Kenny Ross was a Scottish rugby internationalist capped out of Boroughmuir, where his place in the history of the club is assured as its first player to earn international honours.
Between 1961 and 1963 he won 11 caps at wing forward, which included two especially memorable victories, against Ireland in 1961 when he scored two tries and against Wales in 1962, Scotland’s first win in Cardiff since 1927. Two other internationals were also memorable, if for different reasons – the ‘infamous’ Welsh match at Murrayfield of 111 lineouts in 1962, and the 1963 Twickenham fixture against England when Richard Sharp cut through the Scottish defence to score an unforgettable try and ensure their failure to win there since 1938 continued. It was no consolation that Sharp and Ross were friends through having played Forces’ rugby together during National Service when Kenny played for the Royal Navy.
He also regularly represented Edinburgh District, contributing to several District Championship titles, and played with distinction for Boroughmuir over a decade, one highlight being the outstanding win at the prestigious Melrose 7s tournament in 1963. Although the club has been at the forefront of Scottish rugby now for many years, it was not so in the early 1950s and there is no doubt that the input and achievements of Kenny and others laid the foundations for the success to follow at Meggetland.
Kenneth Innes Ross was born in Folkestone where his father was stationed with the Seaforth Highlanders. Later the family returned to Scotland, living in Nairn before moving to Edinburgh where Kenny was introduced to rugby at Boroughmuir High School. He soon demonstrated considerable aptitude and was in the 1st XV for three seasons from 1952 to 1955, captaining the team in his last two years. In 1954 the side won three schools 7s tournaments, at Paisley, Meggetland and Murrayfield. In the latter they defeated the more fancied Heriot’s ‘7’ in the final with the Scotsman report stating: “…a highly popular win by Boroughmuir over more experienced opponents .. their heroes were the three forwards, Ross, Henderson and Jackson.”
Later that year Ross and teammate Arthur Leitch became the first Boroughmuir schoolboys to be selected for Edinburgh Schools.
After leaving school in 1955, Ross joined the FPs where his obvious ability saw him go straight into the 1st XV aged 18, a virtual ever present till 1965, when he captained the side in his final season. In only his second season of senior rugby his excellent form was recognised in selection for Edinburgh District aged 19 and in December 1957 he was selected to play for ‘Combined Cities’ (Edinburgh and Glasgow) against the touring Australians at Old Anniesland. After a punishing game the Wallabies prevailed 9-3, one report noting that “Ross was often prominent in attacks with the ball either in hand or on the ground”. He also played in his first international trials that season and edged closer to international status as reserve for the French match in January 1958.
Appearances for Boroughmuir were curtailed as he undertook two years National Service down south with the Royal Marines where he not only distinguished himself on the pitch but also off it, winning the much prized ‘Sword of Honour’ as the outstanding Marine recruit at Dartmouth Naval College, a framed photo of which had pride of place outside the Boroughmuir Headmaster’s study.
Despite playing at a high level for the Royal Navy, United Services Portsmouth, Devonport Services and Hampshire, he did not attract Scottish selectors’ attention till his return in 1960 when he again featured in trials and played for the ‘Combined Cities’ against Paris and the touring South Africans. After playing for Edinburgh against The South, rugby correspondent Reg Prophit wrote: “Ross was quite outstanding and must have given himself a great chance of a first ever cap for his club.” A week later he made his Scottish debut against South Africa at Murrayfield, with one report recording “a splendid first international for Ross, the new wing forward”, the first of 11 caps.
He also shone at the 7-a-side version of the game collecting winners’ medals at various venues with Boroughmuir but their biggest success came in 1963 when they pulled off a huge surprise at the Melrose 7s, beating a star-studded Hawick team in the final with Ross and fellow forwards highly praised for their performance in dreadful conditions.
A complete player, he was particularly noted for his handling skills, support play and ability to read a game. He was also highly thought of by teammates, on and off the park. John Douglas who played for Scotland alongside Ross in the back row, remembered “a very good player who was also great fun, and on one occasion surprised me by going out dancing the night before an international!” Boroughmuir colleagues Norrie Patterson and Bill Noble both recalled “a very popular, amusing guy, a clever player who read the game wonderfully and was an inspiring figure on the field, a predatory wing forward who liked to play open style rugby.” He retained lifelong links with Boroughmuir, whom he supported in various ways, and was a welcome figure at club functions till recently.
Kenny left Edinburgh in 1965 to work for Invergordon Distillers, initially playing for the local Ross Sutherland club. He later joined Stanley P Morrison as a whisky broker, a job that took him to 72 countries worldwide. In 1963 in Edinburgh he married wife Joan with whom he enjoyed many happy years during which they had Tiffy, Gavin and Trish.
He is survived by them and five grandchildren.
If you would like to submit an obituary, or have a suggestion for a subject, contact [email protected]
A message from the Editor
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.