France and Bill's last bows
Bill McLaren prepares for his last commentary on this day in 2002 © Getty Images
France's last match in the Five Nations before they were banished into the international wilderness. There had been unease for some time over allegations players were paid and there was also concern at what was perceived as the violent nature of their play, and on March 2 the British unions voted to expel them. They were eventually readmitted to the fold in 1939 but war intervened before they could resume and they did not play in the Five Nations again until 1946. In their last match before exile, France condemned England to the wooden spoon with a 14-13 Easter Monday win in Paris, three times coming from behind.
The voice of rugby, Bill McLaren, had the pleasure of calling a Scottish victory over Wales at Cardiff in his last official broadcast for the BBC. Gregor Townsend and Chris Paterson presented McLaren, 77, with a bottle of rare malt whisky, and as he took his place in the commentary box before kick-off, the 74,000 crowd belted out: "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow". On the pitch, Gordon Bulloch scored two tries in Scotland's 27-22 win. McLaren retired as a hero to many rugby players and fans and was widely mourned upon his death in 2010.
France completed the first Six Nations Grand Slam with a stylish 44-5 victory against Ireland. Fly-half Gerald Merceron was at the heart of the rout, combining his running with a deadly boot which produced 16 points. Serge Betsen and Nicolas Brusque ran in a brace each and Aurelien Rougerie added the other try, and France came within a point of inflicting Ireland's highest defeat in the history of the competition.
The Brumbies mourned the loss of forward Shawn Mackay, 26, who died in a Durban hospital from complications arising from a bloodstream infection. Former Australia Sevens international Mackay had been involved in a collision with a vehicle following the Brumbies' Super 14 loss to the Sharks, suffering spinal damage, a fractured skull and a broken leg. He underwent surgery to fuse vertebrae and spent time in a medically induced coma before his death from cardiac arrest.
The joys of amateurism were highlighted when JJ Williams was given leave of absence by Maesteg Comprehensive School - where he was a PE teacher - to tour South Africa with the British Lions, but it was leave without pay, costing him around £500 in lost income. "It's a lot of money to lose," he said, "but I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn't go."
Early headlines for 17-year-old Scott Quinell as he scored four tries for Welsh Youth as they beat England by a then record 32-2 at Fylde, securing a first Grand Slam for them at that level.
Thomond Park in Limerick was the scene of the first-ever victory by an Irish side against the Springboks. The Combined Irish Universities Past & Present, skippered by Ireland centre Jerry Walsh, defeated the tourists 12-10. The students lead from the fourth-minute of the match, but for long periods they were completed outclassed. "Rarely can a side have won with so little possession of the ball," wrote the Times. The South Africans even took 13 scrums against the head.
Richard Hill and Saracens sprung the surprise of the Heineken Cup season by knocking the Ospreys out 19-10 in a Sunday semi-final at Watford's Vicarage Road, a fortnight after they had been beaten by the same opponents 30-3 in the semi-finals of the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Sarries went on to lose to eventual champions Munster in the last four.
In a special match to raise money for the 1958 Empire and Commonwealth Games to be held in Cardiff, Cliff Morgan fired Wales to an exciting 17-16 win against an International XV before 50,000 at the Arms Park.