It is almost exactly 40 years since the legend that is Willie John McBride played his last game for Ireland at Cardiff Arms Park in March 1975.
Four decades on, Scotland lock Jim Hamilton, whose team welcomes championship-chasing Ireland to Murrayfield this afternoon, would be the first to admit that he does not match up to the iconic Antrim forward.
Despite over eight years of loyal service to his country, earning 60 caps in the process (only three fewer than McBride), plus a distinguished club career with Leicester, Edinburgh, Gloucester, Montpellier and latterly Saracens, Hamilton cannot compete against a man who contested a record 17 Tests for the Lions across five tours and enjoyed series victories in New Zealand and South Africa.
Hamilton is no pigmy, though. Quite the opposite, in fact, for while video clips from the recent BBC documentary “Willie John” showed McBride to be literally and figuratively a giant of his time, he stood five inches shorter than the 6ft 8in Scot and weighed nearly four stones less.
Hamilton’s sheer bulk and immense physical strength are evident as he towers over me and we shake hands, and although the 32-year-old had yet to be born when McBride was in his pomp, he is well aware of the Irishman’s standing in the game.
“He’s a legend of the past and we all know him,” he confirmed. “His name has gone down in folklore, but this weekend I’m only thinking about me, Jonny Gray, Paul O’Connell and Devin Toner.”
O’Connell is the only Irish lock who can possibly be mentioned in the same breath as the inspirational McBride, and the 35-year-old is due to set a new record today as his country’s oldest captain.
He and Hamilton have crossed swords on numerous occasions, and the Scot recalled: “We’ve played against him many times before, both successfully and unsuccessfully. He’s a massive talisman for them, and I have huge respect for him and for what he’s achieved.”
The herculean efforts of O’Connell and his pack provided the foundation for Ireland’s thumping victory over England, but Sam Warburton’s Wales proved last week that the back row trio of O’Mahony, O’Brien and Heaslip could be nullified, so does Hamilton agree that forward domination might again be key this afternoon?
“They’ve definitely got a good pack,” he smiled.
“They’re so efficient in what they do, and we’ve spoken about that all week. But we feel there are cracks in their lineout and we’ll look to exert some pressure on them in the first set-pieces.
"I played in the game two years ago when we beat them at Murrayfield, and we stole 10 out of their 14 lineouts, so that was a good day for Scotland.
“I also played when we won in Dublin in 2010 when Johnnie Beattie scored that try up the touchline, although I had a back injury in the lead-up to that game.”
Hamilton was in the wars again during last Saturday’s Calcutta Cup defeat, and he explained: “I took a very mild head knock and, because of the George North incident, I went off to get some tests done and went back on again at half-time.“
“On paper it doesn’t look as though we’ve done well in the Six Nations, but Vern Cotter is the best coach I’ve ever worked with and we’ve got fantastic young players coming through.
We’re playing some good stuff, we’ve scored some exciting tries and we’re not being bullied up front the way we were before, but we’re also making some naïve errors, which really cost you at this level. You can see there’s something there, that’s the frustration.
“Are we better than the Wooden Spoon? Yes, we probably are, but it’s a results-driven business and we need to tie everything together now. Winning is a habit, as I learned when I played for Leicester and Saracens, and losing is a habit too.
"We’re not thinking about the World Cup in six months. We’re just concentrating on Saturday’s game. Can we win against Ireland? Of course, but it’s not going to be easy because they have some fantastic players.
"We genuinely believe we can win, although even if we beat Ireland, I still won’t be happy with what we’ve done in the championship.”
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