Townsend: Paris win my number one Scotland memory
This Friday you can enjoy perhaps one of the most astonishing Scotland victories of all time. It’s debatable if we will ever again see a first-half of such uninhibited, collective excellence from the men wearing the thistle as that witnessed at the Stade de France, Paris in 1999 when France welcomed Scotland.
Scotland went into the match – their final game in the final Five Nations Championship – on the back of convincing home wins over Wales and Ireland and, but for missed goal kicks, would have enjoyed a rare success at Twickenham, England holding on for a 24-21 win and sharing the try count, three apiece.
Scotland also had posted a friendly win against Italy, who were to join the Championship and make it the Six Nations the following year.
Current Scotland Head Coach Gregor Townsend played a key role in Paris that day and he looks back fondly at that match as one of his most enjoyable in a Scotland shirt.
Speaking to scottishrugby.org ahead of Friday’s rerun, Gregor Townsend said: “The 1999 match in Paris was definitely one of those games that are very rare. We talk about being ‘in the zone’ and that was a game where everyone in the Scotland team was.
“Sports psychologists use the term ‘flow’ and they define it as ‘a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it, even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it’.
“That, I guess, would be the scientists’ way of saying that all we were thinking about in that match at the Stade de France was getting the ball and taking on the defence. All other distractions or anxieties disappeared and when that happens, good things can happen!”
The match against the French did not start well. Thomas Castaignede made a searing break into Scottish territory to set up a try for Emile Ntamack. Castaignede then limped off injured.
“We didn’t even start well. We were loose. I was loose, we made a couple of errors and we were a try down inside the opening three minutes,” said Townsend.
“We called a risky play, off the kick-off, essentially a double miss, where Alan Tait hits the ball off me and then passes to Glenn Metcalfe and although Taity was hit in the tackle he got the pass away and Glenn blazed 70 metres and we ended up scoring. Something like that fills everyone with confidence.”
As the sun beat down, Scotland blitzed the French with five, yes, five, first-half tries through flanker Martin Leslie (2), centre Alan Tait (2) and stand-off Townsend.
Townsend’s score made him the first Scot since Johnnie Wallace in the 1925 Grand Slam to notch a try in every match of the Championship campaign.
He said: “Most of our tries came from really good attacking moves. The crowd in Paris is always very noisy but as the half developed, the support we were getting, whether from 6,000 or 7,000 Scots or from the home fans who appreciated the rugby we were playing, just got louder and louder.
“And the French supporters got on the case of the French team.
“Normally, playing in Paris, you would be focusing on the scoreboard and trying desperately to stay ahead. But we were focused on having a go.
“For that 33-35 minutes period we were just in that state of flow; in the zone.
“Of course, it’s elusive and you’d love to be able to bottle it for every game. But there’s luck and circumstance and the fact that you have 15 players in the opposition who are straining every sinew to stop you doing it.
“In some ways, it was like that 20 minutes in the second-half at Twickenham against England last year. It was the same mindset – let’s take the defence on, irrespective of the history or the opposition. Let’s just get our hands on the ball.”
Winger Kenny Logan added four conversions but he missed one almost under the posts from Tait’s second try and, later, volunteered, that he had been put off by seeing himself on the stadium’s big screen! Such endearing honesty from Logan.
France had added two tries of their own through back-row forward Christophe Juillet and winger Christophe Dominici and Castaignede’s replacement, David Aucagne, had converted both and added a penalty for an extraordinary half-time score off 33-22 in Scotland’s favour.
Townsend added: “In the first-half it just seemed that everybody was on the same page. People played what they saw, reacted to each other’s movements, which meant passes sticking. There was no fear. We played from deep, including from kick-offs and things came off.
“I felt throughout that season that we played better throughout every game. I remember the training session before we flew to France – and there’s not many training sessions that you remember 21 years later – but it underlined that we were ready to go and transfer that to an environment like the Stade de France and perform.
“We knew the history. We had only won once in Paris since 1969 and that we’d been hammered at Parc des Princes two years previously.”
If the first-half will live in the memory for the unparalleled quality of Scotland’s attack, then the second-half spoke volumes for their grit and defence. The only score of that half, was a Logan penalty, as Scotland won the match 36-22.
The following day, Wales played England at Wembley – the Millennium Stadium was still under construction in Cardiff – and England were hot favourites to become Five Nations Champions.
Wales, however, had other ideas and a late try from Scott Gibbs, converted by Neil Jenkins, saw Wales win 32-31 and Scotland became the last ever Five Nations champions.
The minute Jenkins’ conversion sailed through the upright, a small group of Scottish Rugby staff, some straight off the plane from Paris, whizzed into action and, little more than 24 hours later having worked through the night, thousands of fans arrived at BT Murrayfield to see the Championship trophy presented to captain Gary Armstrong and his players and management. And those who couldn’t make it to Edinburgh were able to watch a highlights Rugby Special that evening.
“Much was made of the brilliant form of John Leslie, Alan Tait, Glenn Metcalfe and Kenny Logan during that Championship but, in Paris especially but also at Twickenham, our forwards were immense,” said Townsend.
“The ball they were producing, quick ball too, and the carries from the likes of Gordon Bulloch, Scott Murray, Martin Leslie, Budge Pountney and Stuart Reid – who had a great game that day – enabled Gary Armstrong to give the backs great service.
“Gary was rightly regarded as an abrasive carrier who would have no issue taking on opposition back-rows but that day especially he was the huge link that was needed.
“So, we had a forward pack that produced quick ball and competed very well in the setpiece.
“From a Scotland perspective, that win in Paris would have to rank as my number one rugby memory.”
You can watch the full match against France from 1999 this Friday at 7pm BST on the Scottish Rugby YouTube channel or Facebook page.
“We knew the history. We had only won once in Paris since 1969 and that we’d been hammered at Parc des Princes two years previously.” Gregor Townsend