I COACHED Stirling University’s rugby team for four years a little while back, learning far more than I ever managed to teach anyone.
I made like the Grand Old Duke of York... in reverse, if you are a stickler for accuracy. I marched them down a division in the first season, up a division in the second and we won the Scottish University championships in my final year, at a time when St Andrews and Edinburgh both took part in the contest.
I learned one important lesson which I had always suspected – coaching is easy with good players. Stirling Uni boasted a heap of talent. Several boys were already playing Premier One rugby, or subsequently went on to do so. Brothers Tim and Jonny Clarke enhanced County’s back row, Mike MacDonald is propping up the Heriot’s scrum, Stuart McKenzie turned out for the Ravens (Ulster’s back-up team) and James Fleming’s pace has been used to good effect in a Scotland sevens shirt. Oh, and one of the Uni boys won his first international rugby cap yesterday, but not for Scotland.
Congratulations to Gordon “Mouse” McRorie, who is as Scottish as a Tunnock’s tea cake but started for Canada against Japan at scrum-half yesterday in Vancouver.
He came off the Dollar Academy production line just two years behind John Barclay, and played for Stirling University and Stirling County at the same time – Saturday rugby for the club, Wednesday rugby for the students.
McRorie was such an impressive athlete that he could double up at wing for us when required. He was properly quick, especially over the first 20 metres. He thrived at Uni but struggled to get past Shaun Kennedy at County, which is when he had his epiphany.
One lazy student summer McRorie was supposed to undertake a road trip across the USA but one of his pals let him down and another got an offer to go and play rugby in Edmonton, Canada.
Feeling somewhat abandoned, McRorie also took the road to Edmonton and after three weeks in the heart of the prairies, he was so taken by the place that he vowed to return as soon as his studies were over.
He finished up in Calgary on 25 May, 2011 and thanks to the IRB’s idiotic three-year residency rule the Scottish scrum-half qualified for Canada on 25 May of this year. Barely two short weeks later he was starting for his adopted homeland.
Presuming he did himself justice yesterday, McRorie has every chance and every intention of sticking one on the old country next Saturday when Canada meet Scotland in Toronto.
“I suppose it has crossed my mind,” comes the reply when the Scot is asked whether he will have a point to prove in Toronto. “But I’d prefer to concentrate on the here and now. I’d rather concentrate on getting my own performance right rather than making a point to anyone else. I will just be concentrating on my own game.” Interestingly enough, McRorie feels that the Canadians are rubbing their hands in expectation of upsetting a young and inexperienced Scotland squad who are just getting used to new head coach Vern Cotter.
Canada boast a very decent record against Scotland that reads played four, won two, lost two. Their last victory came back in 2002 in Vancouver against a Scotland side that included Mike Blair, Chris Paterson, Glenn Metcalfe, Nathan Hines and Simon Taylor. So are they expecting another win?
“I think so,” comes the response from McRorie. “We have a lot of experience in this Canada squad. In fact, I think that I am the only rookie in the whole bunch.
“I played in a Canada select side against British Columbia [it was a trial of sorts] and I think we had over 300 caps in the team. In truth we haven’t really focused on Scotland yet. A couple of the players have asked me about the team but not the coaches.
“I know some of the boys pretty well because I played with Kevin Bryce, Grant Gilchrist, Finn Russell, Richie Gray and even David Denton while I was at County. I am looking forward to seeing some friendly faces!”
It turns out that McRorie fired his bullets at Finn Russell in County’s second XV so the pair will have some catching up to do. And Scotland have some form when it comes to providing half-backs for Canada because Ander Monro did well for them a few years back, winning 30 caps and competing in two World Cups. Like McRorie he was not given the opportunities in Scotland that he arguably warranted.
Oddly enough, McRorie has benefited from the attentions of a Scottish coach both at his club, Calgary Hornets, and at regional level where he plays for the Prairie Wolf Pack – made up of players from Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Former Currie stalwart, Graeme Moffat turned his hand to coaching when a knee injury ended his playing career aged just 26. He started out coaching Forrester Rugby Club, moved to Stewart’s Melville and now coaches the Hornets, the Wolf Pack and Canada’s under-20 side.
“I have a lot of confidence in Gordy’s ability,” says Moffat of his charge. “He scores a lot of tries for his club team and he was MVP [Most Valuable Player] for the Wolf Pack this year.
“Gordy is incredibly strong for his size, having come on big strides in the gym. He kicks and passes exceptionally well and Canada rugby has been given a big boost by the success of the sevens team.”
The compliments are reciprocated because his Scottish scrum-half has obviously thrived under Moffat’s wily eye.
“When I was at Stirling County Eddie Pollock [the then County coach] just told me to pass the ball and that’s all,” explains McRorie. “‘Moff’ encourages me to run with the ball in hand and attack, which is my natural game. I am actually playing far more like I used to for the university side back then. It is far more enjoyable.”
Scotland, you have been warned.
McRorie has added a few strings to his bow since his university days because he is now fancied to take the kicks at goal if Canada’s veteran full-back James Pritchard does not make the team for any reason.
Mum and dad are making the trip to Toronto and there will be several old university alumni in the stands because breakaway Jonny Clarke stayed in Edmonton and Gareth Williams is a mainstay, player/coach of the famous Toronto Scottish club. There are sure to be a few last-minute flights booked in the week ahead. McRorie went to some pains to thank everyone back in Scotland who continues to support his rugby efforts, even if they are taking place under a flag of convenience.
There will be a small crowd of Scotland supporters in Toronto quietly hoping that the Canadian scrum-half plays a blinder and scores the winning try. Well, maybe not. The Stirling Uni rugby boys don’t do anything quietly, as their former coach can testify.