Obituary: Alastair Gourlay Biggar, rugby player

Alastair Biggar , former Scotland Rugby cap and British Lion. Picture: SNS GroupAlastair Biggar , former Scotland Rugby cap and British Lion. Picture: SNS Group
Alastair Biggar , former Scotland Rugby cap and British Lion. Picture: SNS Group
Born: 4 August, 1946 in Edinburgh. Died: 6 February, 2016 Cerne Abbas, Dorset, aged 69.

Former Scotland and British Lions centre or winger Alastair Biggar has died, after a battle with Cancer. “A thoroughbred” and “A natural” are some of the descriptions used about Biggar since his death. He had rugby in his blood, he was a cousin of the great Scottish flanker and captain of the immediate post-war era, Douglas Elliott, while another, younger cousin, Mike Biggar, was another excellent flanker who went on to captain Scotland.

Douglas and Mike won more Scotland caps, but, neither could, like Alastair, claim to be A British Lion. Alastair was a member of the legendary 1971 Lions party which toured Australia and New Zealand and which remains, the only Lions squad to win a Test series in New Zealand.

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That tour was perhaps the high-point of Alastair Biggar’s career. He played in ten games on the tour, scoring nine tries, including a hat-trick against Marlborough/Nelson Bays. However, with competition from the legends such as Gerald Davies and David Duckham, he was unable to force his way into the Test team.

He did, however, prove to be an immensely-popular tourist, with New Zealanders and fellow Lions alike, contributing greatly to the fact the midweek “Dirt Trackers” XV went undefeated through New Zealand.

He won 12 caps for Scotland, 11 as a winger, one in his club position, with London Scottish, of centre. He was also a Barbarian, first being invited to play for the world’s most-famous invitation club in season 1967-68, before touring with them to South Africa in May, 1969.

The following season, he faced the Springboks again, when he made his Scotland debut against the touring South Africans in “Ian Smith’s Match” at Murrayfield. Smith, like Biggar, making his international debut out of London Scottish, scored all Scotland’s points in their 6-3 win.

He scored his only Scotland try the following season, in the Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham. His London Scottish and Scotland team mate Alistair McHarg said: “Al seemed to leap the height of the West Stand to catch the ball before scoring that day”

The following season, he was in the Scotland XV which, having earlier in the Five Nations suffered heartbreak when John Taylor kicked “The greatest conversion since St Paul” to beat Scotland at Murrayfield, beat England twice in one week – in the Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham, then at Murrayfield, the following Saturday, in the Centenary Match.

His Scotland career ended the following season. He was never selected again, after pulling a hamstring against Wales, at Cardiff. He continued to play for London Scottish for a few years thereafter, captaining the Exiles and in 2009, being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame.

He was born in Edinburgh, but raised in Dalbeattie, where his father ran the family feed mill – Thomas Biggar & Sons. He attended Dalbeattie Primary, before going to St Mary’s, Melrose, where one of his teachers was the future Scotsman rugby correspondent, Norman Mair.

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At Sedburgh School, he forged a reputation as an all-round athlete. He played in the cricket XI, as well as the Rugby XV, he set a long-standing 100 metres hurdles record. At school he formed a talented centre/fly half partnership with future England captain John Spencer, like Alastair a 1971 British Lion.

He played in the London Scottish Schools XV which beat Richmond Schools 57-0 in the annual match in 1965. This match was viewed in those days as a Schools International and four of that victorious Scottish team,Biggar, John Frame, captain Colin Telfer and hooker Duncan Madsen went on to play internationally for Scotland.

He then moved on to Shuttleworth Agricultural College in Bedford, and while there, he joined London Scottish, deserting agriculture when he did for a lengthy and successful career as a foreign exchange broker.

Biggar arrived at Richmond Athletic Ground towards the end of the true golden era for Scottish, but, as one of the young players he learned much from such established internationalists as Iain Laughland, Tremayne Rodd, Stuart Wilson, Mike Campbell-Lammerton and Pringle Fisher, before helping such arrivals as Alistair McHarg to learn the Scottish ways.

“He was so laid-back as to be practically horizontal, but, was one of the most-naturally-talented players I ever saw,” said McHarg.

A tribute, posted on the London Scottish website, ends thus: “So taking a quote from Nelson Mandela: “We ask ourselves: who am I to be Brilliant, Gorgeous, Handsome, Talented and Fabulous ? Actually, who are you not to be?” Alastair Biggar was all of that.

Alastair Biggar was married twice, firstly, in 1972, to Lindy, with whom he had a son, Mark, and a daughter, Nicola. After they divorced he met Christine, whom he married in 1996 and with whom he had a daughter, Emily. He is survived by both his wives and his children.

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