Obituary: Ian Hosie Munro Thomson, rugby player

Ian Thomson: Devoted family man and Heriot's FP all-rounder who played rugby for Scotland. Picture: SRU
Ian Thomson: Devoted family man and Heriot's FP all-rounder who played rugby for Scotland. Picture: SRU
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Born: 30 April, 1930, in Edinburgh. Died: 22 November, 2014, in Edinburgh, aged 84

Ian Thomson was an excellent all-round sportsman who played rugby for Scotland and Heriot’s FP, was twice 12th man for Scotland at cricket and a stalwart of the Heriot’s FP cricket club, and was also a low handicap golfer and member of Duddingston Golf Club in Edinburgh. In addition, he was selected to play rugby for the British Army.

Thomson was a member of that elite group of eight internationalists who were full-backs for Heriot’s FP, starting with Dan Drysdale in the 1925 Grand Slam side and including Jimmy Kerr, Tommy Gray, Ken Scotland and Andy Irvine.

Born in Edinburgh to Willie, a grocer in the Haymarket area of the capital, and Annie, he was one of two brothers, the other being Jim.

Educated at George Heriot’s School, where he was both a diligent student and keen player of rugby and cricket, Thomson went on to the University of Edinburgh, from where he graduated with a mathematics degree. Joining the Heriot’s FP sides straight from school, he was soon vying for honours.

His was one of the most remarkable of all debuts for Scotland. His fellow FP Tommy Gray had picked up a bout of flu and appeared set to pull out of the side to play Wales on 3 February, 1951.

Thomson, who was just 20, received the summons from the selectors to be on standby and eventually to replace Gray. Thomson surmised that the Scottish management refused to pay for his hotel room in the capital on the night before the match on the grounds that Gray might recover, and making his way from his parent’s home to the team hotel by tram on the Saturday morning, he stopped en route at Woolworths to buy a pair of bootlaces.

Perhaps they brought him luck, because Thomson played a key role in the match against a team replete with 11 British Lions who had just beaten England 25-3. Wales were also the Grand Slam champions from the previous season.

The game was played in front of a then record crowd of 81,000, of whom a quarter were Welsh fans expecting a cricket score against a youthful Scotland back line, none of whom were more than 22.

Former Scotsman rugby writer Norman Mair was at hooker that day, while Doug Elliott was at flanker, so Scotland had no lack of power up front, and the first half was close.

Thomson’s name was the only one on the scoreline at half-time with a well-taken penalty, and then came the extraordinary moment midway through the second half when Scotland captain and No 8 Peter Kininmonth collected Welsh full-back Gerwyn Williams’ clearance kick out on the touchline and returned it with interest for one of the most famous drop goals in Scottish rugby history.

Inspired by their captain’s feat, Scotland duly rampaged in the final quarter, scoring three tries to nil, with Bob Gordon scoring two and Hamish Dawson the other, Thomson converting one of them and Hamish Inglis the other, for a 19-0 victory. After a brief team dinner, Thomson recalled that he was happy to spend the evening with his fiancée Margaret.

It was Scotland’s biggest margin of victory in the Five Nations between 1924 and 1984, but that was Scotland’s sole win in the Five Nations that year – although it should be noted that they lost by just two points to France and England away, and by a single point to Ireland at Murrayfield, a match in which Thomson converted Donald Sloan’s try.

It was also the beginning of a long run of defeats that would last for 17 matches and include the infamous 0-44 defeat by South Africa in November 1951, a match that Thomson missed.

In an age of chop and change as the Scotland selectors tried to wriggle their way to any sort of victory, Thomson alternated mainly with Neil Cameron over the next two seasons and played just six more times for the national side, completing his international career in 1953 in the 6-28 Calcutta Cup defeat at Twickenham. In all, he scored 27 points for his country, all from his trusty boot.

After graduating from Edinburgh University and completing his national service in the Royal Signal Corps, during which time he was selected for the army representative side, Thomson joined the insurance company Standard Life in Edinburgh.

He would stay with the company for the rest of his working life, latterly as a senior figure in the management of personnel and human resources, until he retired in 1990.

He retired early from rugby and became devoted to cricket. He was a long-serving member of the Heriot’s FP XI, and on two occasions he was called up to the Scotland squad only to be chosen as twelfth man. In later life he confided to his sons that not playing cricket for Scotland and becoming a double cap had been his greatest sporting disappointment.

His other main sport was golf and he was a long-time member of Duddingston Golf Club, where at one time he reduced his handicap to three.

Quiet and unassuming, Thomson was devoted to his family, and was never happier than in their bosom. The most modest of men, this correspondent recalls being introduced to him at Goldenacre and only being told afterwards by others that he had played for Scotland seven times.

Ian Thomson is survived by his wife Margaret, sons Ian and David, and four grandchildren.

His funeral will take place today at Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh at 11am.