HE is far too reasonable and well-mannered to shut the conversation down, but Ross Curle does shift uncomfortably in his seat when the subject of his Jekyll and Hyde on-field persona is brought up.
“What people see between the first and 80th minute on a Saturday afternoon is probably not a true reflection of the person I am off the pitch,” he says. “I’m a pretty chilled-out and low-key guy. I don’t really get up to much – I go to work and then I hang out with my fiancé, my mates and my dog. I think if you speak to anyone who knows me well, they will tell you that outside rugby I’m just a friendly guy, who is up for a bit of a laugh.”
For eight years, Curle has been a warrior prince in Ayr’s midfield. An accomplished ballplayer with the vision, pace and technique to create opportunities for himself and those around him; but also a fearsome competitor who will change the flow of a game with a ferocious collision, a fearless contest for possession on the deck or some good old fashioned niggling of the opposition.
It is this second aspect of his game which has, on occasion, landed him in hot water. He has been no stranger to the issuing of yellow-cards over the years, and he missed a large chunk of the 2012-13 season after picking up two red ones in fairly quick succession for dangerous tackles.
“I was mortified on a personal level – just the fact that I had let my mates down and it is embarrassing for my family,” he admits, when that particular blot on his record is mentioned.
“While I have never gone out to do something which would get me a red card, and I hate the idea that people might think I tried to hurt someone, I have allowed myself to get too excited and ended up getting clumsy. It tended to be when things weren’t going our way and I’d be trying too hard and losing control for a split second.”
“It got to the point where I was thinking to myself: ‘I can’t believe I am going to have to try to explain myself to my Dad and apologise to everyone involved, again’. I had to acknowledge that whether I meant it or not I was the one in control and I think off the back of that I have managed to move forward.”
It would be wrong to suggest that Curle is a totally reformed character. He still pushes it to the limit, and sometimes beyond – as was the case in last year’s BT Cup semi-final against Melrose when he picked up a yellow-card for a no-arms tackle when his team were 13-10 up and they ended up losing 13-20 – but it was never the intention to completely reinvent himself as an angel.
“I don’t think I could ever get completely rid of that side of my game, and I don’t think I’d want to because it would take away a bit of my edge – being a smaller guy you are always trying to punch above your weight,” he explains. “I don’t see myself as an angry player, but I am feisty. I don’t consciously go into that mode, it’s just something that takes over on the pitch – but I think I deal with it better now than I did four or five years ago.”
“I was captain of Ayr last season and have captained the Scotland Club XV during the last two seasons, so I hope that says something positive about my character on the pitch these days.”
Curle will certainly need to have his sensible head on this coming Saturday when Heriot’s will pitch up at Millbrae intent on carrying on from where they left off the last time they were there – running out 26-29 victors in last year’s play-off Grand Final to clinch a second successive BT Premiership title.
That was a bitter pill to swallow for Ayr, who had finished the regular season nine points ahead of the chasing pack, and had surged into a commanding lead against Heriot’s only to see it all unravel in the final 15 minutes.
Heriot’s endured a patchy start to this season, losing four out of their first six games including an 18-23 reversal to Curle and co at Goldenacre in round two, but their recent form has been excellent – seeing them climb to fourth in the table and within spitting distance of the summit, which is jointly occupied by Ayr and Melrose at the moment.
“Heriot’s won the main event last year, but over the past few seasons it has been pretty even – we’ve won a few games at Goldenacre, they’ve won a few games at Millbrae, so we’re pretty well matched. It is a game the players always look forward to because it is a massive challenge,” says Curle.
“They’re a big team in the league, they’ve been champions for the last two years, and their brand of rugby is brilliant – they have a powerful pack but they like to throw the ball about so you have to be ready for both.”
Melrose and Glasgow Hawks have already surfed a wave of optimism down to Millbrae this season after showing scintillating form in their lead-up games, only to be wiped out by Ayr’s rampant pack – but painful experience suggests that the home side might find it a bit tougher at the pit-face this Saturday.
“You can never afford to be complacent, and I really don’t think that was the case with us in last year’s play-off final,” says Curle. “They just had a really good strategy that day – their driving maul was prolific and we just couldn’t match it. I thought we played some really nice expansive rugby and cut them to pieces at times, but they killed us with that driving maul. I think they scored three times off it so you’ve got to take your hat off to them.”
“A neutral might say they are not the team they were but I wouldn’t read too much into that. Every team will go through a period of transition at some point and if you look to what they have done in the last couple of weeks they are definitely back to where they were – if not potentially moving it on a little bit. So, we know what is coming and we are ready for it.”
Curle gets married next May, has bought a house in Stirling and has a demanding day job as a marketing executive for the Scottish Rugby Union based most of the week in Edinburgh. He says he is treating every season as a bonus and is making no firm commitments beyond the end of the current campaign.
In Paddy Dewhirst and Stafford McDowell, coach Calum Forrester has already identified a couple of youngsters with serious potential, who he believes will be ready sooner rather than later to take a lead role in Ayr’s midfield.
“Stafford has been fantastic and every week he gets better. People see what he does on a Saturday and are impressed, but I see him on a Tuesday and a Thursday and the work he puts in is phenomenal, and the same goes for Paddy,” confirms Curle.
“That’s great because guys like Frazier Climo [Ayr’s equally influential Kiwi stand-off] and myself are not going to be about forever. We’ll probably be finished sooner rather than later,” he adds.
Despite what he says, don’t bank on Curle making it easy for these young guns any time soon. At 28 years of age, there are surely a few more campaigns left in him yet – and quietly stepping aside just isn’t his style.
Fact file –
Name: Ross Curle
Date of Birth:28th December 1978
Height: 5’ 9”
Previous clubs: Viadana (Italy)
Honours: Scotland under-18, under-19, Sevens and Club internationalist
Three wins from three matches as captain of Scotland Club XV
Four Heineken Cup appearances with Viadana between 2007 and 2009
Club captain of Ayr in 2015-16 season
Images courtesy: Ayr RFC