To defeat the New Zealand All Blacks in an international match has always been a major goal for the four home union countries. While the English have a comparatively strong record with eight victories in 42 matches, Ireland have won only twice in 32 matches with their first victory coming after more than 110 years so memorably in Chicago in November 2016. Wales had a distinguished record against the All Blacks up until December 1953 with three victories in four historic encounters, but it has been famine since then with 31 straight defeats over almost 70 years.
For Scotland, that victory over the All Blacks has proved completely elusive in 31 matches, but there have been two matches in which the sides were so evenly matched that they could not be separated.
In January 1964, the All Blacks came to Murrayfield near the end of their long tour of the UK and France. They had won their internationals against Ireland narrowly 6-5 in Dublin, Wales more impressively 6-0 at Cardiff Arms Park, and England convincingly 14-0 at Twickenham. The Grand Slam of victories against the four home nations was within the All Blacks’ grasp, but Scotland had had a valuable “warm-up” 10-0 victory against France in the first international of the 1964 International Championship and were expected to be competitive.
The All Blacks side under the captaincy of prop Wilson Whineray was based on a fearsome pack of forwards supported by the formidable place kicking of their giant 17-stone full back Don Clarke. Ken Gray and Dennis Young in the front row, Colin Meads in the second row and a back row of John Graham, Brian Lochore and Kelvin Tremain provided weight and pace unequalled in world rugby at the time. If their backs were less individually impressive, they were nevertheless strong defensively and capable of flashes of inspiration.
The Scottish side under the captaincy of prop Brian Neill was initially unchanged for its second match of the season but the selectors were forced to make a late change when Jim Shackleton was brought in to replace Brian Henderson in the centre. The team contained four players who had made their debut against France but Stuart Wilson at full back, Peter Brown in the second row and Jim Telfer in the back row would become among the finest Scottish players of their generation. For ballast, Ian Laughland in the centre, Norman Bruce at hooker with David Rollo as his other prop, and Pringle Fisher at wing forward provided essential quality in this relatively inexperienced side.
The 1964 clash in front of 70,000 spectators was the last major international match to end in a 0-0 draw, but the score line does not do justice to the excitement of the game itself. It was a frosty day and handling was difficult. The lighter Scottish pack matched the All Blacks in the loose and, perhaps fortunately for Scotland, Don Clarke had a rare off-day with his boot. He missed five penalty attempts and neither side was able to take advantage of the other’s mistakes. The final whistle went after a surge upfield by Don Clarke came to nothing when his kick ahead was caught by his opposite number, Wilson, who calmly kicked the ball into touch. The whistle went and Scotland had denied the All Blacks their desired Grand Slam.
Twenty nine years later, the All Blacks came to Scotland as part of their short 8-match tour of Scotland and England in the autumn of 1983. The All Blacks had convincingly defeated the touring British Lions 4-0 in the tests, but a number of their stars had elected not to be available for this tour. In the intervening years since 1964, Scotland had faced the All Blacks on seven further occasions but had never managed to secure that elusive victory despite coming close in 1978 and 1981.
The Scottish side under the captaincy of prop, Jim Aitken, was well balanced with a strong mobile pack of forwards supported by one of the best half back pairs in Scottish rugby history, John Rutherford and Roy Laidlaw. Eight players, including the complete back row of Jim Calder, John Beattie and Iain Paxton, had toured New Zealand with the Lions that summer.
The New Zealand side contained six new caps including both props and the second row pair, but the back row of Mark Shaw, Murray Mexted and Jock Hobbs and the three-quarter line under the captaincy of the great try-scoring winger Stuart Wilson were highly experienced.
The match began with an exchange of drop goals from Rutherford and penalties from new All Black full back Robbie Deans. Tries by Jock Hobbs and Bernie Fraser gave New Zealand the lead, but Scotland’s doughty full back Peter Dods kicked three penalty goals before half-time to keep Scotland in the game. Fraser scored a second kick and chase try after half-time to extend the lead but Dods kept Scotland in the match with two further penalties before Deans kicked his third penalty to give the All Blacks a four-point lead with seven minutes to go.
Three minutes later the Watsonians centre David Johnston received the ball in midfield and shrewdly kicked diagonally to his right for the winger Jim Pollock to chase. A thrilling race led to Pollock outpacing Deans and scoring in the right-hand corner. The score was now 25-25 and all that was left for a Scottish victory was for Dods to kick the touchline conversion. He just missed his kick, and in the final minutes the All Blacks were given the opportunity to win the match but were denied a kickable penalty due to a punch thrown by their fiery winger Bernie Fraser and spotted by the touch-judge. The final whistle went very shortly afterwards with the score 25 all, a world record highest score for a drawn match.
Scotland went on to win an historic second Grand Slam in the 1984 International Championship and the All Blacks, although they lost to England a week later, quickly re-built their team and moved on to win the first Rugby World Cup in 1987. Scotland have still not beaten the All Blacks so these two draws remained treasured memories in their rugby history.
A Century of the All Blacks in Britain and Ireland – Fox, Bogle & Hoskins (Tempus Publishing 2006)
The History of Scottish Rugby – Sandy Thorburn (Johnston & Bacon 1980)
Men in Black (Commem 20th Century Edition) – Chester, Palenski & McMillan (Hodder Moa Beckett 2000)
Scottish Rugby Game by Game – Kenneth R Bogle (Luath Press Limited 2013)
Newspapers: Glasgow Herald – Scotsman – Sportsman – Times
About the Author – A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has had a life-long love of sport. He has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005.