THE opportunity to captain the Barbarians is not an honour that comes the way of a Scot regularly yet, this afternoon, Glasgow’s Al Kellock will bring his inspirational qualities to bear in the famous black-and-white hoops.
Kellock will become only the fourth post-war Scot to lead the Baa-Baas against world-class southern hemisphere opposition when he skippers the side against Australia, following in the footsteps of Stewart Wilson (All Blacks, Twickenham, 1967), David Sole (All Blacks, Twickenham, 1989) and Scott Hastings (All Blacks, Cardiff, 1993).
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Having captained Glasgow, Scotland and even been named skipper of the hypothetical Pro12 “Dream Team” selected from the top performers of 2012/13, the badge of leadership is one that has been worn regularly and with great aplomb by the 33-year-old.
Yet the realisation of his long-cherished dream to represent the Barbarians has come at the end of a particularly difficult period in Kellock’s career.
For, after being handed the captain’s accolade for a record ninth consecutive campaign at Glasgow, Kellock missed the opening three fixtures of the new Guinness Pro12 season while recovering from injury.
Putting the frustration behind him, he returned to his second row slot for the games against Connacht and Treviso, only to be dropped for both of Warriors’ Pool Four European Rugby Champions Cup games with Bath and Leinster, the first time Kellock had suffered such a shattering experience while fit. Following that, he failed to make Scotland coach Vern Cotter’s 33-man viagogo Autumn Test Series squad.
Yet, amid the disappointment came the invitation from All Black talisman John Kirwan to lead the Barbarians against the troubled Wallabies at the home of English rugby.
The distinction has left the proud Glaswegian sanguine about the misfortune that has assailed him in recent months. Kellock said: “There is no doubt that it is a huge honour for me, for Glasgow and also, I like to think my first club, Allan Glens. There are not too many Scotsmen who have captained the Baa-Baas, to be picked for the team was fantastic but to be made captain is something I will always treasure.
“It is a bit ironic that the opposition are Australia as the Wallabies have played a pretty big part when it comes to supplying the opposition in my international career.
“I made my debut against them on 6 November 2004 and they were also the side I first captained Scotland against in 2010, while I also played in the Scotland side that beat them down under a couple of years back. So it is kind of appropriate that I will be running out against them this afternoon.
“But when you mention the names that you have, like David Sole and Scott Hastings and Stewart Wilson, then it really puts things in perspective. The Barbarians are just such a unique institution and I just want to make sure we do the famous jersey justice.
“The fact the game is at Twickenham is just the icing on the cake, although it would be nice, as a Scot, to get a win down there.”
The emergence of a bulked-up Jonny Gray, the burgeoning of Leone Nakarawa’s off-loading dexterity and Tim Swinson’s gnarled aggression have seen Kellock slip down the second-row pecking order at Glasgow and the sight of the Warriors’ captain carrying water for his team-mates against Bath and then pounding out solo post-match training runs as his team-mates soaked up their five-try thrashing of Mike Ford’s men was a sad one for any seasoned Scotstoun spectator.
Indeed, it was a true changing of the guard moment which Kellock admits was difficult to deal with. “Obviously it was tough to not be included in the two European games, I have never been good at sitting out games when fit and although I am getting better at it with age and experience, it hits you hard. But you know that at a certain stage in your career you are going to have to deal with it and that is that.
“The main thing for me was to stay involved and try to help the players as best I could and running the water is great for that. But Glasgow is not about one player it is 100 per cent about the team and the boss picks the best 15 and 23 he sees fit.”
This afternoon will prove Kellock with a huge stage on which to show he still has plenty to offer and there is the intriguing possibility that a commanding performance in the lineout, combined with some crucial carries could attract an offer of more regular first-team forays elsewhere.
But Kellock insisted: “I will be at Glasgow until I am finished. I don’t know when that will be and it will not be me who makes that decision but that will be it for me when it comes.
“The club has grown so much in my time and it has been great to be part of that and my involvement with the Barbarians today against Australia and then against Leicester reflect all of that.
“I am just so grateful to Gregor [Townsend] for allowing me the chance to take this opportunity up and last night, with Glasgow playing Treviso, was a surreal one with me down here for the game this afternoon.
“But really I have had a fantastic career and this honour of captaining the Barbarians is just the icing on the cake, when I am done with Glasgow, I will be done full-stop.”
Then he added, with a glint in his eye: “But I still think I have got plenty to give yet.”
Gavin Hastings was the last Scot to captain the Barbarians against international opposition but the fact that his leadership came against Scotland, at Murrayfield back in 1996, provides the type of particularly Barbarian twist this great institution so regularly throws up.
As he surveys his team for this afternoon’s tussle with the Wallabies, Kellock is clearly energised by the prospect.
“When John Kirwan asked me to be the skipper that just added to the privilege. There’s lots of experience in the side in the likes of Adam Thomson and Matt Stevens, and Colin Slade as vice-captain has been excellent in training in adding so much detail.
“But the Barbarians are about the old-school values of rugby and everything that’s good about them as well as a high level of performance, and getting that level of performance right is important.”
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