Borders legend Toony looks back on a career far less ordinary

GREGOR Peter John Townsend MBE first played senior rugby for Gala as a 17-year-old in 1990.

He was first capped as a teenager against England in 1993 and eventually won 82 caps. Townsend toured with the victorious 1997 Lions to South Africa where he played in the first two Tests and he retains a 100% success record in Lions' Tests. In 1999 he became only the second Scot to score a try in each match of the championship. He won his last cap in 2003, is married to Claire and has two sons, Luke and Christian.

IAIN MORRISON: Next Saturday will be your last game as a professional player and also the last ever game for the Border Reivers. What emotions will be going through your head at the final whistle?

GREGOR TOWENSEND: To be honest, I don't think that it will be a particularly emotional moment. After the problems of the last month or so it will probably be a bit of a flat ending. We're at the bottom of the table, it's not as if we are challenging for anything. I also know that I am ready for retirement, I don't have another season in my body.

IM: Do the Borders deserve a pro-team?

GT: Scotland needs a third team or there won't be enough vehicles for the players to develop. I think the Borders deserves to keep a team because the area produces a lot of players and we have always been competitive, more so last year than this one.

IM: What stands out in your mind after 18 years of senior rugby?

GT: Mostly how lucky I've been. I never thought I would be playing at 34. Also how quickly the game went professional. In the amateur days there was no sense of inevitability about that and, like many others, I thought that it would turn professional gradually. It went pro overnight and that helped my game enormously.

IM: Have Gala been offering you a contract for next season?

GT: I can't see myself playing another season at any level. I got injured against the Scarlets recently. I got a stinger in my arm and that was just from the referee running into me. If that isn't a warning...

IM: You played in five countries in three continents. Which one did you enjoy most?

GT: I spent five years in France so I have good memories there. In South Africa we were getting 35,000 watching the Sharks every match in Durban so I felt like a footballer does in Britain but I probably enjoyed Australia the most. Back in 1993, coming up against Nick Farr Jones and Campo at club level was wonderful and everyone played a very fast, flat game right on the gain line that was nothing like the rugby in Britain. With professionalism much of the rugby is the same the world over wherever you play.

IM: Who is your favourite scrum-half?

GT: That's a tricky one. I'd say that Bryan Redpath was the scrum-half that suited me best. He had the best pass, fast and he always put it in front of you. However, 1999 was also special and, as everyone else will agree, playing with Gary Armstrong was an honour.

IM: Can you pick a highlight in your career?

GT: Maybe two of them. The Lions win in 1997. The more I look back the more special it becomes. Also the 1999 victory in Paris where we scored five tries in 30 minutes. That will never be done again. Everything just came together and all 15 guys played well at the same time. It happens only once in a generation and it happened that day.

IM: And a low point?

GT: That is easy and it's missing the Lions tour of 2001. I was playing better for Castres than I had been in 1997 and while there was more competition for places that was still a huge blow.

IM: If you had your time again is there anything you would have done differently?

GT: Not really. I am happy enough living with my own decisions.

IM: Do you have any advice for youngsters contemplating a rugby career?

GT: You have to love the game and enjoy it. You must want to learn, be open-minded, debrief yourself and believe in yourself. Too many Scots have a constant struggle for confidence and you must believe that what you are doing is right rather than believe in those who doubt you.

IM: What does the future hold?

GT: I will be working for the Scottish Institute of Sport in November and up to then I will be finishing my autobiography which still needs another chapter written. It is coming out during the World Cup.

IM: Any amusing anecdotes from your career?

GT: I'm saving them for the book.

IM: Can you pick us an all-time XV that you have either player with or against?

GT: 15 Christian Cullen; 14 Rupeni Caucaubaci, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Tim Horan, 11 Jonah Lomu; 10 Gregor Townsend, 9 Rob Howley; 1 Tom Smith, 2 Keith Wood, 3 Craig Dowd, 4 Martin Johnson, 5 John Eales, 6 Ishmail Lassisi, 7 Richie McCaw, 8 Zinzan Brooke.

IM: Lassisi who?

GT: Lassisi was a brilliant flanker from the Ivory Coast that I played with at Castres. Bernard Laporte wanted to pick him for France but he'd played one match for his home country and that tied him. He was awesome.

IM: Who would coach the team?

GT: It has to be McGeechan and Telfer. I couldn't choose between them.

IM: Will there be another Townsend coming through the ranks? Are your boys Luke (2) and Christian (4 ) rugby players?

GT: Luke is certainly built like one! Christian is playing tennis tonight so hopefully that'll be a more lucrative career for him to pursue.

IM: Any final thoughts?

GT: That I've been blessed to have played for such a long time. I've enjoyed a lot of good times and suffered a few bad ones as well.