THERE is a long-established rule in sports reporting: The higher the level of chat in a press box – the more boring the game. Just like paying fans, sports reporters sometimes find themselves talking of anything but the game they are watching, so awful is the fare before them.
One of the most-common diversions you will hear in press boxes is a team picking exercise, quite often based around the best uncapped Scottish team. Those players who perhaps ought to have been capped, or, because of injury or the presence among their contemporaries of a super star, never got that tasselled piece of velvet.
So, that’s my Christmas gift to The Offside Line readers. What would your Scotland XV, made up of guys who never won a full cap, look like? And, to start the discussion – here’s mine, in 1-23 order:
1. Jock Craig (Ayr): “Auchlin” wanted to be the first Ayr player capped out of the club, but a combination of factors conspired against him. He was behind a legend in Ian McLauchlan for the number one shirt with Glasgow, and, while many believe Jock might have been better on the tight-head side, well, Sandy Carmichael was already there. Jock got to sit on the bench for the B team, he got a few games for Glasgow, and featured for the Combined Glasgow and Edinburgh XV against the All Blacks. He also was selected for a couple of trials, but, he contracted brucellosis and had to drop out. Five years either way, and free from illness – I am sure he’d have been capped. He was a natural footballer, who turned down both Auchinleck Talbot and Cumnock Juniors to play rugby.
2. Rodney Balfour (Glasgow HSFP): Rodney was a fixture in the High School front-row for what seemed like forever. He won B caps, and featured a few times for Glasgow, at a time when the competition included the capped Quintin Dunlop of West of Scotland, Ronnie Boid at Jordanhill and Dickie Allen at Kilmarnock. However, at national level, Frank Laidlaw was the man and, by the time he had departed, Rodney was in the veteran category and his chance had gone.
3. Jock McClure (Ayr): I make no apologies for picking another Ayr prop. “Stiffy” won eight war-time caps, played for the British Empire against France in 1945 and won a “Victory” cap against Ireland in 1946. That he never won a full cap was perhaps down to sheer bad luck, in that his peak years coincided with WWII. He was also a regular pick for the Inter-City game, so he was good enough, just unlucky. There is a legendary story of the SRU phoning-up Stiffy’s CO (he was a commando instructor) to get his release for a war-time international. However, Staff Sergeant McClure could not be released from military duty – mainly because he was behind the lines is German-occupied France, one of the team of Commando minders getting legendary Polish safe-cracker Johnny Ramensky into a German headquarters to break into a safe and capture top-secret German plans and safely back home.
4. Ian Gray (West of Scotland/London Scottish): Younger brother David, who was both taller and heavier, won nine caps, but, Ian had to be content with B team recognition. Some who saw both reckon a combination of the two, David’s bulk and Ian’s aggression would have produced a brilliant lock. It didn’t help either that the Brown brothers, Al McHarg and Ian Barnes were around at the same time.
5. Stewart Hamilton (Stirling County): Big Stu was another player who was a regular in the Scotland B team of his time, and a regular in the Inter-District Championship team, who never made that final step. He went on one or two tours, was and is popular across the country, but, he, for some reason, never persuaded the powers that be that he should be capped. Worse locks have caps, however.
6. Hugh Parker (Kilmarnock): A controversial choice this perhaps, since big Hughie was better-known as a lock. However, in today’s game, he would be picked as a number six, a role he could have filled well, with his pace around the park and ball-handling ability. Bill McMurtrie has a theory as to why the Stranraer man was never capped. He was, unfortunately, the common denominator in a number of disappointing forward performances by various Scotland select packs. The blame could never be directly attributed to Hughie, but,he was probably guilty by association, and, playing for a “lesser” club, that was enough to keep him out of the top team. As with his oft-times boiler-room partner Hamilton, it has to be said – worse locks have caps.
7. Wat Davies (Hawick): The late Gordon Strachan, rated the flame-haired Davies as one of the hardest guys he had to play against, and was looking forward to playing with him in the Scotland back-row. Davies, unfortunately, picked-up a career-ending cruciate injury which denied him the cap he deserved. He was set to join the impressive list of capped Hawick flankers such as Derrick Grant and Adam Robson.
8. Richie Dixon (Jordanhill): He did finally get full international recognition – as a coach – but, he never made it as a player. He began as a more-than-useful winger or centre, before switching seamlessly to the back-row, from where he captained the Scotland ‘B’ team, however, at a time when we were well-served by back-row players, Richie was never able to force his way into the top team.
9. Harry Whittaker (Hawick): Was a key component in the success of the Green Machine of his time, chivving the Hawick pack into dominating games, then providing an effortless link to their star-studded backs. He was also an excellent Sevens player, but, again, at a time of fierce competition for the number nine shirt for The South and the national side, he was always overlooked, and eventually, he accepted an offer to play Rugby League for Workington, a move which in those days meant banishment from Union. Some in Hawick rate him as THE best player never to be capped by Scotland.
10. Colin Gass (Hawick): Yet another player who suffered from being the contemporary of a legend. He was at his height at the same time as Selkirk, Scotland and Lions legend John Rutherford, which meant he struggled to get game time with the South of Scotland at a time when playing in the Inter-District Championship was a prerequisite for getting close to the Scotland team. It didn’t help too, that he did the near-unthinkable for a Borders player, moving from Gala to Hawick. With Rutherford unavailable, he was first-choice stand-off for the ill-starred 1985 summer tour to North America. This tour was difficult, however, Glass looked a class act throughout.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 25)
11. David Ashton (Ayr): Ashton was another unfortunate player, playing well in three non-cap internationals and for the ‘B’ side, but never being given a chance in a cap game. He was quick, strong, but, a series of injuries saw him quit rugby without fully realising his potential.
12. Andy Dougall (Jordanhill): Andy took over in the centre for Glasgow in the 1970s and was a regular pick for the District side and on Scotland tours, however, like so-many on this list, that final step-up to the full team was one too-far, for a very good and clever player. He did his bit in producing good young players, however, over many years teaching at Hutcheson’s Grammar School.
13. Ian Murchie (West of Scotland): Few players can have been as unfortunate as Ian Murchie when it came to whether or not they were capped. He was an absolute stick-out playing in the centre on the 1969 tour of Argentina, but, he sustained a terrible injury which all but ended his career. Otherwise, he would surely have gone on to win multiple caps – at the time of his injury, he was rated better than his club co-centre, Chris Rea, who went on to become a British Lion. However, he still had a positive effect on Scottish Rugby – as Adidas rep, he finally got the Scottish players properly kitted-out for international preparations, before going on to be one of the giants of the burgeoning sportswear and leisurewear market. But, those of us who saw him as a player all know, but for that horrendous injury, Ian would have been a main player for Scotland for a good few years.
14. Sandy Thomson (Kelso): He wasn’t from the “ outright flyer” class of wingers, although he had pace, he was more the “battle-cruiser” type, bulky, difficult to stop and able to run through all but the best tackles. He was a key member of a very successful Kelso Seven, a South regular, however, that final step to the national side eluded him.
15. David Aitchison (Jordanhill and Highland): Back in 1972, he was one of two highly-rated young Scottish full-backs, in fact, he was considered by many to the the better of the two, and it seemed a full cap was just around the corner, especially after he gave a sterling display off the bench for a Rest of Scottish Districts XV against the Saturday All Blacks side during their tour that year. But, injury intervened and the other young 15, one Andy Irvine, had made the full-back position in the national side his own.
16. Bob Cunningham (Bath): Terribly unlucky in that he was number two Number Two to Colin Deans – who never got injured. Back then, the man you shadowed had to get injured before you got on, so, while Bob was a regular in the Scotland squad, like the even more unlucky Terry Dunlop of Ulster (who covered Ken Kennedy for over 40 internationals), he never got on.
17. James Scobie (Stirling County): ‘Muff” – apparently only his mother ever called him James – was a stalwart over several seasons when County first began to make an impact on Scottish Rugby. This saw him win District and ‘B’ honours, but, never the final accolade of a full cap. Props are often the characters of any rugby XV and ‘Muff” definitely came into that category. As good fun off the park as he was a fierce competitor on it.
18. Struan McCallum (Jordanhill): The Jordanhill front-row of the late 1960s and early 1970s – Ian McLauchlan, Ronnie Boid and Struan McCallum was the Scottish equivalent of the fabled Welsh Pontypool front-row. Those of us who appreciate the dark arts of scrummaging would have paid good money to see them at their best lock horns. McCallum was a very awkward man to scrum against, while Bill Dickinson had, naturally, made him highly-proficient in his job as a tight-head. However, during his career, there was a chap named Sandy Carmichael playing just along the road at West of Scotland, so, alas, few games for Glasgow, far less a cap for McCallum.
19. Wes Wryoslowski (Jordanhill): It didn’t help big Wes that even Bill McLaren had trouble pronouncing his Polish name, and, if you’re not being name-checked, you’re not being noticed. He won a few ‘B’ caps, was a Glasgow regular, but, perhaps because he was seen as maybe a wee bit light, this excellent line-out operator, and good man about the park, never got a cap.
20. David Bell (Selkirk): I recall a Rugby Special Scotland broadcast of a Selkirk game in which ‘The Voice’ was in raptures over Bell “Rising like a spring salmon in the Tweed” to send back a copious supply of line-out ball to the Selkirk backs. David was a superb line-out operator, but, at only six foot three, judged too-small for the international game. Like Hugh Parker, today he would be a shoo-in at six.
21. Hugh McHardy (Kilmarnock, Rosslyn Park and Harlequins): Hughie came down from Highland to study Divinity at Glasgow University (don’t laugh), ended up at Kilmarnock and the church’s loss was rugby’s gain. He had a tremendous service, a good kicking game and he won a few ‘B’ caps, without being able to make the final step. A legend at both of his London clubs, and a bloody good bloke into the bargain. Brilliant on the Sevens field.
22. Brian Edwards (Boroughmuir): Another unlucky player – with a lot of Inter-District appearances to his name, ‘B’ caps and games for ‘A Scotland XV’ and other representative sides, but, for some reason, never that full cap.
23. Niven Rose (Kilmarnock): The man from Dalry, like David Aitchison, gets in because he too suffered from the curse of Andy Irvine, having to play in the shadow of the Goldenacre legend, and never as a result getting past a ‘B’ cap. Rose was, however, an absolute thoroughbred, who, in another era, would have won many caps.
- TOMORROW; Former Scotland prop Barry Stewart picks his best uncapped Scotland XV.