HE spent two weeks at a pre-season training camp in Hawaii and he has a spot on the roster of the Los Angeles Giltinis – a sports franchise named after a cocktail, for Heaven’s sake! – in the new, bolder and better Major League Rugby (MLR). He lives on the stunning stretch of West Coast real estate known as Venice Beach although he concedes that his ‘guns’ (biceps) may not be up to the task given the raft of body builders that frequent the area.
Moreover, the Giltinis squad are the ‘Galacticos’ of the MLR, backed by an Aussie billionaire Adam Gilchrist, the man behind the F45 gym franchise, and packed with superstar, one-time Wallabies like Matt Giteau, skipper David Dennis and Adam Ashley-Cooper … a tricky one for commentators since Adam Ashe is also on the roster.
The team plays in the famous 93,000-seater LA Memorial Coliseum which hosted the 1984 Olympics. From the top row of seats you can see the whole of Los Angeles including that iconic Hollywood sign. As he concedes, it has been “quite a journey” for the boy from Alloa, so what’s eating Glenn Bryce?
Throughout our hour long, oft-interrupted conversation from LA, Bryce repeatedly insists “I’m not bitter” … a little too often perhaps. Something is definitely gnawing away at his insides and it turns out he is seriously disgruntled with the way that Murrayfield treated him at the tail end of his Glasgow career.
“I had done well with Glasgow and a few years ago I was signed (by Alan Solomons) at Edinburgh. But Solly left the club and Cockers (Richard Cockerill) didn’t give me the time of day. That second season (with Edinburgh) was a write-off,” Bryce recalls.
He was tempted to walk away from the game but his career was salvaged by John Dalziel, then coach of the Scotland sevens squad.
He spent a couple of seasons in the short game. It was a positive experience, helping Bryce develop as a player while he helped the Scotland sevens side record back-to-back victories at Twickenham. The crowds were good, the pre-Covid travel was fun, and the squad was tight and competitive wherever they pitched their tent.
Fast forward to Dave Rennie’s time with Glasgow and Bryce is back in harness for his old club, partly because the Warriors were missing half their squad in Japan for RWC’19. Stuart Hogg signing for Exeter for the 2019-20 season (post RWC) should have been good news.
Instead, Bryce sat out the opening nine weeks of the season in the stands, able to play despite tendinitis in both knees, but overlooked as Ruaridh Jackson and Tommy Seymour shared the full-back duties.
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Every dog will have its day and Bryce’s moment duly arrived on 11th January 2020 when Glasgow welcomed Exeter to Scotstoun in the Heineken Champions Cup with the visitors fielding former Scotstoun favourite Hogg at full-back.
“I said to myself just play as if you will never wear the jersey again,” Bryce recalls. “That was probably the biggest game of my life, a Champions Cup start. It was a hell of an opportunity to show what I could do and it couldn’t have gone any better. I was just as good as these guys and that was my first opportunity in my whole career to show it. I expressed myself.”
In the best shape of his life, and facing the best full-back in Europe, he raised his game. It may have been a one-off performance but Bryce was the better of the two No 15s on the day and he made at least one paper’s Heineken Cup Team of the Week.
Some players are late developers and it looked like Bryce was basking in his very own Indian summer but Rennie moved on to coach the Wallabies and, once again, Bryce was back to square one, having to prove himself all over again to the new gaffer, Danny Wilson.
Bryce was not helped by the onset of Covid-19 and the first lockdown in March of last year, which prompted Murrayfield boss Mark Dodson to call a halt to all contract negotiations.
“Throughout the whole of the lockdown period I was just being strung along,” Bryce complains. He was also furloughed and having to train ‘voluntarily’ on the back pitches away from the bulk of the Warriors’ squad, further undermining his confidence. “’We’re not sure if we want to keep you or not? We might have something for you…or not?’ I was just getting so frustrated because I had put everything into this (Glasgow team).
“My old man was the one who kept me going, he’s always backed me. I said to him one day that I just couldn’t carry on like this, not knowing what was happening?”
Wilson couldn’t help him as nothing was sanctioned by his Murrayfield paymasters. Bryce believed his on-field rugby had merited an extension but, he insists, all he wanted was clarity. If Murrayfield didn’t want him then they had to say so rather than string him along.
“The SRU shouldn’t treat players like that,” he says.
What was eventually put on the table in front of him was a five month contract at the start of this season, covering October 2020 to February 2021 and, even then, only after Bryce had downed tools, refusing to continue to train voluntarily.
“It seriously f**ked me right off if I’m being honest,” he says with obvious emotion. “I didn’t want to take it, I was so angry. I’ve never been involved in anything like that in my life. The biggest thing for me is being valued and they didn’t value me. But my agent persuaded me to take it even though I was being asked to prove myself all over again.
“The most important thing is that I had aspirations of winning a Scotland cap because most of the guys I played with at Edinburgh and Glasgow had played at the top level and I was holding my own. I felt this was the last opportunity to do that given my age.”
It wasn’t to be. Bryce – who is 29 – showed up pretty well for Glasgow this season, or so the fans seemed to think as they bestowed the Player of the Month award for November 2020 on the full-back after a fine run of games in his favoured shirt.
“Glenn really stood up to be counted over the month of November,” said head coach Wilson at the time. “His running game was a real asset to us, and he was really calm and composed under the high ball. He’s been a real positive addition to the squad. He’s conducted himself really well in training and impressed out on the pitch.”
Despite these plaudits from the boss, Bryce didn’t hang around when his five month contract expired in February of this year, despite Glasgow offering him another contract that he, again, felt failed to reflect his worth on the field.
His move to the West Coast of California was made, Bryce admits, with one eye on his post rugby career. He has aspirations to get involved in real estate in Los Angeles, a cut throat business that makes negotiating contracts with Murrayfield look tame by comparison.
For now he is enjoying his rugby again and who wouldn’t? The Giltinis are two from two in the MLR, he plays for a team of super stars and, looking at the highlights on YouTube, the weather looks a good deal warmer than Alloa.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason,” says Bryce from LA. “I enjoyed my time at Glasgow and I wish them all the best going forward, it’s just unfortunate how things worked out.”
Unfortunate! It may just be the best thing that has ever happened to Glenn Bryce.
Scots in MLR:
Adam Ashe and Glenn Bryce @ LA Giltinis
Steven Longwell and Mungo Mason @ DC Old Glory (where John Manson is Operations Manager at the club 28% owned by the Scottish Rugby).
Dougie Fife and Sean Yacoubian @ New England Free Jacks
James Malcolm @ Seattle Seawolves
Scott Murray @ Co-Head Coach at San Diego Legion.
Steve Lewis @ General Manager of Rugby United New York.