Finlay Calder: career memories and highlights

Growing-up in Haddington, East Lothian:

I was the youngest son of Robin and Betty Calder, one of four brothers and indeed I am a twin.

Jim and I were introduced to the game of rugby when we must have been about five or six years old and together with elder brothers, Gavin and John, we would play together in a small field in front of the house in Newton Port in Haddington.

My father set up a couple of posts and a cross-bar and from there, there was no way back. We had the most fantastic upbringing with perfect ready-made sides, two a side. We would play for hours.

My brother Jim talks about the 10,000 hours that a Sportsmen or a Craftsman has to have under their belt before they do things instinctively. Think we reached our 10,000 hours in the field by the age of ten! Hour after hour after hour just kicking the ball or playing ‘touch rugby’ and as we matured it turned into tackling; it was done by osmosis.

What a relief it must have been for our parents just to let us loose in the field? With all the energy used up and sometimes a few tears too, we returned exhausted. It was a great rugby stable.

As youngsters we grew up watching the local Haddington side. They had some tremendous players at the time. Colin Young, Ronnie Skea, Malcolm Jones, Jimmy Wilson, Johnnie Walker, Dick Short, Andy Cuthill, Hugo Erskine. Heavens, I haven’t recalled these names for forty years, yet they still just trip off the tongue; am sure it was around this time when Frankie Strang was Captain.

About the age of 14 or so we used to play for Haddington when the sides were short of players with the thirds and fourths. We played with people like Gordon McColl , Jimmy Bowman and Tom Middlemass and the like. That was at a very junior level but it was lots of fun.

It was a great introduction to Senior men’s rugby which, understandably enough, you could never do nowadays but that was back then and that was fine. We would play for our school in Edinburgh in the morning and sometimes play with Haddington in the afternoon. We slept well on a Saturday night!

I believe to make a successful career in a sport, which Jim and I did, together with Gavin and John at Stewart’s Melville FP, and to go through your manhood and be good at something, you really have to eat and breathe it, that’s what we did.

School to be truthful was a bit of a distraction; the whole thing was based around playing rugby.

I can still remember going away on holiday to Tayvallich on the West Coast of Scotland and on our return home, Dad would always bring us back round by Ferryfield, just to see if the posts were up for the new season.

We were beside ourselves with excitement just to see the posts were up!

It seems a bit ridiculous now but Jim recalls the day we got our first game of rugby; it was against George Heriots JC1, we couldn’t sleep at night, we were that excited!

I think to start with, it has to be for the love of the sport and then from there, if you’re reasonably good, by one way or another, it drags you into it and it becomes part of your life.

The Road to International Rugby

I became involved in the Scottish set-up in 1982 when they were bound to tour Australia. Two of the guys broke their legs in the run up and that was my lucky break! That was my first exposure on the international stage and although I didn’t get to play against Australia, I was part of the touring team. A whole new world had opened up. From there, I went to Romania a couple of years later with the squad, but again, not as part of the International team.

At that point I must have been about 26 and I just said to the Union that ‘as there were younger lads coming through and as I am starting a new job, if it’s all the same I would take a step back.’ They were bringing younger men through and the truth was they were actually better than I was and I recognised that.

Then about eighteen months on, Jim Telfer phoned and said that ‘they had arranged for the A team to play Italy and if I was prepared to sit on the bench, I’ll be sure to be given a crack at the Trial Match in January.’

It was his call that gave me the confidence that something might happen; he was and remains a contradiction of a man but when he picks up the phone and says ‘I’ll make sure that will happen’, you don’t say no.

From there I got the Scottish Trial in ’86 and was capped a week later and thereafter enjoyed five years of what was the greatest time of my rugby life culminating in the Lions tour to Australia in ’89.

Again it was all about being at the right place at the right time; the candidates for my position were either injured or unavailable for whatever reason and I ended up Captaining the Lions; an amazing set of circumstances and something I was very honoured to do of course.

Before I got the call; I kind of knew it was coming because Clive Rowlands, (the Manager) had given me the nod earlier in the year. He just said something like, ‘I’ll be seeing you later in the summer ’; I can’t remember exactly what he said but it was a pretty strong indication that if things carried on, I would be involved. It was the most amazing time and if I was to capture any part of my rugby life to be the highlight, then that would be it.

The winning of the third test and beating Australia in Australia; there is nothing that has come remotely close to it!

Although the fulltime score in the Third and deciding Test was 19-18 in our favour, the truth was, we were much better than them; the score didn’t reflect that. Although we were far stronger than they were on that day, the Australian culture is that it never ever gives in and you can never shake them off. They just clung on in and if I’m being totally magnanimous, I would have said that nineteen all would have been a fair result, however, I’m not that magnanimous!

I know in later life Nick Farr-Jones, the Captain of Australia, said that it was the best thing that ever happened for Australia; two years later they won the World Cup; they were galvanised and hardened up by our tour.

As for our own party to begin with there was a bit of weighing of each of other up but then as soon as the first game starts, it’s was ok.

We were all in it together and without exception, the camaraderie and the unity amongst the squad and the management was just superb. We remain good friends.

Outside the Scots who I regularly see, I saw Roger Uttley recently and keep in touch with Dean Richards and Mike Teague and Clive Rowlands too. I know that others keep in touch with others and now and again we try to come together.

It’s a friendship and a bond that has stood the test of time.

It’s also interesting how it’s not just about the success on the pitch, there has to be mutual respect. People like Brendan Mullin, Ieuan Evans and such like; wonderful people on and off the pitch.

From that group of players, so many of them have carved very successful careers out in the sport; they were a special group of men; Rob Andrew in his role at the RFU, Dean Richards at Newcastle Falcons. Dai Young is Head Coach at Wasps and I know Robert Jones, Ieuan Evans, Scott Hastings and Gavin; they’re all very much still involved in the game and Brian too with the BBC. Amongst that group of high-achievers on the park there’s really no surprise that they’ve achieved good things in their lives off the park.

Playing International Rugby:

It’s a huge step up to International rugby. When that first hit goes in, you literally feel the contact right down to your big toe. When I go back I can think of several instances when you just didn’t know if you were standing up or where you were!

Brian Moore refers to them as ‘stingers’; the pack goes down, you get caught in the wrong way and you get a ‘stinger’. I think a ‘stinger’ is about the best expression; it just stuns you.

But way above the contact, the biggest fear that most people had, was the fear of failure and I know that’s an easy thing to say but I think it’s true. You just don’t want to let yourself down, your family down or your Country down; you just don’t want to let people down.

I think that’s the biggest motivating factor for people that represent their country in any sport.

The most intimidating atmosphere:

There‘s nowhere but nowhere that comes near to Paris; it’s fantastic.

A spring day Paris with the French with their tails up you know that you’re in for a difficult afternoon. The crowd, the hens on the pitch and claxons going off; it’s just a cacophony of noise. When the French play rugby, there is no-one in the World to touch them.

If they are in the mood and in the groove nobody can live with them. Mercifully they don’t follow that groove every time.

Paris takes you so far out of your comfort zone.

They whistle you into the bowels of the stadium; you’re literally driven in at seventy miles an hour with police outriders through the streets of Paris. It’s all designed to put you on the back foot; which it does.

If I recall in 1989 they were all over us; one of the most difficult first half’s of rugby I’ve ever played in my life, yet come half time, for some reason, they decided they’d done enough to us. They just seemed to stop and we got back into it, rather like Scotland did on Sunday against Ireland. It could have been forty by half time; but we hung on in there grimly, bit like how the Australians do, and finally I think they just got bored with us!

Beating England to win the 1990 Grand Slam.

It was a good day because inside ourselves, genuinely, we thought we would win. We didn’t make a big scene about it. Graham Mourie, the former All-Black Captain once said that ‘ripeness is all’ and you’ve got to be in the right position and be ‘ripe’; everything will come into play. We were ripe that day; it was no more and no less than that.

The English team of that era wasn’t just quite ready to move on. It was a great day for Scotland but it was actually a good day for England too. Don’t think they saw it that way at the time but they came out of the experience all the better for it.

They’ve pushed on from there and that whole era began with Geoff Cooke to Clive Woodward. They became organised and structured and finally deservedly won the World Cup some fourteen years on.

The legacy of that game was that it hurt the England team to its core and from that they came back all the stronger.

The game itself was over in a flash.

There are some days when you feel you can run forever and other days when your legs feel as heavy as lead; that day we could run forever. We were all feeling good. Some days you look around the changing rooms and there are a few carried injuries but it wasn’t on that day. Everyone was fresh.

For the wining try I remember Gavin (Hastings) kicking it back into play and it was then a straight foot race between Tony (Stanger) and Rory (Underwood). Tony had the advantage in that Rory had to turn whilst he was at full tilt as Gavin kicked it.

I think that if it had been a straight forward one-on-one, Rory might have come out on top; he was very quick over the first twenty yards. But the game turned in our favour and you could see the more the game wore on, the England team started to, not panic as such, but tried to press on. They were always chasing the game; we were solid

Happy days

Finlay Calder

Finlay Calder is supporting the Sporting Memories Network

Read more about Finlay on www.lionsrugby.com

Memory added on February 28, 2013

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