At the age of 41, it’s taken a while for Tom English, our Irish correspondent, to finally write his first book. Let’s hope there are more to come, for this emotive story about the Scotland-England Grand Slam shoot-out of 1990 is shudderingly good, writes Rugby World deputy editor Alan Pearey.

English sought the help of Will Carling and Brian Moore before agreeing to the project, and the two men – the focal point of some unprecedented racism – are among those offering compelling insights into events surrounding a game that was played against the backdrop of political antipathy for Maggie Thatcher and her poll tax.

English has a rare talent for getting to the core of a person. Carling’s well-masked insecurities stem from the isolation he felt after being sent to boarding school aged seven.

While Jim Telfer, whose parents worked as a servant and shepherd for a duke, carries with him a resentment of privilege that seemed especially acute each time he took the tremulous Scottish pack for training (Derek White was treated mercilessly).

The bare bones of the actual match, won 13-7 by Scotland, are known to all, but here we get inside players’ heads at the critical moments, including Tony Stanger’s dubious try and the absence of a penalty try for England after repeated scrum collapses on the home line.

If that sounds like rough justice, nobody in Carling’s side was kidding themselves. “I thought I was the dog’s b******s before that game,” says Mick Skinner. “I learned a bit of humility, became a better person. I questioned myself from that day on.”

Fortunately, the nastiness receded. Last year Finlay Calder even called for Flower of Scotland, the Bannockburn war cry first sung in 1990, to be ditched because the anti-English stuff was “embarrassing”.


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This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of Rugby World Magazine

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