Behind the mic with Bill Johnstone

Behind the mic with Bill Johnstone

Edinburgh Rugby's thrilling 48-47 victory over Racing 92 in November 2011 is often to referred to as the 'greatest game never shown' due to the fact it was never broadcast live on TV.

The miracle match was a genuine 'you had to see it to believe it' encounter that will go down as one of the most entertaining games in Edinburgh Rugby and European rugby history.

One man who was there in person - describing the every ebb and flow that the match produced - was legendary commentator Bill Johnstone, who covered the game with BBC Radio Scotland.

The legendary wordsmith - who hung up his microphone in 2017 - caught up with to look back on the high-scoring encounter and give a first-person recollection nearly a decade on.

The most exciting game I've seen in years

I have looked out my old commentary sheet for the match and refreshed my memory of the Racing 92 match all these years ago.

The first thing that caught my eye was the very brief report I had written on the front cover of the sheet. It started “The most exciting game I’ve seen in years!" And so it was.

An end to end struggle between the teams with a dramatic finale in which Tim Visser scored his second try and Edinburgh’s sixth in the corner to bring Edinburgh to within one point at 46-47.

The report on my commentary sheet continues: “It depended on Greig Laidlaw’s final conversion to go from 46-47 to 48-47, and of course he did it! Greig emerged as Man of the Match, played at 10 in the second half after Harry Leonard was subbed, and he didn’t miss a kick all night."

You have to remember the ebb and flow of the game

In the many games I covered for the BBC, I don’t think I ever covered a professional club match which was anywhere as exciting as that game against Racing.

You have to remember the ebb and flow of the game really to understand how well Edinburgh played to stay in the match and finally win it against the galaxy of French international talent.

In their ranks that night were the likes of Juan Imhoff and Juan Martin Hernandez of Argentina, Benjamin Noirot the French hooker, Lionel Nallet with 70 caps at that time, and Sebastian Chabal with 67 international appearances to his credit.

The young Edinburgh side had a powerful front row of Chunk Jacobsen, Ross Ford, and Geoff Cross. A fresh faced uncapped 21 years old Grant Gilchrist was at lock, uncapped Stuart McInally, also 21, was in the back row with the evergreen Roddy Grant, and Greg Laidlaw only had two caps to his name on that night.

Edinburgh were good but they carried a lot of youngsters in the team.

The scores came thick and fast

As the game progressed, Edinburgh went from 17-3 ahead after only 8 minutes to 20-31 down at the interval, and my thoughts were that Racing were getting into their stride and Edinburgh would have their hands full after the restart.

Iain Morrison and Richie Gray from Gala were summarising that night with me on radio and they were of much the same opinion.

The scores came thick and fast after half time. Wisniewski the Racing full back was in great kicking form and landed a penalty before converting Chavancy’s try and kicking another penalty.

It was 20-44 after 12 minutes of the second period for Racing and there were gey gloomy faces in the commentary box as Edinburgh faced an uphill struggle with less than 30 minutes to go.

Edinburgh never stopped fighting

However the four try fightback then started, although in truth Edinburgh had never stopped fighting for the lead.

Big Netani Talei the Fijian captain went in for for a try which Laidlaw converted. Tom Brown scooted over for Laidlaw to add the points again and tries followed from Roddy Grant and finally Tim Visser, although such was my excitement that I identified the scorer as Nick DeLuca! Sorry, Tim...

Greig had converted everything that night but Visser’s try wide out had brought Edinburgh to within one point of Racing at 46-47.

Up stepped the wee fellah from Jed and cool as a cucumber he slotted the long range goal for a 48-47 lead. Wonderful stuff and high drama on the international surface.

One of my favourite rugby memories

On a personal level if I was excited by this match in the first half I was just about jumping out of the commentary box by that stage.

Four minutes left and Edinburgh were trying to keep Racing at the far end of the pitch. There was a final heart-stopping moment for all of us when Juan Hernandez, The Magician, the Argentine fans call him, snapped off a dropped goal attempt which would have won them the match, but to BT Murrayfield’s relief it skidded wide.

John Lacey of Ireland blew his whistle to indicate full time and Edinburgh had won a famous victory and one which has stayed with me as one of my favourite rugby memories along with the 1990 Grand Slam win against England.

A night to remember

After the final whistle, Messrs Johnstone, Morrison and Gray just looked at each other, sooked for air as we were breathless with what we had seen, and just enjoyed the moment as the Edinburgh fans rose to cheer their team as they left the field.

Six tries by Edinburgh, 5 by Racing, 23 points for captain and Man of the Match Greig Laidlaw, and and a night to remember as we look forward to the next encounter between these two sides.

Let’s hope for another epic this weekend with Edinburgh edging it once again. Rugby, the great game when it’s played like this. Good luck to the Edinburgh lads!

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