as ever, will set the tone. Even the bookmakers have sensed that this one is almost impossible to call but I expect the madness and energy provided by the crowd and their rendition of Land of my Fathers will help squeeze the Welsh over the line. 

England vs Scotland

Simply put, this historic fixture is one that unites six million Scots every year against the Auld Enemy. For England, the nation will accept nothing but victory. Twelve months ago the Calcutta Cup returned south from Edinburgh and started the journey for Stuart Lancaster and his army in white. In a dour affair, a narrow victory at Murrayfield was settled only by a Charlie Hodgson chargedown try. Expect Scotland’s interim head coach Scott Johnson and Dean Ryan to encourage their Scottish underdogs to play in the right areas and exert territorial pressure with a big emphasis on kick chase. Jim Hamilton and Richie Gray are giant towers of Scottish beef in the boiler house and will look to ask questions of Tom Youngs throwing at lineout time. There is, however, a settled looked to the English side for whom on-form Billy Twelvetrees debuts in place of the injured wrecking ball Manu Tuilagi. The bookies believe that England’s power game and the dependable kicking of Owen Farrell will lead them to a victory by more than two scores. Passion will undoubtedly run high and i’m looking forward the the atmosphere at English rugby’s headquarters. Expect a surprise or two from the Scots. Victory for the first time since 1983?….we’ll see.

 

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Italy vs France

Rome is one of the finest cities in the world, steeped in history. Being able to balance the focus of the game with the ability to switch off and enjoy the spectacular surroundings the city offers is crucial, but easy to get this wrong. I expect the French, however, to brace themselves for battle in the cauldron of the Stadio Olimpico. Italy enter this year’s tournament with a new attitude and a belief that they have closed the gap. They will measure success, not on performances, but on wins. Though the are powered by a pack of forwards who you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, questions continue to be asked whether they have the firepower behind the scrum to really dominate. Luciano Orquera must have his most accurate radar attached to his right boot to stay in touch. The French can be capricious on foreign soil, but with a dry day forecast on Sunday perfect for the likes of fleet-footed Maxime Mermoz, I expect Thierry Dusautoir to lead France to the two score win many predict.

6 Nations Blog – They’ll be dancing in the streets….

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With a voice almost operatic in clarity and range, instantly recognisable and uniquely blessed with a Borders twang, Bill McLaren “The Voice of Rugby” enjoyed almost 50 years as a national broadcaster. Three years have flown by since his passing but many of the great rugby moments he created with his magical turn of phrase are still fresh in the mind. I’m so lucky to have grown up around Bill McLaren, Papa to me, and with the 2013 Six Nations Championship fast approaching I felt what better place to start than to write a few words on the man himself.

William Pollock McLaren was a big, raw-boned flank forward born and brought up in Hawick, where he began his rugby career playing for the famous Greens. After returning from fighting at Monte Cassino in the Second World War war he came agonisingly close to winning his first Scotland cap, but was struck down by tuberculosis before he could fulfill his dream of playing for his country. He was one of 7 patients chosen by doctors to trial a new drug in the hope of curing the disease – two survived. Forced to give up playing the game he loved so dearly he joined the Hawick Express as a junior reporter and it was his editor John Murray Hood who suggested he audition as a commentator.  Our national team’s loss was the rugby world’s gain.

His first national radio commentary was on South of Scotland versus the touring Springboks at Hawick’s home ground, Mansfield Park, in 1952. The following year he called his first international match, Scotland’s 12-0 loss to Wales in the early stages of TV broadcasting. In the five decades that followed his voice became synonymous with rugby both in Scotland and across the world, bringing the game to generations of fans. His style enticed even those who didn’t know the game well, adept as he was at explaining technicalities and highlighting the flair of players. Even for those fans who couldn’t quite grasp the rules, Papa would make sure they had something to appreciate.

He was a true student of the game and it is difficult to describe just how dedicated he was to the sport and to his role, determined to both entertain and educate the listener. His pre-game research was relentless. I remember visiting Hawick to see Nana & Papa with the family many times as a youngster. My brother Gregor and I would trawl our way through his endless pile of video tapes, digging out copies of matches involving our heroes. We’d watch them while Papa worked tirelessly in his ‘glory hole’ (office) preparing for his next match. Hours later he’d run us down to Wilton Lodge Park and we’d relive the great moments of the matches we’d watched earlier commentating our way through it… “Jeffries with the pickup from the scrum, feeds to Rory Lawson, Lawson to Chalmers, on to the ball comes Hastings, Gavin Hastings with pace and power, rounds Underwood, over the top of Carling, links with Gregor Lawson who scores in the corner! What a score.”

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His preparation for each match was systematic, accurate and perfectly planned. In the early part of the week he’d prepare his ‘Big Sheet’, to guide him in the heat of the moment during commentary. Best described as a giant, hand written, 1000 piece jigsaw, it would outline the names of players and officials, detailing position, club, caps, tries scored, favourite tv show, match history…the list of facts was endless. For those of you have seen one of Papa’s Big Sheets I’m sure you’ll agree each one really is a work of art, elaborately colour-coded in a way only he could understand.

Papa had the most incredible memory, and in the run up to a game he would sharpen his tongue using a technique that was incredible to watch. He had a scabby old pack of cards made up of numbers 1-15 in both red of diamonds and black of clubs. He’d use a marker pen to graffiti the Ace as number 1, the Jack #11, the Queen #12, King #13 and the Jokers with numbers 14 and 15. He would shuffle the cards randomly and then turn them over one by one, reciting the name of the player due to wear that number, as well as the endless fact he had gathered for each man. As the week developed he would produce the cards at a mesmerising pace, names rolling effortlessly off his tongue simply at the flash of a number as he visualised a game and executed a phantom commentary.  The homework he did meant he very rarely made a mistake in broadcast and the information was delivered not as dry pieces of data but as wonderful gems which were soaked up by the listener.

With these foundations in place he could rely on his wit, compassion, humour and inexhaustible resevoir of adoration for the game and its people to set him apart. Perhaps the greatest wonder of BIll McLaren’s commentary was his total impartiality. No matter whether he was commentating on South Africa vs Australia, Edinburgh vs Bath, Hawick vs Gala or on his son-in-law (my dad) scoring two tries for Scotland in the 1976 Calcutta Cup match vs England, Papa simply revelled in the rugby. How else do you explain him describing “Big Vleis Visagie – born when meat was cheap”, “Peter Stringer – they say in Cork that if you catch him you get to make a wish”, “Thomas Castaignede – the baby faced assassin”, “Simon Geoghan – all arms and legs like a flying octopus” and after scoring an outstanding try for the All Blacks “Hika the hooker from Ngongotaha”?!

I feel blessed to own a video tape of him commentating on me and my brother playing together. Yes it was only a Scottish Premiership club game between Heriots and West of Scotland, but the 20 seconds that he commentated on the 8-9-15 move that had touches for both Lawsons and finished with Gregor scoring under the posts will always be pulled out from time to time for another watch! It’s safe to say he didn’t save his unique turn of phrase for broadcasting alone. He was a great golfer and taught me how to swing my sticks, describing some of my poorer shots as “a right howk”. He affectionately referred to us grandkids as “The Hitler youth”, and spoke of dinner with the family as “like feeding time at the zoo”.

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As a family we miss those days so dearly but do so with a smile on our faces thinking of the endless memories he has given us. He was the most wonderful humble man, a true gent and an inspiration to me. Little did he realise how well loved he was by rugby fans worldwide. I’ve never felt more proud than on that March afternoon at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff where i joined 80,000 others in belting out “for he’s a jolly good fellow” prior to his final international commentary, Wales vs Scotland,  the same fixture where it all began. During the game I spotted a Welsh fan holding a banner in the crowd saying “Bill McLaren is Welsh”, which seems to encapsulate just how loved he was by the rugby public, who took him to their hearts regardless of their club or nationality.

In his final interview he was asked what the best thing was about his 50 years as a commentator at rugby matches. His answer? “I’ve hardly ever had to pay to get in.” For a Hawick man who loved every part of the game of rugby union, what better could he ask for than to watch the sport he loved week upon week and year upon year. He has left a legacy of the finest voice ever heard in the sport. What a guy.

ImageFor more information on how his legacy lives on please visit and sign up to http://www.billmclarenfoundation.co.uk