DARK BLUE LEGEND MACPHERSON ENTERS WORLD RUGBY HALL OF FAME

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Former Dark Blue GPS Macpherson has become the latest Oxbridge graduate to be inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame. George Philip Stewart Macpherson learned his rugby at Edinburgh Academy and then Fettes before heading south to study at Oriel College, Oxford, where he earned a double first in Classics. He won the first of his 26 caps for Scotland at the age of 18 years, 58 days before he had won his Blue. Having made “a highly creditable” try-scoring debut for the Dark Blues in a 21-0 win over Old Merchant Taylor’s at Iffley Road a week after his 18th birthday, he went on to help Oxford win nine of their 13 games in the build-up to Twickenham. Yet despite scoring in five of those wins, and also helping the Dark Blues to triumph at Leicester and at Twickenham over Harlequins, he wasn’t picked for the 1921 Varsity Match – the first to be played at Twickenham. Instead, the captain and scrum half, Ewen Campbell, went for the experience of Vincent Price and the strength and speed of Alan David. Campbell might have thought the freshman to be too young, but 52 days later he made his international bow against France at Stade Colombes as one of eight debutants in a 3-3 draw on 2 January, 1922.  Also making his first appearance in the Scottish back line that day was Eric Liddell. An outstanding centre, who possessed a brilliant rugby brain as well as a jinking side-step, he went on to win Blues in the next three seasons, captaining the side in 1923. He scored a try against the 1924 All Blacks at Iffley Road and was part of a back division at University that included fellow Scottish internationals, Ian Smith, George Aitken and Johnny Wallace. By the time he left Oxford Macpherson had won six caps and left a huge mark on rugby at the University. According to Howard Marshall in his book, “Oxford v Cambridge – The Story of the University Rugby Match”: “ . . .he must surely be ranked with the game’s immortals. His contribution to Oxford rugby was great, and always there as evident behind his play an exceptionally keen intelligence. He was another of the theorists, like Stoop and Wakefield, and he worked out the possibilities of midfield attack with the calculating precision of a watchmaker. Like the other great tacticians, however, he did not stop at study and discussion, but put his theories into practice, and only the most observant and knowledgeable spectator could appreciate to the full the chess-board subtlety of Macpherson’s moves in attack or defence. A beautiful and most gifted player, worth his place in any company.” His greatest achievement came in 1925, when he captained Scotland to their first Grand Slam. He may have missed the opening Varsity Match at Twickenham, but he took centre stage in the first international to be played at Murrayfield. The Scots had already beaten France, Wales and Ireland and only arch-enemies England stood in their way of a slice of Scottish sporting history. A crowd of 70,000 urged their heroes on to over-turn an 8-5 interval deficit to complete the Grand Slam with a 14-11 triumph. Smith, nicknamed the ‘Flying Scotsman’ for his exploits on the wing for University, club and country, didn’t score on that occasion – he has scored eight tries in the three previous matches – but no fewer than 21 of his 24 international tries came in the 17 games in which he played outside Macpherson. No wonder, then, that Macpherson was rated the best player in his position bar none. He played the last of his 26 Tests a decade after the first, against England in 1932. He was named this week among 12 new inductees in the World Rugby Hall of Fame and will join a number of other Oxford greats on the 132 strong list. There were two inductees in the first year of the Hall of Fame in 2006, one of them being the Oxford cricket Blue, and founding father of rugby union, William Webb Ellis. In 2009, the innovative Oxford three-quarters Harry Vassall and Alan Rotherham were added and a year later the Cambridge duo of Mike Gibson and Percy Carpmael, founder of the Barbarians, were inducted. There was another Oxford double act in 2011, with Rugby World Cup founder John Kendall-Carpenter and Canadian great Gareth Rees, while 2012 saw one of Macpherson’s Dark Blue team mates, Alan Valentine included as one of the USA Olympic gold medal winning teams. Two Scottish, British & Irish Lions and Cambridge captains, David Bedell-Sivright and Gavin Hastings, were included in 2013 and last year the Hall of Fame brought in Light Blue legends Wavell Wakefield and Gerald Davies, along with Oxford’s English Grand Slam captain Ron Poulton-Palmer.

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