ONE of the most promising footballers in the country during his schooldays, Duncan Weir has, by his own admission, lost his touch recently.
But there is a rather substantial consolation. He is now officially the best rugby stand-off in the land, having been picked to make his first start for Scotland against Wales at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Now 21, Weir might have been lost to the oval ball game as a teenager, when he signed for Celtic and played for their youth team. But an instruction by the club not to play football for his school in case of injury backfired on them, as Weir obeyed the diktat – and started playing rugby for his school instead.
Now, when the Scotland squad have a kickabout to warm up before getting down to rugby-specific training, the Glasgow Warriors back is no longer an automatic first choice.
“I’ve certainly lost a lot of my touch,” Weir admitted yesterday. “The boys give me a lot of gyp for not being the stand-out. There’s a lot of natural footballers out there – Henry Pyrgos and Jacko [Ruaridh Jackson]. Ryan Wilson’s a really good footballer as well.
“I wouldn’t say I’d be the stand-out. A lot of the magic, if there was any magic, has gone. We were fortunate enough to get invited along to Ibrox at the weekend, which was a great atmosphere to be involved in.
“When I watch football I still get the itch to play but you can’t really turn your back on rugby now. Although I would still love to play a game of fives now and then, now I’m fully focused on rugby I’m really enjoying it.”
Weir has had to wait patiently for his chance to break into the Scotland team, having been understudy to Jackson both for the national side and for Glasgow. Indeed, less than three months ago, he was playing at club level, turning out for Dundee in the British & Irish Cup as he made his comeback from injury.
“That club game set me up perfectly for where I am now,” he said. “I needed that 80 minutes. Even going back to Glasgow last week, it was great to clock up game time there. And, although the body was sore and bruised, I was itching to get out and keep the momentum up for Glasgow as well.
“I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made coming back from injury. Although Ruaridh had a fantastic run over the Christmas period and I was only getting 20 minutes off the bench here and there, even at that I felt it was a huge learning curve for me to understand what both Gregor [Townsend, Glasgow coach] and Johnno [Scotland coach Scott Johnson] wanted from me. And getting my head around that was a good time and it’s peaked at the right period for me.”
The development of the two Glasgow stand-offs has been intriguing, following a pattern in Scottish rugby of battles where the national coach is forced to compare apples and pears when looking at which stand-off he should ask to run the game. Rarely have there been two out of the same mould at the same time.
Jackson has been lauded since emerging as a bright teenage talent as an enterprising running stand-off but, due to injury, form and the presence of Dan Parks and latterly Weir, only this season under Townsend has he had the opportunity to string more than a handful of starts together. So only now is he really beginning to mould his instinct with the demands of managing a game at Test level more consistently, when he has some ball on the front foot to play with, which was not the case in two of the three Six Nations Tests so far.
Weir has a stronger and more bullish kicking game and his challenge has been understanding the need to attack the gain-line with the ball, to pose a threat to opposition defences, and then bring his backs into the game. Scotland are turning to his kicking control this week, looking to keep the Welsh at arms length in what are forecast to be wet conditions. But, if the potent Scottish back three are to have an influence on the game, Weir also has to bring the confident, ambitious style he showed in the last quarter against Ireland – and consistently good passing.
Weir is a talented lad and his selection has swiftly won the support of many supporters as he played well enough in the latter stages of the win ten days ago to suggest that he had a chance of being named in the starting XV this time round, but he did not think so when released to Glasgow last week.
“I thought, if it wasn’t to be, it wasn’t to be. I was still knocking on the door sitting on the bench, and even sitting on the bench is a fantastic achievement and one that I’ve been just really proud of and enjoyed so far in the Six Nations campaign.
“So once I got told it was just an immensely proud moment, not only for me but one to share with family, friends and the rest of the nation. So it’s going to be special.
“I got told at the squad meeting on Monday afternoon before coming to training here. Johnno took me into the team room and told me 15 minutes before the squad got announced. So I had 15 minutes to try to digest it myself. A slight panic came into my head, but, after he told the good news, I just kind of tried to absorb it the best I could and put on a professional face to come and face the squad. I was just trying not to leak too many emotions out to everyone else. But I locked myself in a room and I had a wee jump about after.
“[I was] just immensely proud, and excited, and nervous of course with your first game.
“It’s going to be a great occasion and, hopefully, come Saturday, I can fulfil my roles within the team well.
“I feel frustrated for Ruaridh, because he didn’t have that much ball to attack with against Ireland. But against Wales there’s a different gameplan, and I’ve been given the nod to go out and fulfil that gameplan.”