Columnists 20.3.2018 11:18 am

Rugby beyond him but he’s still a patriot

Jon Swift

Jon Swift

The Incomprehensible One duly settles to watch what was for him a fairly confused tableau at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome as Scotland lined up against the Italians.

There was no faulting the patriotic gesture which underlined the strong strains of his Caledonian upbringing in the steel town of Falkirk, the replica jersey with Scotland proudly emblazoned across the chest was displayed front and centre.

It should be explained at this juncture that while the Incomprehensible Scot’s presence is more than welcome among the usual gathering – of which he is an integral part – his knowledge of the mechanics of rugby union and the Six Nations, more than a trifle limited.

As he has said on more than one occasion: “Ah ken tha fitba, Ah ken tha goff an Ah allus watch tha tennus … but tha rogbah?”

The Incomprehensible One duly settles to watch what was for him a fairly confused tableau at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome as Scotland lined up against the Italians.

The Azzurri, with inspirational captain Sergio Parisse in the vanguard at No 8, came out like a veritable cyclone and put all the pressure on the visitors from the opening whistle.

It was the Italians who drew first blood with a penalty by Tomasso Allen in the seventh minute that gave the home team a deserved lead.

“What were tha fer?” asked the Incomprehensible One. But it clear that even after a detailed breakdown of why the visitors had been penalised, he was sadly adrift of the intricacies of the convoluted laws that rule the game.

Frazer Brown got over for a try. But then Allen struck again, scoring the first of his two tries, which he duly converted himself and the visitors’ backs were against the wall. “Dinna fash yersel,” said the Incomprehelsible One, with all the confidence someone born north of Hadrian’s Wall could muster, “tha Scots’ll fight back, tha’s wha tha do.”

To cut a long story short, Allen’s conversion of his second try in a Man-of-the Match performance saw the Italians leading 17-12 at half-time and looking a lot like they would carry on the way they had started.

But the Incomprehensible One remained undaunted. “Dinna fash yersel,” he repeated, “tha Scots’ll fight back, tha’s wha tha do.”

But it became a match of the Scots scrapping all the way and Greig Laidlaw’s boot keeping them in it.

There was the regular interjections from the Incomprehensible One, echoing his earlier query. “What were tha fer?” he asked as yet another blast of the whistle momentarily halted play and kept the scoreboard ticking in what was turning into a memorable Test battle.

Again, detailed verbal diagrams of the laws seemed to pass him by and left him looking even more bewildered by just how anyone could possibly take this game seriously.

Yet he kept up the mantra of “Dinna fash yersel, tha Scots’ll fight back, tha’s wha tha do.” He was beginning to attract some sideways glances but, kept steadfast in his belief that the Scots would prevail.

And, with Italy holding a 27-26 advantage with the minutes ticking agonisingly away, the Scots were awarded another penalty. Laidlaw stepped up, kicked the matchwinner and Italian shoulders slumped.

“Ah dinna wanta ken what tha were fer,” he said of the amazing Scottish fightback. “I tol ya, dinna fash yersel.”

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