Six Nations: Alec Hepburn reveals his family’s deep roots in Scottish rugby

Former England cap's Scottish heritage is part of the Murrayfield fabric

Former England cap Alec Hepburn made his Scotland debut against Wales o Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Former England cap Alec Hepburn made his Scotland debut against Wales o Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

ALEC HEPBURN was born in Australia and was capped six times by England back in 2018, but the loose-head prop who made his Scotland debut in Saturday’s Six Nations opening weekend win over Wales points out that his heritage is part of the fabric at Murrayfield Stadium.

The 30-year-old Exeter Chiefs player, who has taken advantage of World Rugby’s three-year stand-down rule, explained: “My great-great uncle, Charles Hepburn, and another fella [Herbert Ross] were First World War veterans. They started a whisky company and they employed a lot of ex-servicemen. It must have tasted good for a few people [because] they managed to amass a little bit of money from it, and he sold it in 1959 and passed on the proceeds. Some went to Glasgow Zoo, some went to Glasgow University and then some went to the SRU for undersoil heating at Murrayfield.  Hopefully, I’ll get to meet this guy in another lifetime.

“The whisky was called Red Hackle – it was the flower they wore in their hat in their regiment, so they named it after that. I’ve found a bottle or two, one was in Italy, but I’ve never tasted it. I’ve needed a special occasion so maybe some day soon I’ll open it.”


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Regardless of his uncle’s important donation to the national rugby cause – with Murrayfield the first international venue to have undersoil heating – Hepburn’s recruitment by Scotland does not sit well with a lot of rugby supporters who fear that the current eligibility rules are being exploited by Tier One nations in particular to create a club style transfer system which devalues the international game.

For his part, Hepburn anticipated that his commitment to Scotland would be questioned, but promises that having the opportunity to wear the dark blue jersey is a privilege he doesn’t take lightly.

“It’s a little complicated,” he replied, when asked about the back story which led him from Hopetoun – a small town in Western Australia with a population of around 500 people and a seven hours drive to the nearest city – to becoming a dual international on the other side of the planet.

“My father [George Melvin] was born in Glasgow – a Rangers fan. Chris Paterson was his favourite player from a rugby perspective, and I got to meet him the other day. His family moved around a bit – his parents took him to Australia, but he moved back to England [later in life] and I went to live with him there [aged 14]. We always had strong Scottish heritage but we moved around a lot as a family.

“He passed away in 2018. I had a moment before the game where I was reflecting a lot upon that. I know he’s always proud of us but I think this would be a little bit more special wearing a Scotland shirt.

“Thankfully my mum [Dolores] was able to be there – a lot of my other family weren’t – but I guess you always think about those who aren’t there on days like that.”

 

Hepburn had joked for years with Scottish team-mates such as his old room-mate Moray Low, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray about the possibility of switching allegiance, but it was off the table between his England caps in 2018 and the introduction of the three-year stand-down clause in the eligibility laws in January 2022.

The first approach from north of the Border came via a conversation with Gregor Townsend that September and he was cautiously positive about the idea, before a 10-month battle with glandular fever helped solidify his position.

“The first thing was [checking] that it was a real thing because I’d been winding up Jonny for so long that when it came up, it took me a moment to gather my thoughts,” Hepburn recalled. “It happened pretty quick but my next question was how it might impact my club career because I’d been at Exeter for nearly a decade. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing there so I wanted to speak to Rob Baxter [the Devon club’s Director of Rugby] and other people to see if that would affect me going forward.

“Then, within a couple of weeks of meeting Gregor, I was on the sidelines. I’d be lying if I wasn’t a bit apprehensive of what other people might think but after being out for so long, I just thought if I ever get the opportunity, I’d love to seize it. Gregor’s given me that opportunity and hopefully I can seize it.

“Objectively, it probably does seem a bit funny [that he played for England first], but I didn’t know what rugby was until I moved there when I was 14 – I wanted to play basketball when I was at home – so they taught me how to play this game and for that I’m grateful.

“But I think a lot of people wouldn’t have known my father was proud Scottish, he got married in his tartan. It’s not just a loose connection, so for me, after being out for a while, I thought I’d love to prove to myself that I could do it and any flak that came my way, I’d just have to take it.”

 

Hepburn came off the bench with 20 minutes to go in Saturday’s match when Scotland were on the ropes after conceding three quick-fire tries to see their 27-point lead reduced to just eight. It was a high-pressure situation, but he proved himself equal to the task, with his contribution to the scrum key to the visitors holding on for a nail-biting victory.

“Speaking personally, I just got stuck into them,” he smiled. “There’s a lot of opportunities to have an impact in some way so as a prop you can make a few tackles. Whenever there is a knock-on you can hopefully have an impact at a scrum and really try to take away their momentum. They had massive momentum in that second half which takes a bit of wrestling to get back in our hands.

“Everyone contributed. Teams like Wales are always going to have their moments, and they did, clearly. They’ve got a lot of good players. It took a good effort but I think we knew the areas we could sway it back, and the set-piece was one of them, especially for me and Elliot [Millar-Mills] as props. We figured that was the easiest way to try and take the momentum back.”

It should be enough to earn another shot in the dark blue jersey against France at Murrayfield this coming Saturday.


Six Nations: round one takeaways

About David Barnes 3818 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

9 Comments

  1. As has been said above, those that hate the rule that players can switch from one country to another, should address their concerns to World Rugby. Well intentioned rule change to assist the Pacific Island sides. But, inevitably, the law of unintended consequences has come into play. Hate the rule if you must. I would probably agree. But it’s unfair to attack either Townsend, Hepburn, Dempsey or anyone else who wants to take advantage. Incidentally Hepburn, and Millar Mills, went well when they came on. So no complaints about their commitment to the shirt. These non Scottish bred players will continue to appear until the SRU institutes a proper pathway from age group rugby to international level thus producing Test Match ready players aged 20/22,as Ireland do with monotonous regularity. So along with World Rugby, it’s the SRU who should be copping your flak, not the players who are just trying to pursue their careers.

    • Sorry but just does not sit well with me and I know it is not the players fault as it is more cash in their pocket. Never doubt their commitment on the pitch as it is in built in all decent rugby players to compete ferociously.

      I just think it is wrong that a player is banging out his first countries national anthem holding the badge with tears in his eyes and then 3 years later is standing doing the same for another country.

      It reminds me of footballers kissing their club badge and then handing in a transfer request and leaving for more money. World rugby intention to support the development of rugby in lower ranked nations is to be applauded but they should have clearly stated that it did not apply to top rugby nations.

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  2. The story suits now that he was cast aside by England as I do not remember him telling lovely family stories when he was capped by and played a full 6N for England.

    I can smell SRU approved and drafted press release all over this as it is an utter nonsense that a top tier capped player can play for another top tier nation.

    He did not have to justify being capped by England but he (the SRU) feels he has to playing for us tells its own story perfectly.

    Sorry it is just wrong and the person i really feel for is Jamie Bhattie who Townsend just dropped after how many games in the match 23 and the number 1 LH at Glasgow.

    Townsend at his best.

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  3. Actually I think its a brilliant story-particularly the family link with the great uncle who donated the money for the electric blanket at Murrayfield.
    Marvellous photo somewhere of him greeting his mother after the match.She flew about 6000 miles from the backwoods of Oz for the game -so presumably he had a heads up on about last Tuesday that he was in the 23.
    ( and yes both unheralded props props did well and deserve to hold their spots for Saturday)

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  4. Sorry if this is duplicated.
    I am unsure, however, I don’t think I read a reason for his decision to play for England in the first instance rather than Scotland, a question I am fairly sure David Barnes would want to ask, just as many of us would, possibly/probably it was ‘off limits’. That it doesn’t sit well with many supporters is a fact, however you can’t blame Townsend or the player for taking advantage of the situation.
    As ever it is World Rugby’s inability to engage a thought process, [or as DB intimated they have an ulterior motive] all they had to insert, into yet another myopic change to the Laws was that the switch would only be available into lower Ranking Nations, in other words if you won your first cap with a top tier team you could only switch horses to a Nation ranked below 10th or perhaps lower.
    Just consider for a moment the diktats or changes made to the Laws by World Rugby [and to a degree the IRB before them] that have enhanced the game and then consider those that have been introduced, many would say, to the detriment of the game, professional or amateur with resulting unintended consequences.
    Add to that another imbalance, that of the proportion of money directed to the professional game at the expense of the Amateur/Grass-roots and it seems to me that the Guardian’s of our game couldn’t organise the proverbial in a Brewery.

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  5. I am unsure, however I don’t think I read a reason for his decision to play for England in the first instance rather than Scotland, a question I am fairly sure David Barnes would want to ask, just as many of us would, possibly/probably it was ‘off limits’. That it doesn’t sit well with many supporters is a fact, however you can’t blame Townsend or the player for taking advantage of the situation.
    As ever it is World Rugby’s inability to engage a thought process, [or as DB intimated they have an ulterior motive] all they had to insert, into yet another myopic change to the Laws was that the switch would only be available into lower Ranking Nations, in other words if you won your first cap with a top tier team you could only switch horses to a Nation ranked below 10th or perhaps lower.
    Just consider for a moment the diktats or changes made to the Laws by World Rugby [and to a degree the IRB before them] that have enhanced the game and then consider those that have been introduced, many would say, to the detriment of the game, professional or amateur with resulting unintended consequences.
    Add to that another imbalance, that of the proportion of money directed to the professional game at the expense of the Amateur/Grass-roots and it seems to me that the Guardian’s of our game couldn’t organise the proverbial in a Brewery.

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    • I got the message you didn’t agree the first time, no need to thumbs down all the repeats, thanks for your input however.

  6. I am unsure, however I don’t think I read a reason for his decision to play for England in the first instance rather than Scotland, a question I am fairly sure David Barnes would want to ask, just as many of us would, possibly/probably it was ‘off limits’. That it doesn’t sit well with many supporters is a fact, however you can’t blame Townsend or the player for taking advantage of the situation.
    As ever it is World Rugby’s inability to engage a thought process, [or as intimated they have an ulterior motive] all they had to insert, into yet another myopic change to the Laws was that the switch would only be available into lower Ranking Nations, in other words if you won your first cap with a top tier team you could only switch horses to a Nation ranked below 10th or perhaps lower.
    Just consider for a moment the diktats or changes made to the Laws by World Rugby [and to a degree the IRB before them] that have enhanced the game and then consider those that have been introduced, many would say, to the detriment of the game, professional or amateur with resulting unintended consequences.
    Add to that another imbalance, that of the proportion of money directed to the professional game at the expense of the Amateur/Grass-roots and it seems to me that the Guardian’s of our game couldn’t organise the proverbial in a Brewery.

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