There is no such thing as an average Scottish international rugby player, but Frans ten Bos, who has died at the age of 79, was somewhat less average than most.
For a start, he was of Dutch parentage and was born in England, yet became a fiercely proud Scot, captaining London Scottish as well as making a successful career in business.
He is remembered most fondly by a certain generation of Scottish rugby fans as he came into the team after the long doldrums of the 1950s and was instrumental in turning Scotland’s fortunes around, along with other great players such as Ken Scotland, Arthur Smith, Gordon Waddell, Hugh McLeod and Mike Campbell-Lamerton, with whom he formed a formidable partnership in the second row of a powerful Scottish scrum.
The early years of ten Bos were unusual. His father – also Frans – was a qualified pilot who worked in the aviation industry and had his own aircraft. Foreseeing that there would be war with Germany – he was arrested for taking photographs of Germany from his plane – ten Bos senior arranged for his wife to have their children in England and thus it was that the most famous “Dutchman” to play rugby for Scotland before Tim Visser was born in Richmond.
Ten Bos told The Scotsman in a memorable interview last year that his father’s judgement proved correct and when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands the family fled to France, where they caught one of the last three ships to sail to England, the other two being torpedoed.
Their accommodation in London barely survived the Blitz, so the ten Bos family went north. Arriving in Scotland, the family made their way to Taynuilt in Argyll before they moved to St Andrews, his father by then serving at RAF Leuchars.
Ten Bos attended Lathallan prep school before moving to Fettes College in Edinburgh, where he grew into a smart and formidable rugby player, standing 6ft 3ins and weighing 16st by the time he gained his first cap in 1959.
By then he had already done his National Service and been commissioned in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, seeing action in Suez. He had also gone up to Oxford University, where he gained his blue.
Moving into the City, he began a long association with the printing industry, and ten Bos’s rugby career flourished. He became a much-valued member of London Scottish, where his formidable presence was soon being noticed by the selectors.
His first cap was gained in the Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham in 1959, being preferred to clubmate and friend Mike Swan. When he turned up for that first match, such was the state of Scotland’s organisation that he and Hamish Kemp had to iron out which side of the scrum they were playing on for themselves. Scotland enjoyed a rare success on the Cabbage Patch, holding England to a 3-3 draw.
Ten Bos was inexplicably dropped for two of the 1960 Five Nations matches but was chosen to go on the tour of South Africa that year – a first for Scotland. He played in the valiant Scottish performance in the 10-18 defeat at Port Elizabeth.
His international career blossomed in 1961 when he and Campbell-Lamerton were brought together in the second row and they went on to play 12 matches together – a rarity in those amateur days.
It was the fact that he could not take time away from his business that caused ten Bos to miss out on the 1962 British Lions tour to South Africa, for which he was an almost certain selection after his try-scoring performance in the victory over Wales in Cardiff, Scotland’s first in the principality for 35 years.
Ten Bos was a powerful player but one who enjoyed the social side of rugby. He loved to tell the story of how after the post-match festivities involving all sorts of SRU blazers, he made a telephone call from the team hotel and was duly sent a bill for a shilling by the SRU, who felt such “extravagances”might be seen as professionalism.
Another famous story about him is told, for which the source is unimpeachable – none other than Bill McLaren. He and fellow Hawick man Hugh McLeod bumped into ten Bos the night before the match against France in Paris in 1963. McLeod said to ten Bos: “Frans, ye think ye’re a guid forrit but really ye’re jist a big lump o’ potted meat. If ah was half yer size I’d pick up the first two Frenchman that looked at me the morn and ah’d chuck them right ower the bloody stand.”
His international career ended that year where it began, the Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham being narrowly lost 8-10 after the Scots were ahead at half-time.
Though a large and muscular presence, ten Bos was a pacy and skilful player, as shown by the fact that he played sevens for London Scottish and won the Middlesex Sevens five times.
In an age when captaincy was almost an annual one -off thing, ten Bos was given the rare honour of captaining the club for two successive seasons, and last year he was inducted into the London Scottish Hall of Fame. He also remained a proud Fettesian all his life, as demonstrated by the venue for his memorial service, Fettes College Chapel.