Allan Massie: Gordon Waddell’s legacy can live on in Scotland’s fly-half factory
THERE has never been a Scottish fly-half factory like the fabled Welsh one, but over my lifetime we have had at least five in the top class.
Most would agree in putting John Rutherford first, with Gregor Townsend, Craig Chalmers, David Chisholm and Gordon Waddell jostling for second place. Two others – Ken Scotland and Chris Paterson – might have entered the competition if they hadn’t played most of their international careers at full-back.
Gordon Waddell, who has just died, had a career that was very short by modern standards. He was first capped in 1957, played 18 times for Scotland and retired, aged only 25, after the Lions tour to South Africa. Such early retirements weren’t uncommon in the amateur days when rugby often took second place to the demands, or opportunities, of a career outside the game. Waddell played in the first two Tests on that Lions tour. He had gone out as second-choice fly-half behind England’s Richard Sharp, a more exciting player. Sharp was injured early in the tour and Waddell got his chance. One match was drawn 3-3, the other lost 3-9. Sharp then returned and the Lions suffered two more defeats – 3-8 and 14-34. I remember thinking at the time that they might have done better to have stuck with Waddell.
Son of Herbert, Scotland’s fly-half in the 1925 Grand Slam winning side, Waddell could not escape being regarded as an Establishment figure. He had been an outstanding schoolboy player in an all-conquering Fettes side , and this provoked a resentment that dogged his career; he was always unpopular with a section of the Murrayfield crowd. Others who longed to see Scotland play attacking rugby subjected him to the sort of criticism that Dan Parks attracted in recent years.
This was understandable but unfair. Waddell played in a restrictive era when tries were hard to come by. The laws favoured defence; wing-forwards were permitted to break from the scrum when they chose, and were onside so long as they were behind the ball. Moreover, you could kick for touch on the full from any part of the field. Waddell was a superb punter of the ball with either foot (though curiously I don’t recall him ever kicking a drop-goal, perhaps never attempting one). So he played the percentages and kicked far more often than he passed.
Statistics are sometimes misleading. Scotland has had two great wings called Smith, Ian who played from 1924 to 1933, and Arthur 1955-62. Each was capped more than 30 times. Ian scored 24 tries, Arthur 12. The disparity says more about the times they played in than about their ability. One might add that Ian had GPS Macpherson, still regarded as Scotland’s greatest centre-threequarter, to provide him with ball and put him into space, but that there was no great centre in the midfield between Gordon Waddell and Arthur Smith.
Waddell himself never scored a try for Scotland, though he did make a few even in these barren years. Heavily-built, he lacked the speed over the first yards that allowed Rutherford or Townsend to cut through the half-gap, but he could nevertheless run effectively. I recall a brilliant try, with a couple of sharp sidesteps that he scored for Cambridge in the 1958 University match.
One of his great qualities was unflappability. No doubt he was sometimes flustered or hustled into mistakes, because there has never been a fly-half of which this isn’t true - not even Dan Carter today, but he generally exuded an air of calm self-assurance., The clearest picture I have of Waddell, still vivid more than half a century later, is of seeing him retrieve a terrible pass which his scrum-half had slung out behind him, then side-stepping a couple of on-rushing forwards to dispatch the ball into touch some forty or fifty yards up field. I would think that his own forwards usually liked having him behind them. They knew that when they had won the ball, they were more likely to be moving up field rather than scrabbling back in defence.
Of the candidates for the No 10 Scotland jersey today, I would think that Duncan Weir most resembles Waddell (though some four inches shorter), while Greig Laidlaw often reminds me of David Chisholm, and Ruaridh Jackson aspires to play like Gregor Townsend. Since Townsend is now his coach at Glasgow, it will be interesting to see whether that aspiration is turned into reality. At present he is some way short of that, and last season Sean Lineen generally preferred Weir to start important games for Glasgow. Weir resembles Gordon Waddell, not only in having a powerful boot but in being apparently self-confident and unflustered by the occasional mistake.
It’s a mark of the changes in the game that all three, competing for the fly-half position, will almost certainly win more caps than the eighteen Gordon Waddell got between 1957 and 1962, years when he was never dropped and was out of the Scotland XV only on account of injury.
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