Anyone’s first view of Murrayfield should be from Murrayfield House, pint in hand.
The grand corner building sits to the north of the stadium, across the Water of Leigh. Standing in its front courtyard, Murrayfield can be seen proud and weighty, past the expanse of Roseburn Park.
From the courtyard, the ground is a wee stroll down Riverside Crescent and as the old man finishes the last remnants of his Guiness, we join the throng of punters en route. Closing in on Murrayfield, the western stand looms large and the austere heaviness of the ageing stadia can’t help but impress.
Flanked by the rapidly fading shadow of the Pentland Hills, it’s a ground where the weight of rugby tradition breathes heavily.
Upon reaching the ground, heavy breathing becomes all to literal, as we’re shepherded through steel barriers and into slits in the free-standing red brick block that is Murrayfield’s ticketing gate.
We squeeze through slits that were surely designed well before the deep fried Mars bar became the national dish. The snugness is acutely felt by the old man, who is nurturing a well-earned paunch, courtesy of those pre-match Guinnesses.
He raises this with the ticket scanner, who dryly advises him “to lay off the pies”. Needless to say, something akin to a pie is the first thing on the agenda, as we squeeze into Murrayfield.
Refreshingly, we find the northern entrance free from manufactured photos of defrosted pies or similar fast food that tend to line modern concourses. So, ignoring our ticket man’s advice, we head straight for a white trailer serving venison burgers and generously squeeze brown sauce and mustard over a white bun filled with a venison patty and fried onions.
Noticeably, Murrayfield’s fare is more club rugby than international and that’s more than okay with us. Wiping quickly freezing condiments from our cheeks, pick up a couple of Tennents and head into the concrete bowels of the western stand.
Seated in the northern corner, I listen to the old man ponder if this is the same end that was once a muddied bank and where he once saw the All Blacks beat Scotland on their way to a Grand Slam. The passing of forty years and a game watched in dense Scottish mist, while enjoying a hip flask of Scottish Single Malt, brings a foggy end to this particular recollection.
However, we do wonder what Mourie and his men would make of the orange training kit of the current squad.
As the Scots follow the fluro All Blacks through the tunnel, Murrayfield is suddenly plunged into darkness. Those in the know quickly raise their phones and with Murrayfield resembling a music concert, dramatic Highland music rolls across the pitch. Combined with continued replays of Mark Bennett’s 2015 Rugby World Cup intercept, you can feel Scottish blood starting to boil.
As the minutes pass the now customary farts of pre-game fire signify that kick off is imminent. With the black Kathmandu windbreaker a dead giveaway, the seat next to us is taken by a fellow Kiwi and we mumble through the instrumental version of God Defend New Zealand in continued semi-darkness.
It’s not until the stands start heaving in homage to Proud Edward’s Army, that Murrayfield is plunged back into light. The rendition of Flower of Scotland, is a sign that the crowd is up for the challenge and despite TJ’s impressively strained jugular the first cry of the Ka Mate, is drowned in chants of Scooootland, Scooootland, Scooootland.
With the Haka not going to script, the Scots also fail to revert to type after kick-off, brazenly taking control of the game and limiting the All Blacks to a master class of well rehearsed exit strategies.
The Scots play deep and with width, straightening on second man plays in the hope of catching a lazy All Black on the inside. When not exiting there own 22, New Zealand contrastingly persist with a flat approach, which sees the pill shovelled from one static player to another. A lateral symptom that emphasises Scotland’s first half dominance.
Despite their ascendancy, Scotland don’t really threaten and the half culminates in another undefinable McAttack. At once both brilliant and idiotic, McKenzie’s in-goal scramble, ends in a strong run from Reiko Ioane.
The resulting penalty only provides Scotland another opportunity to showcase their breakdown dominance and a turnover brings the half to a close at 3-3. The crowd is in a buoyant mood and the Scottish fan in front of us, speaks earnestly of his time on a New Zealand farm many moons ago.
The All Black dressing room however must have been devoid of any such pleasantries and they start the second half with the residue of a Shag rocket still visible. Reiko sparks a movement that ends with his floated pass finding a seagulling Codie Taylor, who slides over in our corner.
Barrett misses the conversion, but his next chance is more simple, with McKenzie dotting down next to the posts from a Sonny Bill Williams grubber. The All Blacks look to have wrestled back control and a third try is looming, before a Tommy Seymour intercept ignites a Scotland charge up field.
Multiple All Black penalties, a Sam Cane yellow card and a powerful Jonny Gray pick and drive later; and it’s back to a one score game.
The All Black response is as blunt, as it is refined. Pre-meditating the SBW battering ram and offload, Mackenzie runs an exaggerated unders line to collect a no look flick, before finding Barret running on an arching loop with a similarly blind pass. Barrett’s impressive score brings the smattering of kiwi support to their feet, but Murrayfield retreats into a deathly silence.
With a 12-point lead restored the All Blacks once again look comfortable, but another turnover invites Scotland back into the fight. The All Black defence holds, just long enough for Wyatt Crockett to take up Sam Cane’s still warm naughty chair. But with the Wyatt-less scrum winning a penalty, the All Blacks look to have escaped once again.
The Scottish crowd however, is still in full voice and they win a free kick when Harris loses communication with his lineout callers. Murrayfield is instantly rewarded with some Hogg wizardry and quick hands from Seymour, creating a try for Huw Jones.
Now a five-point ball-game, the decibels within Murrayfield lift a few notches. Claiming the kick-off Scotland bash away at the All Black defensive line.
A stalemate ensues and multiple phases are traded between the Scottish 22 and ten metre. Then a half break on the left and quick ball ensues. The Dutch guy behind us, who has commentated the majority of the game, becomes so excited that the names of Scottish players are now indistinguishable from his phlegm ridden narration.
Watching Scotland drift to the left, I hear a “Russell” between Dutch hocks, before a guttural Hogggg breaks through the phlegm, signalling a wall of navy to stand as one in front of me. I glimpse Hogg slip past Tu’ungafasi and with depth perception becoming a problem, Barrett clatters into him somewhere in the opposite corner. I see the ball pop free, but a lot remains unknown.
Is it play on? Do Scotland have it? Are they over the line? Is it a knock-on? I glance at the big screen and the referee seems to be calling time. My suspicion is gratefully confirmed, as adrellian induced shock strangles the crowd mid roar and Hogg’s despairing scream bangs mutedly off the turf.
It’s a few seconds before Murrayfield finds its voice and when it does a deluge of Scooootlands flood the stadium. Our man in front, turns to offer congratulations, adding that this “was a more enjoyable game than last week…and we won that one”.
Respect! I wouldn’t have have been quite so philosophical, had Hogg carried another 10 metres.