"It was just one of those freak things..."
Today (2 April) marks the 20th anniversary since the Calcutta Cup encounter that saw Scotland celebrate a 19-13 win. We speak to Duncan Hodge on his key involvement and to reminisce on a special game that he's telling his children about.
Nine-year-old Ben Hodge had been speaking to his classmates in the days before social distancing and had been told about a famous Scotland rugby win against England.
He got home and asked his dad about it. The adjective “modest” could have few more fitting recipients than Duncan Hodge.
Stand-off Hodge from Lockerbie, a keen cricketer too, won 26 caps for Scotland in a Test career between 1997 and 2002. His haul of 123 has him 12th on Scotland’s all-time individual points list.
Now he is backs and attack coach at Edinburgh Rugby and has them sitting top of the GUINNESS PRO14 Conference B.
Hodge senior showed Ben some video footage from Sunday 2 April 2000.
“I showed my try and some of my penalty goals,” Hodge said. “Ben reckoned I was fat and had hair!”
Ah, family solidarity!
No doubt Ben is proud of his dad’s role in one of those truly epic Calcutta Cup encounters, the 20th anniversary of which we celebrate today (2 April), Scotland’s 19-13 win over England.
A storm struck BT Murrayfield that Sunday and it wasn’t just meteorological!
Scotland went into the game on the back of four losses in the first Six Nations Championship, including defeat against Italy in Rome in their debut in the competition.
England, in contrast, were in hot pursuit of a Grand Slam having run up 170 points in their four victories.
Hodge recalled: “I hadn’t started in the first three games but did against Wales in Cardiff the week before the England game and we’d played quite well there and hadn’t been miles away.
“England came into the game as huge favourites. They were choc-full of household names, Healy, Dawson, Dallaglio, Wilkinson and had averaged 40 points per game in the Championship to date.
“We still had a fair bit of belief and confidence that we could win and we knew the weather was going to turn as well.”
Scotland turned to scrum-half Andy Nicol as captain for the game – John Leslie and Bryan Redpath having undertaken the role earlier in the championship – and awarded first caps to Jason White in the back-row and the gargantuan Richard Metcalfe at lock.
The build-up to the game was electric. Bill McLaren, the Voice of Rugby, was presented with the Freedom of Scottish Rugby by the Princess Royal pre-match and some of the all-time greats of Scottish Rugby were introduced to the crowd as part of the presentation of the award.
Highland Cathedral was played before the anthems and, pitch-side not only could you hear it, you could feel it reverberating around the stadium.
Hodge takes up the story.
“England had much the better of the first-half. They were still throwing the ball about.
“I can remember Dallaglio mouthing off after he had scored a try and they had a whole lot of pressure just before half-time.”
Lawrence Dallaglio had indeed scored a try on the blindside of a scrum and with Jonny Wilkinson converting and notching a penalty, England had led 10-3, Hodge having opened the scoring with a penalty.
The Scotland stand-off pulled back another penalty, but England were in the ascendancy.
“They were in our 22 and pressing for a score which would have taken it to at least a 15-6 lead for them when we managed to turn over the ball and I think we ran it to half-way. I then kicked a penalty, so we went in at half-time only trailing by a point.”
The heavens opened at half-time and the rain bucketed down in the second-half.
“The weather certainly turned, the crowd got behind us and we were probably the better team in the second-half,” Hodge said.
Hodge’s fourth penalty, on the hour, gave Scotland the lead and then with six minutes remaining came the crucial moment in the game.
“All I remember of the try was from 50 yards beating ten boys!” Hodge quipped. “No, it wasn’t quite like that, the ten boys just happened to be lying on the ground next to me.
“Literally we were picking and going and Gordy McIlwham (Scotland’s substitute prop who had only been on the field for five minutes) picks up the ball. There was no-one really supporting him, so I’m just going to help him out.
“The ball just slips out. It was just instinct really. I just picked it up. I had no right to be in there.”
Hodge’s try was greeted by a huge roar.
“As a goal-kicker you talk about process and aiming to remain calm. There wasn’t too much calm about the conversion!” he smiled.
Wilkinson did pull back a penalty, but Scotland held on to win 19-13 and secure their first win against England in ten years.
Andy Nicol lifted aloft the Calcutta Cup and battled the biting cold in his post-match TV interview with the BBC’s Dougie Donnelly.
Hodge, the hero of the hour with all 19 points – a feat of monopolising the scoring that he had achieved at least twice before in a match, once for Watsonians in a club game against West of Scotland and previously in a Scotland match at Murrayfield when South Africa won 35-10 in 1998 – soon discovered just what the result meant to Scots.
“I met my sisters and my mum in Montpellier at Bruntsfield that night and I remember so many people coming up to me.
“As a player you are sometimes in the bubble. I was 24 at the time and I realised then just what the match meant to the general public. I heard from so many people and it was quite over-whelming.”
Hodge had dropped a goal in the dying seconds to secure victory for Scotland A over South Africa at the Greenyards in 1994 and enjoyed similar last-gasp heroics in victories for Edinburgh at Northampton in the Heineken Cup and against both Ulster and Leinster.
But he acknowledges that the 2000 Calcutta Cup game is an indelible memory.
“It was the win, 70,000 people there, our first for ten years in the Calcutta Cup. It was just one of those freak things. You end up scoring all the points, not that that was to do with me, it was to do with the team. However, that’s the one thing people will remember you for. Bizarrely, people remember where they were that day too.”
As I said, modest to the nth degree but Hodge has his place forever in Calcutta Cup folklore.