HAVE boots, will travel. Aaron Tait’s peripatetic rugby career has seen him traverse the world and experience a wide range of different rugby cultures, before he ended up back where it all began last summer playing in Super6 for the Ayrshire Bulls.
He currently tops the 2022 Sprint Series’ try-scoring table with five touch-downs from four matches played so far in the campaign, and will have been identified as a danger-man by Watsonians ahead of tomorrow afternoon’s top of the table clash at Millbrae.
“I have been here there and everywhere,” he reflects. “I started playing when I was six at Millbrae with Ayr, went through the ranks there, and when I was 16 I moved to Merchiston for my last two years at school.
“Going there had always interested me. Stafford McDowall [the Glasgow Warriors centre], who is a really good friend, went there a few years earlier and kept telling me how good it was. I had a great time. The rugby environment was excellent.
“After I left Merchiston, I had a season in New Zealand playing for Tauranga Sports in Bay of Plenty, and I was lucky enough to do some under-19 provincial stuff while I was there, which was a cool experience competing against some of the top young players in the country,” continues Tait. “I wanted to get a year experiencing something different and a new culture. New Zealand is just a brilliant place to play, the running rugby over there is right up my street.
“Then I moved on to university at Loughborough, studying international business. I wanted to make sure I was getting that balance right between rugby and education – it is a great town with a great rugby environment and some top-class players.
“I played mainly BUCS Super Rugby. Unfortunately, Covid meant my final season there didn’t happen, which was a real shame, but there’s a lot of people had it far worse so I’m not going to complain about that.
“At least I was lucky enough to get a ‘study abroad’ experience in my third year at Loughborough, which was the season just before Covid, when I was based in Bordeaux in the southwest of France. I played Federale Two – which is the fourth division – and it was another really different and really enjoyable experience.
“They are absolutely crazy about rugby in that part of the world. I’d heard about it before I went but didn’t really appreciate what people meant until I arrived over there.
“It certainly isn’t far the fainthearted. I remember in the first couple of games, there was few full-on fist fights. I’d never seen anything like that in the UK or over in New Zealand, so that was a big eye-opener.
“So, I have been to a few different countries and seen what the rugby is like there. It has been interesting.”
Tait – who represented Scotland at under-16s level during his initial stint at Millbrae, and who missed out on under-19s honours during his final year at Merchiston after suffering a concussion the day before he was due to play at full-back against Japan in March 2016 – now combines rugby with working full-time for an American-based start-up which provides business networking opportunities.
“When I was in my final year of university, I didn’t really have any concrete plans, then I got a call from Gordon Kotze [the Bulls’ team manager] asking me if I would be interested in playing Super6,” he explains. “It just made a lot of sense, coming back home and playing in a great league, so it was a no-brainer really – and I’ve loved it so far.
“I’m working from home which is really good in terms of getting that right balance between the day job and making sure I am doing everything I need to in order to perform at the weekend,” Tait adds, before praising the influence Bulls head coach Pete Horne has had on further developing his game.
“Pete is always talking about playing quicker, and the speed of our play, so for guys like me, it means I am able to get more opportunities on the ball, which has fortunately led to a couple of tries this season. He also speaks a lot to his wingers about being smarter in terms of analysing where your opportunities are and where you can pop up and influence the game, so that’s been a really positive aspect for me.
“It has been a great step for my rugby development through the support you get from the coaches with review sessions analysing where we can get better as a group and through the exposure to the Bulls squad which has some great players in it to learn from.”
This weekend’s round five match will be the last in the Sprint Series before the top half splits from the bottom half. Second-placed Bulls could still theoretically be overtaken by both Heriot’s and Stirling County, but that would require a highly unlikely set of results.
Essentially, the Millbrae men have their destiny in their own hands, and even a losing bonus-point point against Watsonians will be enough to keep them above the waterline, although you can be sure that they won’t be approaching the game with any sort of damage-limitation attitude.
“We lost that one game at Bridgehaugh when Stirling deserved the result with the way they defended,” says Tait. “It was a disappointing performance from our perspective but we were pleased with the way we bounced back the following week against Heriot’s. That was a really big game for us. We had to really fight a s group for that one and I think it was a key moment in terms of re-establishing what we’re about as a team.
“Then, against Southern Knights in our last match, we spoke about how we wanted to go away from home and produce an impressive performance, and thankfully we were able to do that. But we know that Watsonians this weekend is going to be one of our biggest challenges so far.”
Having just turned 24, there is still plenty of time for a few more twists and turns in Tait’s rugby journey, whether that be in Scotland or beyond – but he insists that he is not currently looking any further ahead than the run-in to the end of this Sprint Series.
“I am just focussing on what I can control, so it is about trying to play well for the Bulls every week and trying to get better as a player,” he concludes. “If an opportunity arose then it would definitely be considered but it’s not something I am thinking too much about at the moment.”