When Glasgow faced the All Blacks
Tuesday 6 November 1979.
It may not be a date that many supporters immediately recollect, but it’s a date that is etched in Glasgow rugby history. For it was on that crisp November afternoon that New Zealand arrived at Hughenden as part of their 1979 end-of-year tour.
To date, it’s the sole occasion on which the All Blacks have faced off against Glasgow in any incarnation. Here, in the words of those that took to the field that day, is the story of how Glasgow almost took down the world’s greatest team…
A tenacious 27-year-old scrum-half, Sandy Service was renowned for being a menace to not only his opposite number but to the opposition team overall. It was that tenacity that saw him named in the Glasgow squad, although he admitted that it was a slightly bittersweet feeling upon finding out about his selection
“We found out after a training session at Glasgow Accies,” said Service.
“I was delighted to be named in the squad, but you also felt for those that didn’t get selected – it was a difficult one for some of the boys that missed out.”
Service’s West of Scotland team-mate Dougie Livingston was another to receive the nod for selection, marking the then 23-year-old’s first call-up for the District.
“I’d never played for Glasgow before, so I was a bit overwhelmed to say the least!” said Livingston.
“That Glasgow side was a pretty handy side, and we took it to them up front.”
Indeed there was a familiar face in the making lining up in the back-row – albeit after a swift bit of negotiating on his behalf.
“I was still a student at the University of Glasgow,” explained John Beattie.
“I’d booked an appointment to see my tutor, a chap called Hugh Sutherland, and I genuinely thought they wouldn’t give me the afternoon off!
“To me this was the most important thing that had ever happened in the world, apart from the moon landing, but I was thinking that I was doing a degree and rugby was nothing to the powers-that-be at the university.
“I sat down – absolutely terrified – with the head of department and almost apologetically asked for the afternoon off, explaining that I’d been picked to go and play in a rugby match. He just sort of raised his eyebrow and asked who I was playing. When I said the All Blacks, he just started laughing and told me that the university would be honoured! It was a huge thing for everyone.”
Whilst the game was still an amateur sport, no-one should be in any doubt as to the extent of Glasgow’s preparations for the biggest match in their history.
“I think people underestimate how hard rugby players trained back in those days,” said Beattie.
“I remember Bill Dickinson had been brought in, and he kept hammering the message home that the All Blacks were just humans like you,” agreed Livingston.
“My week in those days was go up to Stirling on Monday to do weights with a few West team-mates, Tuesday and Wednesday were club training days, Thursday was Glasgow training and then Friday was the day off – alongside the day job, we were kept pretty busy!”
With the game fast approaching, the All Blacks arrived in Glasgow with something of a fanfare – including some particularly interested spectators upon their arrival at the team hotel.
“We’d actually snuck into the grounds of the then-Pond Hotel when the All Blacks arrived,” admitted Beattie.
“I turned up in my car, and the car park was already suspiciously full. I looked around, and almost every other Glasgow player and coach was sat in their own car waiting for the All Blacks to turn up!
“They were huge men, the All Blacks. They were almost figures of myth.”
Game day arrived, and with it the fervour amongst players and spectators alike increased tenfold. To a man, the Glasgow side line up to face the haka ahead of kick-off, with one player in the home side particularly fired up.
“The haka in those days definitely wasn’t what it is now, but it was quite something to face that,” said Service.
“It got me going, let alone them – I was stood there thinking ‘you’re in for it pal’!”
At the other end of the spectrum was Livingston, who was experiencing pre-match nerves on the grandest of scales.
“I actually almost had a panic attack ten minutes before kick-off!” he laughed.
“Once we got out there though, it was all about the game. I found myself on the wrong side about ten minutes in and got myself rucked out the back of the breakdown by the All Blacks pack. That was an experience I’d never had before!
“It was amazingly skilful, so well executed – it wasn’t done to give you a kicking, it was to get you away from the ball.”
“You were in the middle of that game thinking ‘am I really here?” added Beattie.
“We had car mechanics, lawyers, builders, butchers and students like myself, and we were playing the All Blacks.”
Ultimately, it was the tourists that took the victory, edging a highly competitive encounter 12-6.
“To my dying day I claim we should have won that game,” stated Beattie.
“There were parts of that game where we were all over them.
“It was a day that definitely saw Glasgow gain some respect from the best team in the world.”
Whilst not feeling as assertive as his former team-mate, Service admitted that there were a few ‘what ifs?’ amongst the Glasgow side following the full-time whistle.
“They scored two tries and we didn’t score any, so you can’t argue too much,” said the scrum-half.
“There was a lot of pride at the final whistle, but there was definitely a mix of emotions – you were thinking ‘if only’, for sure.”
All those thoughts were put to one side for the post-match social, however.
“The All Blacks who weren’t in the Test team at the weekend made a night of it,” smiled Livingston.
“We were allowed two free beers, and then we had to start paying for the drinks,” added Service.
“We all then ended up on the bus back to the New Zealand hotel, and the drink was free all night. It was a tremendous night.”
40 years on
Each of Beattie, Service and Livingston went on to continue their rugby careers following that match at Hughenden, each in similar yet different fashions.
I’d played down in Newcastle with Gosforth in the same side as [former England and Lions back-rower] Roger Uttley for a while, I then got a job with Proctor and Gamble which is what brought me back up to Glasgow,” said Service.
“I stopped playing senior rugby in 1989 – I think! – and then went into coaching.
“I coached at Ayr, and worked with guys like Pat MacArthur and Gordon Reid – both future Warriors of course! – and at one stage I was coaching West of Scotland firsts, doing some work with Ayr and also with Stewarton.”
Service’s business also gave him the unique opportunity to claim a memento of his battle with the All Blacks, showing the distinctive opportunism of a number nine.
“I’m the only one with an All Blacks jersey from that day,” he laughed.
“There was a wee bit of a stooshie during the game, where Mark Donaldson punched Gavin Angus. So of course at the next ruck, the Glasgow pack took a bit of retritbution, and they ripped his jersey.
“In those days if you ripped your jersey, it was of no use to anyone, but I had a company that meant I could repair it.
“I asked him for the shirt, mended it and I’ve kept hold of it ever since.
“I actually met up with Mark in a Classics event in Bermuda – we had a great wee catch-up, and I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of the boys I played with on that day.”
Livingston’s pre-match nerves didn’t prevent him from turning out for Glasgow on many subsequent occasions, including making further appearances against international opposition.
“I continued to play for West until 1990, and I got to play against Australia and France for Glasgow later in my career,” he explained.
“That New Zealand match is right at the very top, though. No question.
“A friend of one of my children was over staying with us from New Zealand, and it turned out that both Murray Mexted and Graham Mourie – who I’d played against in that match in 1979 – were both friends of his family. It’s a small world!”
For Beattie, his rugby journey was just getting started. A sterling career saw him go on to make 25 appearances for Scotland, as well as touring with the British and Irish Lions on three separate occasions. So where does his first encounter with the All Blacks rank in his illustrious life in rugby?
“It’s the biggest memory of them all for me,” said Beattie.
“All the Warriors boys now will realise that what you remember as you get older is not what you do late in your career, or the big results – it’s the formative days with your club you remember the most.
“I’ll never forget taking that afternoon off to go to Hughenden to play the All Blacks, going out there in a Glasgow shirt and taking on the best in the world.
“To me, that’s probably my biggest rugby memory.”
This article was originally published on 6 November 2019 to mark the 40th anniversary of the match. All photos courtesy of Rugby Memories Scotland.