HAWICK RFC STATEMENT: Out of respect for the Oliver family, the club have waited before releasing the following tribute to Greig following his untimely and tragic passing. Marlene, Derek & Lyndsay have given us their blessing to now do so.
by MALCOLM GRANT
EVERYONE associated with Hawick RFC, Scottish Rugby and the wider global rugby community felt deeply shocked and saddened by the news, on Monday 3rd July, of the sudden passing of Greig Oliver, a much-loved, favourite son of Mansfield Park.
Greig, who was out in South Africa with his wife Fiona supporting their son Jack as he represented Ireland U20s in the Junior World Championship, died tragically in a paragliding accident.
Having sadly had to write obituaries recently for several great Hawick rugby men, to sit now and try to come to terms with putting pen to paper for a dear friend, such a respected, talented and humble family man who has been taken from his family far too soon, is extremely difficult.
Greig began his rugby career at Wilton Primary School, where he competed in the much vaunted Keown Trophy under the watchful eye of May Sinclair.
Then, on moving up to Hawick High School, he was coached and mentored by Bill McLaren, who on recalling that Greig’s father Lawrie had been a handy scrum-half for Hawick Linden, knew exactly where young Oliver’s future lay.
On leaving school, Greig joined the Southern Reporter where he worked as a Linotype Operator and Sports Sub Editor.
He played briefly for semi junior side Hawick PSA before being picked up by Hawick Trades from where, after a brief period learning his trade at senior level, aged 18, he got the call to head down to Mansfield Park.
His first game for Hawick was against Royal High in 1982, and it must have been quite intimidating walking into the home dressing room, to be greeted by the likes of Jim Renwick, Alastair Cranston, Alan Tomes, Sal Campbell and Paul Hogarth. Greig, however, swiftly settled in, and grew into the green jersey, quickly making it his own, and in doing so he became an integral part of a very powerful Hawick side at that time. It is no coincidence that Hawick won four championship titles back to back between 1983-84 and 1986-87 with Oliver at the base of the scrum.
The consummate professional in an amateur era, Greig worked tirelessly at his game, looking to develop and improve all the time. Indeed, he could often be found out-with training nights up behind the Volunteer Park with Derrick Grant, working on his box-kicking and passing off both hands, in the glow of the streetlights, such was his desire to become a more complete player, and Grant’s recognising Oliver’s potential.
As the ‘Green Machine’ took on all before them during the 80s, Greig unsurprisingly caught the eye of the District selectors and was rewarded by representing the South of Scotland at junior, U21s, and senior level. Scotland honours at U21s, and firstly ‘B’ then ‘A’ cap level, came in tandem with these South honours, culminating in his winning a coveted first cap against Zimbabwe in the 1987 World Cup in New Zealand, marking the day with a fine try in a convincing 60-21 win. At that time Greig became Hawick’s 50th international cap.
He went on to gain a total of three caps for his country, the second against New Zealand in June 1990 while on tour with Scotland, when he came off the bench as Scotland agonisingly just lost out to the All Blacks 21-18. Scotland won the try count that day two to one, but the metronomic Grant Fox edged the game for New Zealand with five penalty goals.
Greig’s third cap was at Murrayfield, once again against Zimbabwe in October 1991, when the Scot’s won 51-12.
He was to face Zimbabwe a third time in his career, at Hartsfield, Bulawayo, on what was classed as a Scotland Development tour where caps weren’t awarded. That day he single handedly dismantled their defence in a man-of-the-match performance, scoring three tries in the process. Scotland won 31-10.
Greig toured with Scotland to Japan in 1989, New Zealand in 1990 and North America in 1991, during which time he played 15 of the 24 games, including five non-cap internationals.
During the tour to Japan in ‘89, Greig showed his true colours when almost single handedly hauling Scotland over the line in a match they lost 24-28. As the form of others deserted them, he led by example, scoring five penalties and a conversion, in the process.
In an era when Scotland had a tremendous wealth of talent at scrum-half, Oliver found himself vying for the No 9 jersey with British Lions and fellow Borderers Roy Laidlaw and Gary Armstrong, and would be destined to sit on the Scottish bench more than 40 times during a six year period. This being at a time when replacements were only permitted due to injury.
Greig was also invited and travelled with the Baa-Baa’s on their Easter tour to Wales in 1992, during which he played twice, in the 55-12 victory over Swansea, and in a hard fought 26-25 victory over Cardiff, a game in which he scored 10 points.
Towards the end of his playing career there was another game of great local significance in which Greig also scored 10 points. During season 1996-97, on his way back from injury, he turned out for Hawick Linden, his brother Derek and father Lawrie’s team. The match was a fourth round tie in the recently introduced Scottish Cup against the might of city side Stewarts Melville.
In what was arguable one of the greatest days in the junior club’s history they emerged victors by 15-9, with scrum-half Oliver scoring two tries. A very special day for both Greig and brother Derek.
When the time came to hang up his boots, looking to challenge himself further in the game that he loved (having previously left the Southern Reporter to become a SRU Rugby Development Officer in both the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway), he took on the role of Academy Manger at the SRU, during which time he held the roles of Scotland U21s Assistant Coach and U20s Head Coach.
He still found time to get involved at Mansfield Park, where he was part of the set-up under Ian Barnes which brought the league title back to the town in 2000-01, then in the following season taking over the coaching reins, he guided the Greens to the unprecedented treble of the Scottish Premiership, Scottish Cup and Border League.
His canny disposition, an astute tactical mind coupled with an ability to connect with players of all ages to bring out the best in them, made him a much prized asset. So, when he moved to Limerick in Ireland in 2007, where his wife Fiona is from, he become Director of Rugby at Garryowen, a post he held for four years from 2007 until in 2011, before the Irish Rugby Union came calling.
Having recognised Grieg’s ability, he was awarded the post of Elite Performance Officer with the Munster Rugby Academy in September 2011, a post he held until his untimely death.
In this position he played an instrumental role in developing Munster players for a career in professional rugby, numbering a young Conor Murray as one of the scrum-halves he worked closely with.
During this time, he also held coaching roles with Ireland U20s, Munster ‘A’ and the province’s age-grade sides, while still finding time to study for a Masters Degree in Performance Psychology.
Although he had been away from Hawick for 16 years, Greig was always keen to find out the Greens’ score on a Saturday evening, and he was absolutely delighted to see his home team regain their standing at the top of Scottish club rugby last season.
Greig ultimately played a tremendous 336 games for his beloved Robbie Dyes over 15 seasons at Mansfield Park between 1982 and 1997, and will always be remembered very fondly as one of the finest scrum-halves to come out of Hawick.
As well as being respected by his opponents and much loved by the Mansfield Park faithful, Greig was a great friend, team-mate and colleague to so many, whose lives were undoubtedly all the richer for knowing him.
Everyone connected with Hawick RFC send their love and heart felt condolences, to Greig’s wife Fiona, their children Jack and Ciara, Greig’s mum Marlene, brother Derek and sister Lyndsay, and their families.
Gone far to soon, but never forgotten. Rest in peace Greig.
- This tribute was initially published on the Hawick RFC website and has been reproduced here with Malcolm’s blessing. You can read the original piece HERE.