Saturday, 15 March 2014

I Was There

Apologies for the fact that this is the first MHR jaunt of 2014.  It’s not that I’ve not been blogging, more that I’ve not been anywhere.  The demands of full-time work as a secondary school team leader for science (my life since last Easter) have increased to the point where most weekends have been spent simply recovering or catching up.  I couldn’t safely cover the road miles.  I hope that this will change and I will soon be adding to my 529 football grounds.  However, when a friend from university days contacted me at 4pm on a Monday with the kind offer of a weekend escape …

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 8 March 2014 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Scotland 17 France 19
Six Nations Rugby Union
First trip to Murrayfield.  Slightly surprised to count and find that this is only my 7th rugby ground of which 3 would be double-counted for “soccer”.  For the record my 4+3 are Grange Road (Cambridge University), The Reddings (Moseley), Twickenham and now Murrayfield with Vicarage Road, Loftus Road and the Madjeski Stadium as the duplicates.
Pre-match preparation
Easyjet Friday night to Edinburgh with lots of Frenchmen in cockerel hats, a bus ride to a pint of Tennants in the Kublai Khan Mongolian BBQ in Leith and a reunion with some university friends – the first time in over 20 years that this particular combination of characters has been together in one place.  You know who you are, you legends.  Cab ride to apartment for further reminiscing.  The years fell away.  Saturday morning Number 10 bus to Princes Street (no laughing at my Mr Sensible Edinburgh Bus Map, lads), walk up to the castle and along the Royal Mile for Deuchars IPA before settling to pies n’pints o’heavy.  Management of ageing bladders demanded coffee & cake pit stop half-way to the ground before we settled in front of the big screen in Murrayfield to watch Ireland’s demolition of Italy and drink Guinness.

This match in one sentence
Scotland could and should have won it, but gave a late, late chance to France who won the game with only seconds to spare.
So what?
France will get a chance to win the championship with a showdown in Paris against Ireland, depending on the earlier Italy v England result.
The drama unfolds
Lots written elsewhere about this game so this late blogpost is irrelevant as far as match analysis is concerned, so this is just an “I was there” post to at least remind readers that I still exist.

An early penalty for Les Bleus
After a rousing set of pre-match rituals mostly involving bagpipes (whoever thought of Red Hot Chili Pipers is a genius) Scotland found themselves 0-6 down to two Maxime Machenaud penalties within 10 minutes.  The sense of anti-climax was immense but fortunately short-lived.  Stuart Hogg hoisted a kick into the in-goal area and in the swirly conditions followed up to claim a controversial try.  Greig Laidlaw converted to give the hosts a 7-6 lead.

Machenaud’s third penalty made it 7-9 before Scotland winger Tommy Seymour finished a set-piece move on the left for the second try of the game, Laidlaw converting again for 14-9 with only 22 minutes gone and a belting atmosphere inside the ground.  The rest of the first half was not pretty – Scotland missed a drop goal, France missed a penalty – but Scotland would be very happy with their half-time lead.

My host took the half-time opportunity to introduce me to the contents of his hip-flask, which is the nearest I have ever been to solvent abuse even in a lifetime of chemistry teaching.  I hoped that Scotland would keep it tight and make sensible game choices.  That's what I was thinking, but I had suddenly lost the power of speech.

Therefore, France took the lead within seconds with an 80m breakway interception try from Yoann Huget. Unbelieveable. Duly converted for a 14-16 scoreline.  The French forwards had not been impressive and the feeling was that the Scots had been overgenerous in helping their visitors to garner points – next score would be critical.  Laidlaw missed one penalty before Duncan Weir took over kicking duties and gave Scotland a 17-16 lead.  18 minutes to go.

They held out for 16 of them, easily enough.  It was not great to watch, but compelling. Then a soft infringement during France’s final flourish gave Jean-Marc Doussain an unmissable penalty chance.  17-19.  The whistle came, stunned silence and a sense of disbelief.  Except for the men with the cockerel hats, they were really rather happy.

Just as a footnote, I reckon if anyone had introduced me as a kid to rugby union and the culture of the sport and its spectators, I would have never flowed the crowd into “football”.  Post-match analysis took place after a pint of Orkney Stout (yum!) at Britannia Spice in Leith, and I was back on solids by Tuesday.  Epic weekend, great sporting spectacle, great mates, great city.

Random Headwear Pix

Edinburgh  Pix

1 - Scene-setter clip and then Tommy Seymour's try
2 - The French interception and breakaway try right at the start of the second half
3 - A tale of two Scottish pens, a Laidlaw miss and a Weir success
4 - Critically, this Weir penalty drifts wide of the posts
5 - The match-winning French penalty kick from behind a man in a cockerel suit!


What Next?
Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details!

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