The Worst of Times: Under siege by mad Scotsmen: Will Carling talks to Danny Danziger

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Indy Lifestyle Online
WE WERE playing brilliant rugby all that year. We'd played Ireland, Wales and France, and beaten them soundly, and we just had Scotland left - if we won that, we won the Grand Slam. And we were expected to win, everyone expected us to win, especially as Scotland had only scraped through their games.

The match was to be played at Murrayfield. We trained the day before we flew up. It was a brilliant session, everybody still says it was the best one we ever had, we didn't drop a ball.

Saturday morning everyone has a big breakfast. Some people have bacon and eggs, Brian Moore has mashed potatoes, I have Weetabix, a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce, and lots of bananas.

When we got to the ground, we dropped off the kit and had a walk on the pitch. It looked great, Murrayfield is a lovely ground. The grass was fairly short and dry - ideal for running.

Everything was ideal.

When we came out for the game, the atmosphere was different from anything I had ever experienced. It is always very nationalistic at Cardiff, you expect that, but we had never had that in Scotland. This time, there was real emotion; there was more noise, more patriotism - more hatred - than I have ever experienced.

Usually, both teams run out from the changing rooms on to the field, but they walked out very slowly, and the place went berserk. It was completely stage managed, but they did it very well.

David Sole was the Scotland captain. I first met him when he was playing down in Bath, and he was a terribly pukka Englishman as far as I knew. But then he went up to play for Scotland, and he suddenly had och, and wee, and all this - it was, like, 'Hang on a minute, I thought you were English.'

The national anthem was played first, and it was just whistled down, so we couldn't really hear it. And then they sang 'The Flower of Scotland', which was the first time they had sung it before playing England, and it was incredibly emotional.

In the first few minutes everything happened; they kicked off and won two penalties straightaway, they hit us hard at everything - we got knocked all over the place. They were speeding everything up and pinching all the balls, while taunting our lads with nationalistic, Scottish stuff . . . not really anything you could put in print. It was like we were moving in slow motion compared with them.

We didn't play our normal game, we began to panic. We tried to start a rolling maul, which we had never done in any other games: we had stopped thinking rationally, and things went to pieces.

You could hear the crowd all the time, they were going mad. It felt incredibly claustrophobic in that stadium, it was like being under siege. They had got us, and there was absolutely nothing we could do. What a nightmare. You are on the field losing, and you have 60,000 Scotsmen loving it, absolutely loving it . . . .

The last play of the game was symbolic. I was meant to take the ball up and pass it round, but the guy I had to pass it to wasn't there, and I remember getting hit by about four of their players, and dumped on the floor, with all their forwards standing over me.

And then the ref blew the whistle, and all the Scottish players were hugging each other, while our lot were absolutely shattered. Some people cried.

I have lost a few times, but that was the worst I have ever seen it in the locker room. Usually when you lose you are pretty down, but then people start picking up in the bath, 20 minutes later someone is cracking jokes, but the whole afternoon, people were dead.

There was a black-tie dinner, and a big dance afterwards, and I had to make a speech. It was not a great evening. A few of our lads drank very heavily that night, but it wasn't fun. I went to bed at about 12.

The press slaughtered us. My captaincy was absolutely atrocious, we were tactically nave. I didn't actually want to read all that, but somehow it always gets put in front of you.

People would come up in the street and say, 'You don't know how upset I was', or 'I had 10 quid on that game'. Mainly, it was, 'How could you lose?]'

I called a lot of the team to see how they were. They'd say, 'Yes, we're fine now.' Men are men, aren't they, no one gives too much away, but I knew everyone was really cut up underneath.

My father said to me, 'I bet you you will learn more from that as a team than anything else', and we did, we won two Grand Slams in the next two years, basically because of that game, because we never wanted to lose like that again.

So although it was the worst experience I have been through, that was the experience I learnt the most from.

'Will Carling, The Authorised Biography', by David Norrie, is published by Headline.

(Photograph omitted)

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