Unlucky for some
January 13, 2012
Scotland's Gordon Waddell offloads the ball as he is tackled by France's Alfred Roques © PA Photos
Scots don't have to be superstitious to believe that January 13 is an unlucky day. They played four matches on that date, all against France, and lost the lot - but by a combined margin of 15 points. By contrast they won all three meetings on the 14th and had a 2-1 lead on the 12th in a fixture that almost invariably launched both teams' Five Nations campaigns before the introduction of fixture rotation.
Scotland might well have won all four, even the most apparently clearcut, France's 11-3 win at Murrayfield 50 years ago today, January 13 1962. It was a result whose full significance only became apparent at the end of the season. Had Scotland hung on to the 3-3 scoreline with which they went into the final quarter, they would have been outright champions - cutting in half the wait they endured between 1938 and 1984. Instead it was the French who took the title - their fourth, counting the tie with England in 1960, in succession since taking their first ever outright championship in 1959.
Half a century ago it may have been, but there is a contemporary ring to Scottish historian Sandy Thorburn's account of their pack's 'great efforts' being wasted because of a lack of initiative behind'. This is an implicit criticism of a half-back pairing who certainly did not lack colour off the field. Scrum-half Tremayne Rodd was to be banned from the game for professionalism (the heinous crime of having reported a Lions tour as a journalist) in 1971, joined the House of Lords as the Third Baron Rennell and famously punched the zoo and casino owner John Aspinall at a funeral. His half-back partner Gordon Waddell also had a parliamentary future as an MP in South Africa from 1974 to 1977 for the liberal Progressive Party, and a significant figure in the Republic's business community.
Scotland took the lead with a penalty by veteran wing Arthur Smith, but missed four more and France were level by the interval thanks to a kick from their outside-half Pierre Albeladejo. The game-breaking moment came in the 62nd minute when Scottish lock Mike Campbell-Lamerton, a giant army officer later to be a notably unsuccessful Lions captain, whose playing style was memorably encapsulated by Alan Massie's description of him as "surging round the tail of a line-out like an enraged hippopotamus" punched French back rower Michel Crauste.
This was clearly one of those events for which perspective was all. Thorburn described it as 'open and understandable retaliation' for an offence for which the French should have been penalised. Frenchman Richard Escot sees it as a significant moment in France's relationship with British rugby :"All of France - except Crauste - rejoiced. Here were the exemplars of all the oval virtues resorting to punching. So violence was not solely the province of the French, whatever the too-frequent and condescending assertions of the British".
The moment mattered for other reasons. Albaladejo landed the resulting penalty, then converted a try by wing Henri Rancoule as France lengthened their unbeaten championship run to nine matches by winning 11-3. It might by the end have been more as Albaladejo twice went close with drop-goal attempts.
The match was also to prove a turning point for the French outside-half - and not just because it was his 15th cap in a career that would eventually run to 30. His nickname of 'Monsieur Drop' was already enshrined in the game's folklore by a run of 11 drop goals in as many internationals, including a historic hat-trick against Ireland at the Stade Colombes in 1960 - not beaten at international level until Jannie de Beer's rampage against England at the 1999 World Cup - and four in three matches on the previous summer's tour of New Zealand and Australia. There was to be only one more drop goal, against Ireland in 1963, in his remaining 15 matches spread over three seasons.
He went on from there to a long career as a television commentator, technically-informed straight man to the histrionics of Roger Couderc, and later with Pierre Salviac, ending at 65 - on the same weekend as that of the Five Nations itself - with Scotland's epic title-winning victory in Paris in 1999.
Albaladejo, who also cultivated a sideline in bull-fighting commentary, has been enthusiastically followed in his enthusiasm for the drop by France's players of the past half-century. France have dropped 160 goals in 477 matches in the 50 years since Monsieur Drop missed two at Murrayfield, way ahead of any other team. While their lead is inflated by having played more matches, their record of slightly over one in every three matches is also well ahead of their rivals - England are next with 106 in 381 matches, a little below one in every three and a half, while the All Blacks have kicked only 66 in 377, slightly above one every six matches. Guy Camberabero, whose career overlapped with Albaladejo, had the best scoring ratio of anyone who has landed double figures, with 11 drops in 14 matches while Patrick Lescarboura leads the French marksmen with 15 in 28.
In the circumstances it seems only appropriate that De Beer's five-goal barrage happened in Paris while all-time record-holder Jonny Wilkinson, who dropped 36 goals in 97 matches for England and the Lions, should have wound up in France.
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