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Strong Lions contingent has taken Scotland to Six Nations title before and could do again

YOU know you’re getting to the veteran stage when you think back to that wonderful day at Murrayfield when Scotland beat England 13-7 to win the Grand Slam and you realise that it was 32 years ago next month.

Bliss it was to be alive and be young-ish and fit-ish, so that as a fan without typewriter I was able to carry David Sole off the pitch at the final whistle, aided by my big pal Kenny Davis. The victory was gained by a team of underdogs who were really Lions Rampant.

That’s a very appropriate phase, I hope, for in what will hopefully be a marvellous coincidence, Scotland could repeat a bit of history involving the British and Irish Lions. For all three Grand Slams secured by Scotland in 1925, 1984 and 1990, have come in the year after a Lions tour in which Scotland had a decent representation in the Lions squad. Only the 1993 Lions with eight Scots let down the theory, as they finished last in the 1994 Five Nations though they drew with Ireland and lost by one point to England.

In the 1924 tour to South Africa by what was then the British Isles touring team, no fewer than ten of the 31 tourists were Scots and greats like Dan Drysdale, Ian Smith, Herbert Waddell, and Doug Davies played for both the Lions and the Grand Slam Immortals in 1925.

In 1983, eight Scots were in the Lions squad, and all eight featured at some point in the four fixtures of the 1984 Slam. Indeed in the final clinching match against France, there were seven Lions in dark blue, with only John Beattie missing out after his injury-hit season.

Which brings us to 1990 and the most recent Scottish Grand Slam. One of the Scottish heroes against England on March 17 – there were 16 in all – was Finlay Calder, and the previous year he had captained the British and Irish Lions to success over Australia, the Lions coming from one-nil down to clinch the Test series 2-1. There were nine Scots in the that touring party, and in 1990 only Peter Dods did not feature in the Slam.

The 1989 Lions’ party coached by Ian McGeechan had the inspirational Calder as captain, with Gavin and Scott Hastings becoming the first brothers to feature in a Lions test. David Sole played in all three tests, while Derek White and Craig Chalmers played in the first test.

The Scottish element of the squad bonded with the other nations’ representatives, Finlay Calder pointing out: “All the Scots knew each other well from our training for internationals and the club game back home, but I think it helped build a squad mentality that players were encouraged to room with players from other countries.”

History shows that after defeat in the opening test, the Lions bounced back to win the violent “Battle of Ballymore” and then clinched the series largely thanks to being gifted a try by none other than David Campese.

It was the Lions’ first series win since 1974 and the first time since 1899, again in Australia, that the Lions had lost the first game yet came back to win the test series.

The Scottish contingent then prepared for the Five Nations Championship of 1990.

Finlay Calder never likes to look back, but he is aware that with eight Scottish Lions having toured to South Africa last year, there will be comparisons to the 83-84 and 89-90 Lions-turned-Slammers, and while pointing to the fact that players gained international experience with the Lions, things have changed a lot since then.

“It’s a different game now,” said Calder. “Indeed the game we played and the game now are almost two entirely different sports.

“Back then we were amateurs. We trained as hard as we could but people had jobs to go to. The modern professional game is light years away from the game we played. Most of us from back then would not get into today’s Scotland squad.”

He’s being unfair to himself there, but the sheer size and muscularity of modern players has transformed rugby, as has professionalism.

Calder is not one of those hankering after the good old days: “The game had to go professional, and I think it was the right thing.

“Scotland has been one of a number of nations that struggled with professionalism, and the problem remains that we are not a wealthy nation like England and France.

“However, we have what I think of as a cosmopolitan squad with the likes of Johnny Gray, Stuart Hogg and others playing in the English Premiership, Finn Russell in France, and the players at Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors competing at a high level.”

Ireland did adapt to professionalism better and Calder names them favourites for what he believes will be a “tight” tournament: “Their provinces have all done well in European competition and of course they beat the All Blacks.

“Put it this way, if Scotland were to go to Dublin and win I think that would be the result of the tournament for us.”

He is hopeful that Scotland can win against England: “We are in as good a place as we have been for some years, and played really well at Twickenham last year.

“Eddie Jones seems spoiled for choice in his selection but if Marcus Smith is playing then that will be a big ask for him and England. Scotland should certainly feel optimistic about Saturday.”

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