11 JANUARY 1992, Page 39


• Rugby skinflints

Frank Keating

THE autumn's rugby World Cup has quite thrown the inbuilt calendar out of kilter. One had grown used to enjoying the five- nations tournament only through the first three months of the year. There can be too much of a good thing, especially something as indigestible as international rugby where the traditional weekend 'occasion' so often outplays the actual match itself. Still, here we go again next week with what the French call /a roulette ovale.

In fact, France sit out Saturday's opening jousts. Still disorientated, Wales will have their work cut out against the refreshing Irish side in Dublin, and as ever Scotland will be a handful for the English at Murray- field. The bulldozing, bullyboy beef of the packs will doubtless decide both matches, but should there be parity in the packs the two home sides' classier pair of half-backs should provide the telling factor. And in the resplendent Gavin Hastings, at full- back and much more besides, Scotland had far and away the best and most joyous European outfielder in all the World Cup.

In spite of their comparative success, as beaten finalists in the autumn shindig, some of the England team continue to be morose about Twickenham's attitude to professionalism and the fringe payments rugger men expect these days. It is a sur- prise that it is not the Scottish players who are making the barrack-room running here, for traditionally the Scots' rugby union have acted as the game's moral skinflints down the century.

Eighty years ago this month the SRU went bonkers when a small-ad appeared in the Scotsman — `SW France: Bordeaux rugby club require stand-off half-back. Good position assured in local wine busi- ness . . .' With such vigour did the Scottish rugby establishment pursue the issue that they had the president and secretary of the Bordeaux RFC officially banned for life from even watching rugby. Though I doubt if the Frogs took the slightest notice.

A few years before, Scotland refused to allow any of their players to tour New Zealand with the 1908 British Lions — because the All Blacks' touring team to Britain three years earlier had been given an expenses allowance to buy their meals of three shillings a day. Sixteen years later, still in a lather of moral indignation, Scot- land refused point-blank to so much as give a game to the mighty All Black 'Invincibles' of 1924.

Not till after the first war did the. Scots allow a new ball to be used for internation- als. Nor did they print match programmes. Too expensive. Only in the mid-1930s did they grudgingly allow players' shirts to be numbered, the famously autocratic SRU secretary, J. Aikman Smith, sneering, 'My office requires me to deal with a rugby match, not a cattle market.' The legendary player, Jock Wemyss, played in Scotland's last match before the first war and in their first after it. While in the trenches (where he lost an eye) he understandably mislaid his blue rugby shirt. The SRU charged him 7s 6d for the replacement.

Scotland's (still) most glorious rugby vic- tory against England at Murrayfield in 1925 was played in a bitter spell of weather. The captain, Dan Drysdale, was sharing a room with Herbert Waddell in the North British Hotel. It was perishing. They asked a cham- bermaid to make up a fire. Within the week — Scotland's first ever Grand Slam in the bag — the SRU sent them each a bill. Tor ordering a fire in Room 22— 9c1,'