The Greatest Try I Ever Saw: Scotland's Tony Stanger v England 1990

The try that would go down in Scottish folklore, from a game laden with enthralling sub-plots, political overtones and selection grudges from the 1989 Lions tour...
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The try that would go down in Scottish folklore, from a game laden with enthralling sub-plots, political overtones and selection grudges from the 1989 Lions tour...

As Scotland prepare to contest their second match at Rugby World Cup 2011, remember this vintage try from the days when rugby players didn't look like wrestlers...

I can still hear the unforgettable voice of Bill McLarens as Scotland scrum down. “Pick up by Jefferies... Jeffries to Armstrong...Armstrong nicely out to Gavin Hastings...Gavin Hastings goes for the kick through... on goes Stanger...Stanger could be there first...it’s a try!...a magnificent try!”

The Barbour jackets and hipflasks of Murrayfield ecstatically thrown aloft, rejoicing in the teeming rain as the fatal blow is struck, a blow that would propel Scotland to the most unlikely of Grand Slams. A try that would go down in Scottish folklore and lead to victory anecdotally on a par with the likes of Bannockburn, Stirling Bridge and Wembley 1967. The blow that felled Prince William Carling and his band of arrogant thugs, that sent a clear message to Thatcher that Scotland wasn’t for turning...Or maybe not.

Jim Telfer still reckons Stanger didn’t ground the ball. At the time there wasn’t much protest but a few of the England players on the pitch that day have since gone on to publicly doubt its validity. Either way it was given. For me, as a thirteen year old lad from the Scottish Borders it was the greatest thing I had ever seen.

Not only was Tony Stanger a bank clerk from my neighbouring town of Hawick, Gary Armstrong was from nearby Jedburgh and the giant farmer and madcap flanker John Jefferies from Kelso had also been to my school the previous year to give us some bruising rugby coaching.

When I watched Scotland slow walking onto the Murrayfield turf and then belting out Flower of Scotland on that March day I have never felt so Scottish in my whole life.

Add to that the towering Derek Turnbull a policeman from Hawick and the mercurial Craig Chalmers of Jim Telfer’s beloved Melrose and these were real local heroes. Accessible, global rugby stars doing the business for Scotland on the biggest stage. I watched the game in our front room, my dad was there at the game, he’d tried all week to get me a ticket but they were as rare as a Scottish Tory in those days. Oddly enough my old man is an Englishman too. From Swindon but having lived in Scotland since the early Seventies he was (and still is) a passionate Scotland rugby fan.

This had passed on to me, Scottish born but of English parents, Welsh Grandparents and Irish lineage. I’ve never felt comfortable pinning my colours specifically to one of the home nations, still don’t in truth but when I watched Scotland slow walking onto the Murrayfield turf and then belting out Flower of Scotland on that March day I have never felt so Scottish in my whole life.

From the kick off Finlay Calder received and recklessly ran into the awe-inspiring England pack. Enveloped and isolated by the titans of Ackford, Dooley and Skinner, Calder’s folly seemed to signal a fleeting moment of doubt across the nation. But as the cavalry of Sole, Burnell and the rest of Scottish pack arrived and not only rescued their combative flanker but drove the English back 30 yards there was only going to be one winning team that day. But god it was tense.

Even as I recall it now I feel my shoulder bunching. Until that try from Stanger, that training ground move of ship it right from a scrum, through hands for big Gavin to join the line from full back and kick ahead for the quick lad to chance his arm.

Even as I recall it now I feel my shoulder bunching. Until that try from Stanger, that training ground move of ship it right from a scrum, through hands for big Gavin to join the line from full back and kick ahead for the quick lad to chance his arm. Luck, as it turns out, was on the wingers side as it bounced perfectly and proud history was made on that corner of the Murrayfield turf.

Much has been written about that monumental game and the enthralling sub-plots, political overtones and selection grudges held from the 1989 Lions tour. You’ll not find a better account than Tom English’s excellent book The Grudge which crucially gives voice to Will Carling, Chairman Moore as well as the Scottish squad.

However, Stangers try remains frozen in time as the score that brought our last Grand Slam to date. The greatest single moment in Scottish Rugby in the past 20 years and although technically not the most brilliant try it remains, for me, the greatest try I ever saw.

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