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The 1938 Triple Crown

Wilson Shaw


As had occurred in the 1925 Grand Slam season, once again it was their backs who stole the headlines for Scotland during the 1938 Triple Crown success. One name was elevated amongst the rest for the brilliance of his performances, that of the captain, the remarkable Robert Wilson Shaw. Shaw, known throughout his career simply as Wilson, was a genius without equal on his day; he had all the tools that were required of a world-class rugby back. He was lightning fast, he had great running ability and could change direction so quickly and effortlessly as to leave even the finest defender flailing in his wake, he could pass and dummy with equal effectiveness.

He did have weaknesses to his game, in that he was not a strong kicker of a rugby ball and his tackling was far from the strongest part of his game. The biggest problem with Shaw's game however was his inconsistency. Shaw was an enigma, on the wrong day his play could prove wayward and he was as capable of benefiting the opposition as his own side.

Older Scottish rugby fans, who remember Shaw's playing days, have compared Wilson Shaw with Scottish record cap holder Gregor Townsend, another flawed genius who delivered outstanding performances with rank bad ones in almost equal measure. Like Townsend the selectors could hardly ever agree on Wilson Shaw's best position for the international side; he played at wing, fly half and in the centre (Shaw occasionally also played at full-back for his club side Glasgow HSFP). Fly-half was arguably his best position and it was in this position that Shaw shone during the 1938 Triple Crown campaign.

With France not competing during the 30's, Scotland would face only three fixtures in 1938; the first of these was a Murrayfield game against Wales. This game took place in Edinburgh on 5th February 1938 and was an extremely tense affair, decided by a late penalty kick from Crawford, to give Scotland a narrow 8-6 victory, although the Welsh, who scored two tries to one, might have won had they taken their kicking opportunities.

Wilson Shaw had an outstanding game, in a game otherwise dominated by defences. Though he did not personally make the scoresheet, his outstanding running and incisive breaks kept the Welsh on their toes throughout and he was instrumental in creating space for Crawford's try. Indeed Crawford scored all of Scotland's points on the day.

Ireland came to Murrayfield for the second fixture of the season, three weeks later, on 26th February 1938. This proved to be a far more expansive and open game of rugby than the Wales game, with both sides scoring four tries apiece in a highly entertaining game of running rugby, where once again Shaw was the star of the show, doing just about everything else apart from putting his own name on the scoresheet. Forrest (2), Macrae and Drummond scored Scotland's tries, whilst O'Loughlin, Moran, Cromey and Morgan did likewise for the visiting Irish side.

So, with two home wins under their belts, Scotland took to the road and to their only away fixture of the 1938 campaign, a daunting trip to Twickenham to face England for a game which would become known as 'Wilson Shaw's game'.

It cannot be doubted that the finest moments of Wilson Shaw's international career came in this Triple Crown decider at Twickenham. As in 1925 the Scots needed to beat the Auld Enemy to finish with a one hundred percent record. This time however they had to perform this feat away from home in the English side's south London fortress.

It was an extremely tall order, but with a scintillating performance from Shaw, the Scots managed a rare Twickenham success. Scotland's attempt to win the Triple Crown at Twickenham in 1938 was witnessed by record numbers, as this was the first ever rugby international to be televised. Amongst the crowd that day, on only his second-ever visit to Twickenham, was a young boy from the Borders, who went on to become a future hero of televised rugby, known the 'voice of rugby', the legendary Bill McLaren.

Scotland outscored England by an incredible five tries to one. Leading only 12-9 at the interval, the Scots penetrated the English back-line time after time, particularly during a brilliant second-half performance. Shaw himself scored two tries, narrowly missing a deserved hat-trick on several occasions and made a third. Renwick (2) and Dick were Scotland's other try scorers.

Shaw was carried shoulder-high from the field by his colleagues as the Scots celebrated a 21-16 success and their most successful season since 1925. The press of the day acclaimed Wilson Shaw as 'the greatest rugby player of his generation'.

Wilson Shaw's international career ended at the end of 1939. Shaw was rather mysteriously selected out on the wing, instead of at fly-half, in all three of Scotland's Championship games. Shaw was largely anonymous, barely getting a chance to shine in any of the three games as the Scots frustratingly stumbled from heroes to zeroes, losing all three games and falling from their championship pedestal to be awarded the wooden spoon. Shaw retired from international rugby after the loss to England, a sad end to the career of one of Scotland's true sporting greats.

Wilson Shaw died in 1979, aged 60. Despite regularly attending Murrayfield internationals after his retirement, sadly he would never again witness another Scottish Triple Crown success, let alone a Grand Slam.

Written by: Paul MacDonald

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