The 1980 England Grand Slam
'Of all the people that hate the English, I can honestly say the Scots hate us the most'
Tom Hamilton
February 6, 2014
England prepare to face Scotland in 1980 © PA Photos

"The competitors were dressed in appropriate costume, the English wearing a white jersey, ornamented by a red rose, and the Scotch brown jersey, with a thistle. Although the good wishes of the spectators went with the Scotch team, yet it was considered that their chances were poor."

Scotland may be wearing a slightly different shade of jersey, but when the Glasgow Herald scribe reported on the first ever international between Scotland and England - played on March 27, 1871 - little did they know they would be witnessing the start of a rivalry that 142 years and 131 Tests later remains as fierce as ever.

There have been plenty of memorable matches between the foes over the years, but the 1980 clash at Murrayfield stacks up there with the best of them.

The 1970s was a decade painted red by the power and prowess of the Welsh - the Lions also experienced their golden age - while England floundered. However, in the 1980 Five Nations, Bill Beaumont's men had clicked and won three on the bounce. When they travelled on March 15 to Scotland, they were chasing their first Grand Slam since 1957 having last won a title in 1963.

Roger Uttley and Mike Slemen take the game to Scotland, Murrayfield, March 15,1980
Roger Uttley and Mike Slemen take the game to Scotland © PA Photos

As England prepare to rekindle 'The Grudge' match with Scotland this weekend, back-row Roger Uttley, hooker Peter Wheeler and scrum-half Steve Smith tell ESPN of their memories of the generation-defining match in 1980.

The picture before the game

Smith: "England selection during the 1970s was, at best, crap. It was very amateur. That side had been around for quite a long time but it had never been picked at the same time. In 1979 the North had beaten the All Blacks at Otley but the selectors even cocked up picking the team a week later when England played New Zealand as they chose the wrong one and we lost by a point. Come 1980, for once they picked the right team which was a miracle really."

Wheeler: "They were amateur days and it was an amateur administration. I remember the Midlands/North beat Argentina in 1979 and the selectors managed to keep the core of that team together, there were 10 or so of us in the Grand Slam team. Whether they stumbled on that selection I'm not sure, though I'm probably being a bit unfair."

Uttley: "The selectors messed us around no end with players like Peter Dixon in the end just thinking 'sod it'. They didn't give the team a chance to develop. Players were afraid of making mistakes so it wasn't a great environment at points during the 1970s."

Wheeler: "By the time we had got to Scotland, we had beaten Ireland at home and we had won away at France which we never found easy to do. We then beat Wales at home, something we had found even harder to do, and at that point we had momentum."

Uttley: "The game against Wales was a horrible, nasty game with plenty of cheap shots and God knows what else going on. Paul Ringer got a red card. Just before half-time, I went down on a ball and Wales' Geoff Wheel came through and took a swing at it but he connected with my head. I went off at half-time and I was fortunate there was a month interval between the Wales and Scotland game to recover as I had sustained a fair bit of damage to the old fizzog. That month gave my face time to settle down.

"But we beat Wales and dear old Dusty [Hare] kicked the penalty and we won thank God."

England's Steve Smith pings the ball out, Murrayfield, March 15,1980
Steve Smith pings the ball out © PA Photos

Entering the eye of the storm

Wheeler: "The training session at Peebles (England's training base stationed outside Edinburgh) went very well and our pack was looking good. We were in a good position."

Uttley: "I shared a room with Tony Neary we were talking about how we were approaching the fag end of our careers and how this was a massive game. We had survived the season and we were in the position to win a Grand Slam. It was too good an opportunity to miss. There was a lot of that sort of thinking between a few of us.

"When we were in Edinburgh it was going to be Nero's (Tony Neary) final cap so Alan Old and I went out to find a suitable present to indicate that and we bought a tankard."

Smith: "The atmosphere in Murrayfield was just electric. Of all the people that hate the English, I can honestly say the Scots hate us the most. I don't know what our ancestors did to them but we are paying the price, you can imagine what it's like up there."

The game

Scotland 18-30 England

  • England found themselves 19-3 up at half-time thanks to efforts from John Carleton (two) and Mike Slemen as Clive Woodward announced himself on the Test stage with a serious of mazy runs from outside centre.
  • Carleton completed his hat-trick after the break but Scotland pegged them back with a try from Alan Tomes. But one more from England's Steve Smith secured the win and not even John Rutherford's late score could dampen their celebrations as they toasted a 30-18 win.

Smith: "It was a tough game and I remember we had a great pack of forwards and playing behind them was a pleasure. I've since heard it's a match that people have watched for years and years but you don't really appreciate that when you're in the game and breathing through your arse."

Wheeler: "Our front-five was pretty good with Fran Cotton alongside Phil Blakeway in the front-row with then Bill [Beaumont] and Maurice Colclough in the locks. And then with the back-row as well so there were plenty of caps and Lions in there. It was nice throwing the lineout to that bunch. There were plenty of leaders in that team and five or six of us captained England at some time."

Uttley: "Blakeway made the difference for us, he was fantastic at tight-head. He was a big, solid guy."

England's John Carleton grabs their third, Murrayfield, March 15,1980
England's John Carleton grabs his third © PA Photos

Smith: "Woody had a great game but he was lucky to be in the team as Tony Bond broke his leg at the start of the campaign. He fitted into rugby straight away as he was a great talent and the Jocks hadn't really worked him out. I remember he made a beautiful break to put Mike Slemen into the corner for our second try and I think that was the game where he came of age."

Wheeler: "I remember when Carleton scored his second and we had a five-yard scrum and we just got it right. We moved the Scottish backwards, John Scott picked up and passed it to Carleton who scored in the corner."

Smith: "We got a lucky try when John Carleton scored his third after the break, we've christened him Geoff Hurst ever since, and that took us away. The Scots fought back well though. And I scored a try at the end to finish things up. In the end we won relatively comfortably but the game was very, very close."

Uttley: "In the second-half, I tore rib cartilage late on and wasn't sure if I could stay on. When the Scots came back, it was a bit harum-scarum but we held on."

The celebrations

Uttley: "I remember sitting in the changing rooms afterwards with the most overwhelming feeling of satisfaction. Having a cup of tea and cigarette with your mates was a great moment, as we used to do in those days. It meant all the trials and tribulations, of which there were many, were all worth it."

Smith: "We hadn't been close for so long, so for me personally, it was the best day of my rugby career. For the England supporters who had suffered so long, being in Edinburgh that night was fantastic."

Wheeler: "I hadn't realised the euphoria that went around a Grand Slam. I was a bit surprised at how excited people got about it. But since then, as it doesn't happen very often, you appreciate how hard it is to do."

Smith: "When we walked around afterwards, we saw loads of England supporters wearing Grand Slam t-shirts, they must have had them printed before the game. It was good we didn't know that before the game."

Uttley: "We had a great party in the hotel afterwards at the bottom of Princes Street and I remember Ian Botham turning up at the bar with a couple of his mates."

What happened next

The trio's future

  • Steve Smith played 14 more Tests for England after the Grand Slam triumph bringing his tally to 28 caps for the country.
  • The Scotland Test was Roger Uttley's last though he was back in the England frame years later as part of the backroom staff.
  • Peter Wheeler started all four Tests for the Lions that summer in South Africa and finished his England career in 1984 with 41 caps.

Smith: "After that game, Nearo [Tony Neary] and Roger retired, Billy a couple of years later as did Fran. So the team broke up pretty quickly, which upset everybody really; we could have had five years of that side had we been picked in 1975 or so."

Uttley: "I played on after that game for my club, but that was my last international for England. I didn't realise at the time that would be the case - I tried to play on again the following season but got injured early on. The England trials were coming up and I was playing for Wasps against Rosslyn Park at Roehampton and it was one of Nigel Melville's first games for the club.

"I had a bad back at the time and I was playing against my great mate Andy Ripley, who was all over me like a rash, and I was struggling to get the ball away to Nigel and consequently Nigel was having a rough time. In the end, I just realised - as you do as a player - it might be time to stop playing. The game had been such a horror for me and I decided in the shower afterwards and said to Rippers 'That's it, I'm knackered, I'm finishing.'"

Problems post-1980

Uttley: "The selection was compromised after 1980 and there was a lack of clear thinking about what was needed to get it sorted out. There were selectors in random parts of the country and each wanted their area to be well represented in England. The best players weren't necessarily getting selected.

"It was only with the World Cup coming along that things became more focused and the disappointment in 1987 meant Martin Green bit the bullet and that's when Geoff Cooke was appointed and he asked me to assist him. We were the selectors, along with John Elliot, and we knew what we wanted to do."

England had to wait until 1991 to win another title.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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