2019 - The Year In Review
Guest Writer Donald Walker looks back on 2019 for Scottish Rugby with a month-by-month guide.
As the curtain falls on 2019 and we reflect on the events of the last 12 months, there is much to consider among the highs and lows provided by competitive sport, where often the only guarantee is unpredictability.
Naturally, there is disappointment over Scotland’s early exit at the Rugby World Cup, but there is also the memory of what must be the most remarkable performance ever produced by the national team at Twickenham. The women’s team also found the going tough during the big event of their season, the Six Nations Championship, but recorded a very impressive series victory in South Africa during the autumn.
At pro team level, both Scottish sides qualified the quarter finals of the Heineken Champions Cup, while Glasgow reached the final of the Guinness PRO14 only to fall at that stage to Leinster.
And off the field, there was further evolution for the Scottish game with the successful launch of the FOSROC Super6, the start of work on Edinburgh’s new home on the back pitches at Murrayfield, and the publication of the Gammell/Murray Independent Corporate Governance and Business Review.
Who knows what could be in store in 2020? Just six weeks from now, Scotland have the chance to lift the Calcutta Cup on a third consecutive occasion for the first time in 48 years. As ever at this time, a new year brings new hope.
Month-by-month guide to 2019
Anticipation was high as, for the first time, both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors secured last-eight places in the Heineken Champions Cup, after Edinburgh’s 19-10 win over Montpelier propelled them and Glasgow into the quarter finals.
The Guinness Six Nations Championship started brightly for Scotland with a home win over Italy in the first round of matches, but any momentum was halted by Ireland the following week, who won 22-13 at BT Murrayfield. A subsequent 27-10 reversal in Paris further deflated pre-tournament optimism.
Scotland showed improvement despite another Guinness Six Nations defeat at home to Wales, in a close encounter only settled by a last-minute penalty for the visitors. Few then gave the Scots any chance of avoiding defeat at Twickenham the following week, where they had not won since 1983, and with England steamrolling their way to a 31-0 lead after just half an hour, the game looked well and truly over. But in the most remarkable 50 minutes in the history of the national team, six thrilling tries gave Scotland an unthinkable 38-31 lead as the clock went past 80 minutes – until England’s George Ford crossed for a try in the last play of the game, converting his own score to snatch a draw for England at the death.
Scotland Women completed their Six Nations programme with a heavy defeat at Twickenham, but their best chance of a victory had been snatched from their grasp a week before at Scotstoun, where a last-minute converted try for Wales snatched victory over the Scots, who had the small consolation of a superior try-count over their visitors. Meanwhile, Scotland Women centre Helen Nelson was selected for the Barbarians Women’s squad for first ever international fixture, against the US Eagles.
Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors missed out on semi-final places in the Heineken Champions Cup, Glasgow going down 56-27 to Saracens in their quarter-final, and Edinburgh pipped by Munster at BT Murrayfield, with the visitors sealing a narrow 17-13 victory courtesy of a try ten minutes from full-time.
Domestic rugby dominated, with Ayr triumphing twice over Heriot’s as the teams contested both the finals of the Tennent’s Premiership and the Scottish Cup, while Aberdeen Grammar defeated Highland in the National League Cup final. In the women’s game, Watsonians lifted the Sarah Beaney Cup with a 21-17 win over Hillhead Jordanhill in the final. Meanwhile, Philip Doyle was appointed as coach of the Scotland Women’s team, succeeding Shade Munro.
Glasgow faced Leinster in the Guinness PRO14 final at Celtic Park in Glasgow, in front of a record crowd of 47,128, with Stuart Hogg making his final appearance for the Warriors before joining Exeter. Alas, there was no happy ending for the Scotland full-back, who left the action early following a heavy challenge, with his team-mates going down to an agonising 18-15 defeat as Leinster retained their title.
Ross Ford, Scotland’s most capped player in the men’s game, announced his retirement from rugby to take up a role bringing on the next generation of young Scottish players in the FOSROC Scottish Rugby academy.
Rugby took a back seat at BT Murrayfield, as football provided another showpiece occasion at the national stadium, with Liverpool taking on Napoli before a bumper 65,000 crowd.
Scottish Rugby made a key appointment with the arrival of Jim Mallinder as Performance Director, replacing Scott Johnson who departed in April after seven years at BT Murrayfield. Experienced head coach Mallinder had most recently served as England player pathway coach. The union also reported a record turnover of £61.1 million ahead of its annual general meeting.
Scotland Women got off to an excellent start in their two test tour of South Africa, with an emphatic 47-5 victory in Athlone, scoring eight tries in the process. A week later they turned on the style again with a 38-15 victory at the same venue, to record a 2-0 series win. Meanwhile, Scotland back row player David Denton was forced to announce his retirement from the game at just 29, after sustaining a concussion injury while playing for Leicester Tigers. Scotland won three of their four warm-up Tests for the Rugby World Cup, a home success against France and home and away victories over Georgia. Fans continued to flock to BT Murrayfield with 14 successive full-houses.
Edinburgh Rugby broke ground on its new 7,800 capacity stadium on the site of the back pitches at BT Murrayfield, to give the professional team its own home at last after sharing venues ever since the team’s inception. The stadium was scheduled to be ready for the start of 2020/21 season. In the Rugby World Cup, an opening match defeat by Ireland and convincing wins over Samoa and Russia, left Scotland’s hopes of progressing to the quarter-finals resting on their meeting with hosts, Japan, who had earlier accounted for Ireland. Ultimately, in a cracking match, Japan won 28-21 and Scotland’s RWC was over. The rivalry against Japan will continue in our 2020 Autumn Tests at BT Murrayfield, where we will also welcome Argentina and New Zealand.
This was another big month for the domestic game, with the launch of the FOSROC Super6, a new tier of semi-professional rugby introduced to bridge the wide gap between club rugby and Scotland’s two professional teams. The tournament got off to a strong start, with six rounds of fixtures completed, and the cross-border element still to come in 2020.
At pro team level, the departure of Glasgow Warriors coach Dave Rennie was confirmed for the end of this season, following his appointment as the next head coach of Australia. Scotland assistant coach Danny Wilson was announced as his replacement.
Scotland Women played two further internationals at Scotstoun, finding Wales too strong in a 17-3 defeat, then running Japan much closer but losing out 24-20 courtesy of a last-minute converted try from the visitors.
Meanwhile, the Scottish rugby community united in support of Tom Smith as the former Scotland and British & Irish Lions prop revealed he is battling stage four cancer.
Scottish Rugby published the Gammell/Murray Independent Corporate Governance and Business Review, sparking further debate on the future of the game in Scotland.
Other big news included the international retirements of Scotland internationalists Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay and Tommy Seymour, while it was also announced that Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor would be joining the Australia national team. Former Ospreys coach Steve Tandy was named as Taylor’s successor, with former France prop Pieter de Villiers joining the Scotland camp as scrum coach for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations Championship.
A dramatic 12-7 defeat to La Rochelle at Scotstoun all but eliminated Glasgow Warriors from the Heineken Champions Cup, just a week after the Warriors had beaten the same opposition in France, but Edinburgh gave themselves a strong chance of qualifying as one of the best group runners-up in the European Challenge Cup after back-to-back victories over Wasps.
Watsonians completed the double over Hillhead Jordanhill by triumphing in the Tennent's Women's Premiership final, with a 36-26 victory giving Watsonians the trophy for the first time and adding to their Sarah Beaney Cup win over the same opposition back in April.
But for many, the highlight of a busy month was the sight of Scottish rugby hero Doddie Weir receiving the Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show. Doddie, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2016, set up the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation in 2017, which has since committed over £4 million worth of fundraising to research into finding a cure for MND.