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The epitome of Scottish stoicism and one of the finest props of his generation, Sandy Carmichael passed away on Wednesday night aged 77.
Carmichael was part of the successful Lions to New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa in 1974 as well as making 50 Test appearances for Scotland in an era where caps were far harder to accrue. He was also a member of the the Barbarians’ famous victory against New Zealand in Cardiff in 1973, which can be regarded as a degree of karma for the events of two years earlier when Carmichael seemed destined to start for the Lions against the All Blacks.
That was until a shameful provincial match against Canterbury, widely accepted as the dirtiest match in Lions history. Carmichael was punched repeatedly in the face at the scrum and in one instance kicked in the head at a ruck. He was left with multiple cheek fractures. The subsequent photograph of his facial scars is one of rugby’s most iconic if grizzly images.
Yet Carmichael never identified the assailant of his assault that robbed him of his Test place against the All Blacks. In an interview with The Scotsman in 2015, he was determined to keep it a secret so the matter would stay alive. “Nae chance,” he says, “I’m taking the guy to my grave.”
The grandson of a Scotland football international, Carmichael was a skilful hockey player who instead found his calling in the front row, first at loosehead and then at tighthead. Carmichael treated scrummaging as a science, relying just as much on technique as he did on his raw strength. He was renowned for his ability to scrum off one leg so he could sweep the ball back on the scrum-half’s feed.
Yet he was also mobile around the field and made two crucial try-saving tackles in the 1969 Five Nations victory against France. Representing his country from 1967 to 1977, he became the first Scotland player to win 50 caps.
We are saddened to learn of the death of Lion #497 Sandy Carmichael MBE.
Carmichael was part of the revered 1971 & 1974 squads and was recognised as one of the bravest as well as fairest players to grace the game. Our thoughts go to his friends and family at this time ❤️ pic.twitter.com/6tUpAZZOA6
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) October 27, 2021
However, he suffered for such longevity. He retired from rugby in 1978 because of arthritis in his spinal cord. Aged 42, he underwent the first of what would be five hip replacements. He needed multiple other parts of his body replacing and lost count of the number of operations he underwent. He told the Irish Independent in 2005: “I take so many pills, I rattle.”
Again he never complained about the steep price he paid for a decade at the coalface. In a statement the Scottish Rugby Union said: “He was a giant of the game in Scotland in many ways and our thoughts and condolences go to his friends and family.”
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