On this day… Wilson Shaw’s Match

On this day… Wilson Shaw’s Match

Today (Thursday 19 March) is the 82nd anniversary of one of the greatest victories in Scottish rugby history. It was a game forever enshrined as “Wilson Shaw’s match”!

After wins against Wales (8-6) and Ireland (23-14), Scotland came to Twickenham to face England in search of their first Triple Crown since 1933. Even before the kick-off, there was a sense this was a momentous occasion. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were among the 70,000 spectators and the game was the first to be televised live, though the few TV sets that existed were basically in the London area.

Since Scotland had first played at Twickenham in 1911, they had only posted the one win – in 1926 – in 11 attempts. The omens were further stacked against Scotland as their bus driver got confused on the way to the ground and the Scotland players had a long walk through the milling crowd to get to their changing room, leading to some good natured ribbing/barbed comments (depending on which contemporary accounts you choose to believe) but verbal sledging did seem to be around in 1938!

Wilson Shaw (Glasgow High School FP) was the Scotland stand-off and captain. His performance at Twickenham in this game led The Scotsman newspaper to describe him as “the greatest rugby player of his generation.”

Scotland scored five tries to one, two magical, solo tries from Shaw, who also crafted a third and England kept a foothold in the game through their doughty pack and their goal-kicking.

Sandy Thorburn, Scottish Rugby’s first honorary historian, recounted Shaw’s first try, which gave Scotland a 12-9 half-time advantage:

“The ball was put out to Shaw who dummied and cut out to the left touch line, leaving the defenders standing by his acceleration. Faced by Parker (the England full-back) he produced a text-book right foot/left foot fast jink which left the full back sprawling in touch and ran in for a wonderful solo try”.

The Welsh rugby writer JBG Thomas described Shaw’s second try, the ultimately decisive score, just two minutes from time:

“Shaw gathered in the loose before any Englishman could kill the ball and went away on the right, dodging and swerving and no-one could lay a hand on him. English defenders dived and fell in his weaving path, but none could stop him and eventually he raced around Parker to cross the English line”

Scotland’s other tries in their victory came from William Renwick (2), the Edinburgh Wanderers and London Scottish wing and Charles Dick, the Guy’s Hospital centre, who after the Second World War emigrated to New Zealand and became one of the country’s leading doctors.

At the end of the match, Wilson Shaw was carried aloft by his team-mates and saluted by spectators who burst into a spontaneous rendition of the national anthem!

Shaw, who later served as a President of the SRU, later told historian John Davidson that once showered and changed at the end of the game he made his way to the tea-room, which the players shared with the public.

He found an empty chair beside an elderly gentleman and started a chat. “Pretty hard going out there today,” said Shaw. “Yes, you must be glad you were not a player!” came the response.

Shaw was one of Scotland’s all-time greats and the match and his role in it will be cherished forever.

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