LONG-SERVING Edinburgh Rugby duo Ben Cairns and Steven Lawrie have been forced to retire from rugby due to long-term knee injuries.
The news ends the tenure of the long-serving local duo, both capped for Scotland, who will now pursue careers on the other side of the white paint.
Hooker Steven Lawrie first joined the club as an apprentice in 2005 and moved on to a full contract in the summer of 2007.
His debut for Edinburgh was as a replacement in the Celtic League victory against Leinster at Donnybrook in November that year.
Another replacement appearance followed in the next game (against Glasgow), but he had to wait more than a year for his first start, also against Leinster at Donnybrook.
The qualified PE teacher then spent two seasons in the English Championship playing, and captaining, Doncaster Knights before coming back to the club.
A knee injury disrupted his return that season but his credentials were underlined in the spring of 2013, as the starting hooker in Scotland A’s 13-9 win at Kingston Park.
He continued to impress for the remainder of the season and made his senior Scotland debut against Samoa in Durban, the last match in a professional playing career in which he made 46 appearances in the black and red of Edinburgh Rugby.
He said: “I’m gutted to bow out at a stage where I still feel like I’m just reaching my prime as a hooker but, being philosophical about it, I had the opportunity to do a job I absolutely loved for eight years.
“I was always looking forward to the next game and would have liked to have kicked on after getting my first cap for Scotland.
“I’m very proud of the performances I put in for Edinburgh Rugby; for our 2012 run in the Heineken Cup; for being in the first Scotland A squad to beat the England Saxons south of the border; and playing for Scotland was massive.
“I’m now ready for the challenge ahead, which will be teaching and coaching. I still have the rugby bug and want to coach at as high a level as I’m able.
“All through my rugby career I’ve been able to learn from some great coaches at Edinburgh, Scotland and Doncaster. I’m fortunate in the people I’ve worked with and played against.
“I’d like to add a massive thanks to everyone that’s supported me: my wife, family, all the staff, players and fans, especially those who have worked tirelessly to try and get me back on the field. I wish them all the very best for the future.”
Cairns joined the club from Currie RFC on a development contract in 2004, and made his debut in 2006 against Leinster at Murrayfield.
The outside-centre’s cutting edge earned him an established place in the team the following season and the club’s Young Player of the Year award.
Having represented Scotland at every age-grade, Sevens and ‘A’ level, Cairns then broke into the senior Scotland side in the first Test loss to Argentina in June 2008, before playing a crucial part in the victory over the Pumas the following week.
He agreed a new three-season contract in May 2010 and made his 100th appearance later that year, before writing himself into the record books with a ninth Heineken Cup try to become the club’s top try scorer in the competition.
Unfortunately, the trajectory of his career was then curtailed by a knee injury 2011, which saw him miss the 2011/12 season and, while he made six appearances the following year, injury set-backs ruled out a long-lasting return, bringing an end to a career which included 116 club appearances, 25 tries and seven Scotland caps.
Cairns continued the rehabilitation of his knee at the club after the end of his contract in the summer of 2012, working with the club’s physios and strength and conditioning staff with the view to getting back to full fitness and making a case for a new deal; something that would prove out of reach.
He said: “I’m going through mixed emotions at the moment.
“On one hand I’m relieved because I know where I stand but then, when I finally made the call and walked out of the changing room for the last time, it still felt really sudden.
“The frustrating thing is that I haven’t been able to decide when I finish so I still feel I have some unfinished business.
“My ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] injury came at a really bad time, just after I wasn’t selected for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and I feel like my prime was taken away from me.
“As a kid, the one thing I wanted to do was play for Scotland and I lived that dream. I really enjoyed my time with Edinburgh Rugby and feel like I did a lot, but there is still more I would have liked to achieve.
“I’m keen to pursue coaching as much as I can. I’m really enjoying it at the moment at this level and I’m keen to see if that continues as a career option.
“One of the biggest things that I miss is being around the squad in training and the buzz you get on match-day.
“It’s not the same as a coach but you do still get the enjoyment from putting your practice onto the pitch. There’s definitely a cross over and I really enjoy that side of the sport.
“Edinburgh Rugby have bee very patient and very good to me. I feel like I’ve had the best care from the surgeons to the physios, while I’m really grateful for the opportunity to keep on training and continue my recovery at the club after the end of my contract.”
Edinburgh Rugby head coach, Alan Solomons, added: “It’s a real shame that both of these players have had their careers cut short in this way.
“However they leave us with incredible experiences and memories earned from representing their local club at an elite level and, of course, realising a dream and playing for their country.
“They’ve both contributed a huge amount to his club and for that we are truly grateful. We wish them all the very best in the next chapter of the careers.”