Six Nations 2016: Milne brothers recall French battles
A quiet cafe in Leith is, perhaps, not the most appropriate setting for a chat about the scariest French front-row forwards in history, but here we are.
On one side Iain 'The Bear' Milne; on the other, his wee brother, Kenny. A prop and a hooker, a pair of veterans of a combined 17 Tests against Les Bleus - alive and well and telling the tales like they were only yesterday.
If you scan the history of Scotland versus France from 1979 right through to 1995 you're going to find a Milne in there in all but a couple of seasons. Before we delve into the darkness we do a roll call of characters they have faced, direct rivals in those scrums and rucks that make them smile even now.
In 1979, in Iain's second cap for Scotland and his first against the French, his opposite number was Gerard Cholley, widely accepted as the most terrifying of all French forwards and, arguably, the most intimidating rugby player of all-time. Then it was Armand Vaquerin, the hero of Beziers and a man who years later blew out his own brains in a game of Russian Roulette.
"Aye," growls The Bear. "Unfortunate."
Among others, he faced Pierre Dospital, Philippe Marocco and Pascal Ondarts. Some of the most storied names right there. Kenny's turn. His first experience playing France in a Test match came 10 years after his big brother, the Five Nations of 1989.
His rival hooker was Philippe Dintrans, then it was Louis Armary. In 1993 he faced Jean-Francois Tordo. In 1994 and 1995 it was Jean-Michel Gonzalez. These names, and the names of those around them, conjure memories and laughter and gently mocking humour.
"Which of us played against them more times?" asks Iain.
It's 9-8 in his favour.
"Who won more games?" he continues.
Iain did, 4-3.
He turns to his younger sibling. "You only beat them three times? Pathetic."
They're a double act you could listen to all day, a pair of wise-cracking Grand Slam winners - Iain in 1984 on a famous day against the French, Kenny in 1990 on an even more famous day against the English - that were steeped in the game as young men and are still steeped in it now with their beloved Heriot's, where it all started.
"I'm three years younger than Iain," says Kenny. "I can remember going down to Goldenacre (Heriot's ground) with my father to watch him playing for the seconds and then the firsts and then watching him play for Scotland. I remember him playing France for the first time. Over in Paris. A world away."
That was the Cholley game - March 17, 1979. It was Cholley's 31st, and last cap. "Two years earlier he had laid out five Scotsmen in Paris and his reputation was ferocious," says Iain.
Some of the footage of that match still exists. There's Cholley decking Scotland's No 8, Don McDonald. There he is again, flooring Scotland's stand-off, Ron Wilson. The look of confusion on Cholley's face as he's penalised for the Wilson incident is priceless. He gestures to the referee that it was a mere hand-off that had sent Wilson spinning into next week and, to Cholley, it was. To everybody else it was a punch in the face.
"I was pretty apprehensive," says Iain. "Not scared, but wary. I remember standing at the tunnel in Paris and looking at Cholley and the rest of them and they were like a gang of people who'd just been released from the Bastille prison. Then I looked at our lads - Ian McGeechan, Andy Irvine and Alan Lawson, with their beautiful combed hair and their white shorts and I said, 'How are we going to survive this?'"
"In that match you got the ball and you kicked it," says Kenny.
"I did. The only time I ever kicked the ball in an international match."
"Why did you kick it?"
Iain pauses for a moment, remembering the emotion of the time. "Panic," he replies.
Scotland lost that game 21-17, but The Bear would have his revenge the following year in Murrayfield when Vaquerin was opposite him in the scrum. "Up to that point he was the toughest man I ever scrummaged against. Immensely powerful. Andy (Irvine) played in that game and he had a horror show in the first half. We were something like 10 points behind at the break."
"Andy was booed off, wasn't he?" asks Kenny.
"He was. First time any of us had ever seen anything like that. Then he came back out and he won the game single-handedly. That was the end of the booing."
Iain's last appearance against the French was a 20-20 draw at the 1987 World Cup in Christchurch, New Zealand. Two years later, the second wave arrived from the Milne family.
"Before I got capped, I'd played for Edinburgh against a French touring side and the famous Daniel Dubroca was their captain and hooker. I took five or six against the head from him. Every time I won their scrum-ball their second-row punched me. I went up to him afterwards and said, 'Hey, I knocked hell out of your fist today'. All you could do was duck.
"My first time playing France in a Test was in 1989, in Paris. I just loved the atmosphere. I loved the bus journey to the ground with the police out-riders knocking cars out of the way unlike here where you have police outriders who still stop at the traffic lights.
"I played against Dintrans and he was my hero in terms of how he played. That was quite special. We were still in it at half-time but, to a man, we were absolutely spent. The French had done a systematic job on us, standing on our calf muscles and all the rest of it. We had nothing left for the second half and lost 19-3.
"Another time, I took a scrum against the head from Dintrans right on our own line and a few scrums later I took another one against the head. The Scottish front-row ran away downfield after the ball and Jean-Pierre Garuet, a famously scary prop, grabbed me by the neck and shouted, 'Non!' I went, 'OK!'"
Dubroca, Dintrans, Dospital, Garuet - such names.
"We had these dinners after Five Nations games," says Iain. "Each table would have a mixture of players from both sides but it was all different with the French. They'd sit on their own, because the language barrier made it difficult.
"Over the years, though, as their respect for us grew they'd come over and tap you on the shoulder and ask you to join them. I remember Garuet doing that to me. We couldn't speak each other's language but we still shared a couple of bottles of red wine."
"They took such pride in the scrummage," says Kenny, "that when they'd ask you over then you knew you'd achieved something. You'd either broken even or had won the battle and they respected that."
Kenny begins to laugh at this point. He wants Iain to tell the story about the time, three or four years ago, when he was invited over to France for the end-of-season club awards. Every year the annual ceremony has a segment where players from foreign countries are celebrated. This particular year the awards organisers drew up a list of half a dozen props from around the world who had excelled against the French over the years and The Bear was among them.
"He got a lovely framed picture," says the younger brother.
"Yeah, it was a lavish bash. It was actually a great honour. We went up on stage and they had video on the big screen of the other props in action but there was just a black and white photo of me, probably because they couldn't find any film of me with the ball in my hands.
"I got presented with a framed photograph and that was great. It's lovely to be remembered. I looked at it and then I looked at it again. The picture was of Kenny, not me. I didn't say anything, of course. I just scored-out Iain and wrote in Kenny and gave it to him for his 50th birthday."
By now, Kenny is chuckling madly. "He goes up on stage and gets his photo and it's his wee brother. Absolutely brilliant."
Cherished memories of a golden era that keeps them smiling after all these years.