Sitting in the managing director’s vacated office overlooking the Warriors’ water-logged pitch at Scotstoun, Al Kellock gently chuckles when asked which side will emerge victorious from this weekend’s Calcutta Cup clash at BT Murrayfield.
A regular in that historic fixture for eight years up to 2013, Kellock was twice on the winning side against England, but more often came away nursing defeat. This year’s Scotland side appears to have the momentum after a strong run in the World Cup – in stark contrast to its oldest rival’s dismal results – but England remains ahead in the world rankings and is stacked with players from teams currently contending in the Champions Cup.
“It is a really interesting one for me, the England game,” Kellock muses. “How do you pick a winner – how do you even pick a favourite?”
The bookies have, with England odds-on to win, but as a former player now overseeing business and commercial development within Scottish Rugby, Kellock has a clutch of reasons to wish them proven wrong.
The primary motivator, of course, is allegiance to the clubs and country that he played for during a professional rugby career spanning 14 years. Having retired at the end of last season after captaining the Warriors to their first-ever Guinness PRO12 championship, one of three prongs in Kellock’s new job is to support performance and player development at the Glasgow side, which is currently sitting just outside the top half of the PRO12 table but is home to nearly 50 per cent of this year’s Six Nations squad.
The former lock forward is also tasked as an ambassador for the sport in Scotland, which has been enhancing its operations and rebuilding its finances under SRU chief executive Mark Dodson.
The linchpin for that is continuing improvement and success on the pitch. In the wake of Scotland narrowly missing out on a semi-final place in the World Cup, a repeat of last year’s Six Nations whitewash is unthinkable, with a strong opening performance required.
“Certainly in the last few years you can see the journey inching forward, and sometimes jumping forward,” Kellock says.
The third string in his new professional bow is to build additional commercial relationships at both Glasgow Warriors and Scottish Rugby. In terms of the former, he has already had a hand in a six-figure sponsorship agreement with ScottishPower and a five-figure deal with Denholm Oilfield Services, both signed in recent months.
But it’s Kellock’s commercial work at SRU level that has finally given him the opportunity to “own something”, the national side’s new Scotland Business Club launched just two weeks ago. Come kick-off time on Saturday, Kellock will be hosting the club’s first members in some highly sought-after hospitality space in Murrayfield’s north stand.
Armed with his sporting accolades and a degree in management, it’s easy to picture him mingling among the guests. The relaxed demeanour throughout most of his 6ft 8in frame is an added bonus – only his hands seem to remain in constant motion, presumably grasping for the mobile phone that he occasionally sets to one side.
Match day events at the Business Club are designed to be both informal – no jackets or dress shirts required, kilts optional – and relatively intimate. Membership will be limited to 20 firms, each receiving four tickets per game.
Those who have already signed up include Dunfermline-based CR Smith, financial advisor Argyle Consulting and Glasgow legal practice Harper Macleod, the latter of which also recently became title sponsor of Club Deck hospitality for Warriors home games at Scotstoun. Discussions with other potential Business Club recruits are on-going.
“That was one of the great things about getting it out there before the Six Nations – people are aware of it, and we are having a lot of conversations,” Kellock says. “It will be an on-going process, but we could pick up a few more before the England game.”
Working commercially across both national and club level is eased by the set-up in Scotland, where the SRU not only governs the game but also owns the country’s two professional teams, the Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby. Kellock says striking a deal is a matter of working out “where things fit”, which in some cases could involve passing opportunities over to his former teammate Jonny Petrie, managing director of the Edinburgh side which is sitting comfortably in the top four of the PRO12.
There are other challenges, however. Harper Macleod’s inauguration on 23 January as hospitality deck sponsor for the Warriors actually took place at the Park Hotel in Kilmarnock after a water-logged pitch forced the club out of Scotstoun for the second time in three weeks.
The previous match scheduled in Glasgow, the second leg of the 1872 Cup, was played in a rather disconcerting “home game” at Murrayfield.
Such disruptions come at a cost, both financially and in terms of performance on the field. Negotiations are continuing with Glasgow City Council, which owns Scotstoun, over the possible installation of a 3G pitch to negate the effects of wet weather.
“From a business point of a view and a rugby point of view, we want to play our home games here,” says Kellock as he surveys the sodden pitch.
AL KELLOCK AT-A-GLANCE Born: 1981, Bishopbriggs, Glasgow.
Education: Bishopbriggs High School, University of Glasgow (management and maths).
First job: A paper round.
Can’t live without: The emotional side of me says family, but it’s my phone.
Which do you prefer, tennis or golf: I would happily play either, but to watch, I probably prefer golf. but just by a bit.
Best match you ever played in: It has got to be the PRO12 final. Also, the 2006 Calcutta Cup.
Favourite mode of transport: Driving.
What car do you drive: Land Rover Discovery.
What makes you angry: Bad manners and a lack of respect. There is no reason not to treat people properly.
What inspires you: Adding value to a high standard.
What do you miss about playing rugby: The camaraderie, and the changing rooms. They are an honest place, the changing rooms, and a lot of fun.