DUNCAN Weir succeeded in putting a smile on the face of Scottish rugby at the weekend, with the help of his team-mates, but the young stand-off is hoping that he can also become a flag-bearer for a rise in rugby popularity in his home city of Glasgow.
Weir is held up frequently as one of Scottish rugby’s rarities – an internationalist to come from a Glasgow city state school. He is a product of Cambuslang RFC, where he took his first steps with a rugby ball at the age of six, and Cathkin High School, where his love of rugby was nurtured by enthusiastic teacher Ally Jones. Jones was not a PE teacher, but taught science and media, and according to Weir if it was not for him Scotland would have been relying on someone else to kick the dramatic match-winning drop-goal against Italy on Saturday.
Weir stated: “There is no doubt that had I not been given the chance to play rugby regularly at Cathkin High School by Ally Jones then I would not have been where I am now, because I was playing a lot of football at weekends [for Celtic and Kilmarnock youth teams] and it was the school rugby that really kept my interest in the game, and when the chance came to play rugby at a higher level with Glasgow district I was able to step up because of the coaching I had at Cambuslang and Cathkin.
“The sad thing is that after that teacher left, rugby disappeared at Cathkin and the opportunities went for other youngsters like me, but I understand it’s been started back up again at the school and I’m delighted to hear that.”
The issue of Weir’s rise is less one of schools and more simply about emerging from Scotland’s largest city and so, by definition, the biggest talent pool. But it is perhaps worth noting that of Scotland’s starting XV in Rome on Saturday only three players came through the independent school system – Johnnie Beattie, Ryan Wilson and Richie Gray. Even Gray and his younger brother Johnnie – also nurtured by Cambuslang RFC – attended state school before heading to Kelvinside for secondary school.
Stuart Hogg, Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott, Weir, Greig Laidlaw, Scott Lawson, Moray Low and Chris Fusaro were all educated in Scottish state schools while Tommy Seymour, Sean Lamont, Ryan Grant and Jim Hamilton attended state schools outside of Scotland during their childhood.
There remains less exposure in Glasgow state schools to rugby, so the issue of opportunity is a real one, but the key problem across Scotland remains the opportunity to play competitive rugby of an increasing intensity regularly, and that is the area being targeted for change by the SRU over the coming year. As Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow is in the SRU sights and the 5ft 9in 22-year-old is a great character to spearhead the mission.
“If I’m to be a flag-bearer or whatever I’m happy with that,” said Weir. “Anything to show kids in Glasgow that there is a route to playing for Scotland for a boy from Cambuslang or whatever part of the city it is.
“I know that there is a lot of talent in Glasgow and the surrounding area, so the key for me is getting that opportunity to as many as possible and making sure youngsters have the chance.
“There were a lot of football guys at my school, the likes of Kenny McLean who’s now playing at St Mirren, and they didn’t have many opportunities to play rugby but when they did get a sniff they did enjoy it and realised that it was a cracking game and one that the rugby public all love.
“Having that little opportunity to play made a huge difference to them because their whole mindset to rugby changed. They played a few times for the school and did really enjoy it and I would say that just giving that opportunity for boys to play would make it a whole lot better for guys especially around Glasgow.
“The talent pool is there. You still grow up around here kicking a ball around the streets so they’ve already got that co-ordination there. It’s just giving them the opportunity to actually go out and experience playing.
“In the age groups that I played in there was always a good lot of talent that did well, but many became university students and had other different things coming into their lives that distracted them.
“The talent is there. It’s just about dragging them through by giving them the opportunities to go out and express themselves, and representing Glasgow at regional level the way I did, and keep that interest there.”
He was back at Cambuslang yesterday, practising drop-goals. It could hardly have been further from the Roman citadel of the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday, where nearly 80,000 people held their breath as his drop-kick soared high into the blue Rome sky and between the uprights to clinch a dramatic 21-20 victory for Scotland.
The sun was out when he finished walking his dog, and that of DTH van der Merwe’s, which he is looking after while the injured Canadian winger is away on holiday. But the rain appeared by the time he had put his boots on and started kicking balls at the familiar old posts at Coats Road, the ground empty apart from two of his former mini coaches, Denis Callaghan and John Clark, who had come down to say hello.
“It is great to be back here,” he said. “I love this club, it’s my club, and it is great to be back in Glasgow feeling that we have managed to put a smile back on the face of rugby in Scotland.
“Denis and John were huge for me, coaching me from P2 upwards, and when I look at my Scotland under-17 jersey on the wall, and the teams I was part of here, it’s all part of the path to where I was on Saturday.
“There’s no reason why that can’t be a path for lots of Glasgow youngsters, and hopefully we can provide more inspiration in the games to come.
“The result on Saturday certainly put a smile on our faces and everyone in the squad is determined now to make sure it wasn’t a flash in the pan and motor on to the game at Murrayfield, put that England match right in the past and look ahead to France. We have to build on that win now and show that we believe in ourselves.”