The oldest rugby rivalry in the world has created legendary and controversial moments. We recount the best stories from the annual clash between England and Scotland. This feature first appeared in Rugby World in March 2019

Tales of the Calcutta Cup

WHEN SCOTLAND rock up to Twickenham for this year’s Six Nations, they will be battling for the right to hold the Calcutta Cup. The trophy is named after now-defunct Calcutta RFC, who formed in India in 1873 after the relative success of a Christmas Day fixture on the subcontinent in which 20 Scots and 20 English players reputedly competed the year before.

However, according to the legend, when the team disbanded in 1878, the remaining silver rupees in the club’s coffers were melted down to make a trophy – the Calcutta Cup – and gifted to the RFU. In 1879, Scotland and England met in Edinburgh for the first Calcutta clash. It ended in a draw.

Since then, there have been plenty of ups and downs; big scores, shocks, whitewashes. So  let’s take a look at some of the rivalry’s standout moments…


In the first-ever Calcutta Cup match the two sides met at Raeburn Place, home of Edinburgh Academicals, on 10 March 1879. However, the trophy itself had already had records from previous England-Scotland ties engraved on its plinth, dating back to 1871. That stretch included three draws, three England wins and two victories for Scotland.

The first Calcutta contest ended 3-3. Scotland’s Ninian Finlay scored a drop-goal while England kicked a goal through Lennard Stokes. They had a try by George Burton, but back then a try wasn’t worth any points, it just gave you the chance to shoot at goal.

We know a thing or too about exciting draws after last season…



It took 23 years for England to win a Grand Slam after their triumph in 1957, but when they did it again in 1980 it was after a display of forwards’ brilliance.

There had been naysayers knocking the quality of this England side, but Bill Beaumont (above) led a pack of bullies who gave their backs a platform to see this out with relative ease at 30-18, away from home. Such was the power of the display that Beaumont was carried aloft from the field by his team-mates.

The game will also be remembered for the impressive hat-trick by wing John Carleton, Clive Woodward’s coruscating runs and fine kicking from Dusty Hare.


Scotland have not enjoyed a win at Twickenham since 1983.

But that year the Scots had a corps of fine talents, particularly in the back-line. In their 22-12 win, a recalled John Rutherford moved play along, Keith Robertson was making breaks and scored a drop-goal, while Roy Laidlaw dotted down for a score that the master Bill McLaren described as “one of the great Calcutta Cup tries”.

After a few draws and near-misses away, the Scots of the early Eighties were not holding any fears. As fly-half great Rutherford said of that tussle years later: “There was no psychological barrier about playing at Twickenham – we went down there expecting to win and that’s what we did.” Simple.



In 1988 the two sides played out a match of terminally dull rugby, with England triumphing 9-6. After the stale match was decided by kicks, Scotland coach Derrick Grant is said to have commented: “England may have been the birthplace of rugby but today they effectively killed the game stone dead.”

But that’s not why you know about this game, is it? You know about it because of what happened afterwards.

As was tradition at the time, the captain of the winning side would take the cup, it would be filled with drinks and handed around. England No 8 Dean Richards took his team out with Scotland’s John Jeffrey in tow and, so the story goes, the pair decided to fill the trophy with whisky and dump it over Brian Moore’s head. Chased outside by the angered hooker, Richards and Jeffrey scarpered into a cab and disappeared into the night, still in possession of the heirloom.

They later passed it around, dropped it and, according to some, booted it. At one stage a doorman at an Edinburgh establishment was left trying to tease the battered trophy back into shape.

Jeffrey was subsequently banned for five months by the SRU. Deano? A week.

A replica has been used ever since.


Masterfully chronicled in Tom English’s book The Grudge, the deciding fixture in 1990 had all the ingredients of a cracker.

Set to the background of political unrest and rampant nationalism, the English headed to Edinburgh full of expectations, such was the free-scoring, dominating rugby the side had played up to that point in the tournament. They were hunting a Five Nations title, a Grand Slam, a Triple Crown and a Calcutta Cup. But so were the Scots.

As Brian Moore reflected in his book Beware of the Dog: “As we arrived at Murrayfield, I could tell the atmosphere was going to be different and it was not going to be pleasant.” When David Sole led Scotland out of the tunnel, to an achingly slow march, the crowd lost it.

What followed was a slobber-knocker and Scotland won the contest 13-7, the game punctuated by one edge-of-your-seat moment: Tony Stanger chased down an arcing kick by Gavin Hastings to score the try that would crush English hopes.

Tales of the Calcutta Cup


The Scots started the first-ever Six Nations, in 2000, in abysmal fashion. Underestimating the Italians, the talismanic fly-half Diego Domínguez kicked Scotland to bits in a 34-20 win in Rome. They lost the next three games, too.

However, when England came to Murrayfield in the last round, Scotland were a totally different beast. The English were effectively already champions and were again chasing a Grand Slam, but the Scots mastered tough conditions and defended psychotically, while fly-half Duncan Hodge put in the performance of his life.

Reflecting on the weather that day, Scotland captain Andy Nicol tells us: “It was better not to have the ball in those last 15 minutes, the rain was so bad. But I had never heard an atmosphere like it in Murrayfield – the fans were cheering every single tackle like it was a try.”

Hodge kicked four penalties and converted a score of his own; a soggy slide into the goal that even he worried may have resulted in a spilt ball… The try was given and Scotland rained on the English parade once again, 19-13.

So downhearted were England that they opted not to collect the Six Nations trophy on the pitch post-match.


Just a year after England’s Grand Slam hopes were drowned in 2000, they inflicted a record defeat on the Scots, registering their biggest-ever win over them – a margin of 40 points.

In a 43-3 rout, Lawrence Dallaglio and Iain Balshaw got two tries apiece, Will Greenwood and Richard Hill one each, and Jonny Wilkinson kicked 13 points.

That 40-point margin was repeated in 2017, with England obliterating Scotland at Twickenham, 61-21. It was a victory that saw England equal the Tier One record of 18 consecutive victories. As our own Stephen Jones wrote in The Sunday Times afterwards: “England have been wonderful, nothing less. The theory is doing the rounds that in this Six Nations they have not been as good as previously. This was true but it is not remotely significant. In their crushing of Scotland, they showed how brilliant and ruthless they can be.”

Happy Launchbury

Roaring: England scoring trie in 2017 (Getty Images)


It had been more than three years since Jonny Wilkinson had last played for England, but when he faced Scotland in 2007 it was like he had never been away. In fact, he was better than that.

Wilkinson had endured all of that time out and needed operations on his neck and shoulder, to remove an appendix and to correct a hernia. He had torn an adductor, damaged his medial ligaments in both knees and lacerated a kidney. Then, on his well-fated comeback, he went and scored a record 27 points.

Racking up the numbers, he also got 14 stitches in a burst lip, but that pales into background memories when you realise that amongst his points he got the full house: penalties, conversions, a drop-goal and a try. Ably backed by England’s pumped-up pack, the fly-half had one for the ages.

“Wilkinson, if he was not up there already, now belongs in that rarefied stratum,” wrote Rob Kitson of The Guardian. “It is not just England who are lucky to have him but the entire rugby world.”


In 2018 Scotland scored three tries to England’s one in their first Calcutta Cup triumph since 2008. Their 25-13 victory at Murrayfield shook the competition. Forget the former rearguard, spoilers’ performances throughout Scottish history, this one was fun and quirky and confident.

The standout moment was a try by wing Sean Maitland created by a long, looping miss-pass from Finn Russell that magically found centre Huw Jones in space deep in his own half. The ball was eventually worked out to Maitland to score. It’s a moment that will make highlight reels for years to come.

The post-match festivities will also go down in Scottish folklore. The images of a swaying Greig Laidlaw, with his tie round his head and his shirt flapping open, singing, eyes closed, with Russell patting him on the shoulder, have become a gold-standard meme for Scotland rugby fans. Yet another cracker amongst the Tales of the Calcutta Cup.

This feature first appeared in Rugby World in March 2019

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