Scotland v Ireland in 1989 Five Nations: Iwan Tukalo recalls hat-trick

By Andy BurkeBBC Scotland
Iwan Tukalo
Iwan Tukalo's hat-trick took 30 years to be matched by a Scotland player
Scotland's Rugby Classics: Scotland v Ireland from 1989
Watch on BBC iPlayer

Most players would reflect on scoring a hat-trick for their country with nothing but fondness, but Iwan Tukalo can't get one moment from his big day against Ireland in 1989 out of his head.

"I butchered a two-on-one and I cringe every time I think about it," he says. "It's a given that I'm there to score tries, but when you screw up those are the things that stick in the back of your mind."

Scotland fans are sure to be more favourable in their recollections of one of the national team's great displays and Tukalo's performance in particular. The little wing may have stolen the show with his treble, but this was a day in the Murrayfield sunshine when the whole team was right on it.

Having started the Five Nations in promising fashion with a resounding home win over Wales and a rare draw at Twickenham, the Scots ran in five tries - Damian Cronin and John Jeffrey also crossed - to dispatch the Irish 37-21.

"Out of all the Home Nations, Ireland were the most accommodating for me," Tukalo says. "I played against them seven times and only lost once, my first cap in 1985 at Murrayfield. After that it was win after win and I scored my first international try against them in 1987.

"The games against Ireland were always a joy to play in. They'd throw the kitchen sink at you at the start of the game and if you weathered that storm you could hit them on the rebound. It seemed to be a ploy that worked for us."

'I wasn't sure if it had gone forward'

The striking thing watching the game back is the tempo of the Scottish side. In true Jim Telfer-style, rucks are cleared with ruthless efficiency, the ball is away quickly and the pace of the play leaves the Irish in daze.

Tukalo's first try is a beauty, with the ball going through just about every set of Scottish hands before the winger is left with "the easiest of run-ins".

He then added a second in the first half and his historic moment came after the break, when he finished off a clever set-piece backs move. Given 1926 was the last time a Scot had scored a championship hat-trick, this was a big deal, not that Tukalo knew it at the time.

"If you watch it, I kind of hesitate because I wasn't sure if the ball had come to me forward off Scott Hastings. I was waiting for the referee to signal it was a try and at that stage you go, 'Oh, that's three, I've got to buy the beers'.

"Obviously it is a significant achievement, but at the time you're just so focused on the game. Brendan Mullin then scored two tries to keep Ireland in the game so you were soon brought back down to earth."

Disappointing end, but new beginning

Tukalo's feet were unlikely to be anywhere other than on the ground under Telfer's stewardship. The legendary coach was not one to shower, or even lightly sprinkle, his players with praise. Not even a hat-trick could yield plaudits from the great man.

The fine win over Ireland set the Scots up for a Five Nations finale against France in Paris. They travelled with confidence, but were blown away as Les Bleus clinched the Championship.

"These French sides on their home turf with the sun on their back... if they got out of bed on the right side they are just so hard to play against. They were on fire that day," is how Tukalo remembers that 19-3 defeat.

The disappointing end to the 1989 Five Nations turned out to be just the beginning for this Scotland side. They would go on to achieve immortality the following season, beating England to clinch the Grand Slam in 1990.

"You look at the team in '89, we had the players that would form the backbone of that '90 team and had been together for a number of years," Tukalo says. "Finlay Calder, JJ and Derek White in the back-row; Damian and Chris Gray in the boiler house; and the unsung boys up front in Paul Burnell, Kenny Milne and David Sole.

"In the backs you had Craig Chalmers and Gary Armstrong coming onto a game; Scott and Sean Lineen in the midfield; Peter Dods played that game but Gavin Hastings was waiting in the wings. So you could see it was the beginnings of the team that would go on to win the Grand Slam."

'I'll suffer more abuse watching it'

Tukalo spent 30 years as the last Scotland player to score championship hat-trick until Blair Kinghorn bagged three against Italy in the 2019 Six Nations.

The Grand Slam win over England in 1990 stands above all others for those Scotland players involved, but the 1989 win over Ireland was Tukalo's day. On Saturday, he'll watch it all over again, though he's expecting about as much praise from his family as he got three decades ago from Jim Telfer.

"I watched the Grand Slam a few weeks ago with my son and daughter and I got nothing but abuse from them. They couldn't believe how small l was on the rugby field," he says.

"I may have to suffer more abuse on Saturday. There may be a bit where I cringe with that two-on-one. I won't even be able to fast forward so I'll just have to endure it."