Obituary: Arthur Orr, rugby player and athlete who missed out on cap despite playing for Scotland

Arthur Orr is pictured third from right in the front row of this Edinburgh district team line-up
Arthur Orr is pictured third from right in the front row of this Edinburgh district team line-up
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Arthur Orr, rugby player and athlete. Born: 14 May, 1944 in Edinburgh. Died: 16 June 2019, aged 75.

Arthur Orr, who has died aged 75, was a notable Scottish rugby player and athlete who, along with others, was unfortunate not to be awarded a cap despite having represented Scotland in a Test against Argentina during Scotland’s eventful tour there in 1969.

The Scottish Rugby Union in its wisdom then considered their South American opponents not sufficiently deserving of cap status although the home players were awarded them.

Usually fielded as a pacy centre three quarter, the club with which he was most associated was Royal High School FP for whom he played nearly 200 games over 12 seasons between 1961 and 1973 while he also enjoyed spells with London Scottish and, briefly, Edinburgh Wanderers.

He also represented the Edinburgh-based select team, the Co-Optimists, and featured regularly for the Edinburgh district side. Other highlights included two appearances against the touring Australians during season 1966/7, one for a combined Edinburgh/Glasgow side and the other for the Scottish ­Districts Select.

He was an accomplished and versatile athlete for Edinburgh Athletic Club, who twice won bronze medals at pole vault in the Scottish Championships despite only taking up the event when well into his 20s. He also figured in the Scottish annual ranking lists for 400 metres hurdles and decathlon. Initially a good sprinter, he diversified into other events and was a valued member of the team in league contests.

A keep-fit enthusiast, once his rugby career finished he continued competing ­successfully in athletics until he was over 50. As a veteran then representing Royal ­Sutton Coldfield Athletic Club, he shared in an indoors world record for the 4x 200m relay in the 40/5 age group, set in 1986, and also claimed British records in the same category for the outdoors 4 x 100m and 4 x 200m relays. He still holds veteran club records for 400m hurdles and pole vault, clearing the bar in the latter at the highly creditable height of 10ft when aged 50.

Arthur Victor Orr was born in the Restalrig area of Edinburgh to parents William and Agnes née Greig, his father a wages clerk in a local company. He was the middle child of three, the others being Peter and Heather, and was brought up mostly in Duddingston.

As a pupil at the Royal High School, he shone at sport, ­representing the school at ­rugby, cricket and athletics and did well academically, showing promise in art. Throughout his time at school he was also an enthusiastic member of the Boys’ Brigade. He was encouraged in his sporting endeavours by his father who had been a ­noted sprinter, later becoming a well known time keeper and treasurer of Edinburgh ­Athletic Club.

Arthur made his debut for RHS FP in season 1961/2 in a drawn match against Watsonians before becoming a mainstay of their team over the next 12 seasons, apart from a spell with London Scottish between 1968 and ’70.

His ability was soon noted, resulting in being regularly selected for the Edinburgh district side and featuring in international trial matches in 1965 and ’66, receiving good plaudits, alongside club mate and future Scotland captain Pringle Fisher. He was knocking on the door of international selection and after joining London Scottish was selected for the Scottish party to tour Argentina in September 1969 in a squad replete with well known internationalists under the captaincy of Jim Telfer.

He scored two tries in three of the six matches he played which included the first Test in Buenos Aires, a 20-3 defeat. However there were mitigating factors as the Scots were down to 14 men after 25 minutes when Ian Murchie was badly injured after a stiff armed tackle, the referee was Argentinian (and not impartial), the ground was bone hard and it was extremely hot.

The game was played against a backdrop of serious civil unrest and when the party moved to Rosario for a match it had to be postponed for 24 hours because of rioting. Future Scottish captain Ian McLauchlan later wrote: “It was like the Wild West there.”

Given how nowadays a cap can be awarded for a brief appearance as a substitute, it was a source of much disappointment to Arthur that he was never awarded one.

He also enjoyed success in 7-a-sides as a member of the RHS teams that won the ­Hawick and Murrayfield tournaments and were defeated finalists at Melrose in 1968.

In 1973 he married Heather and the couple soon moved south to live mostly near Birmingham where Arthur worked as a chartered accountant for several ­companies including Metro-Cammell. They had four children, Jason, Christian, Ashley and Lyndsey, but separated in the 1990s and later divorced.

In 1982 he received an award for bravery from the West Midlands Chief Constable for having apprehended a burglar later found to be armed with a loaded starting pistol. He pursued him on foot for a quarter of a mile and then stopped a bus which the ­culprit had entered before boarding the bus himself to restrain him until the police arrived, a ­characteristically brave and selfless act.

Having returned to Scotland he met his long-term partner Nina in Edinburgh in 2002 and they later settled in Broughty Ferry where they remained.

Arthur’s love of sport continued throughout life as he took up golf and enjoyed keeping fit. He was also a music lover with a good baritone voice and a classical guitarist, playing for his own pleasure. He also developed a love of poetry and had a couple of his own poems published.

A warm, big hearted individual with a strong moral compass, he was very competitive in the sporting arena but also encouraging to others, especially youngsters. He is survived by Nina, his children, sister and two grandchildren, Caitlin and Henry.

JACK DAVIDSON