RUGBY is all the poorer for the news yesterday of the death of Mike Campbell-Lamerton, the former Scotland and Lions captain. He was 71.
Back in the 1960s the sight of Captain M J Campbell-Lamerton surging ball in hand round the tail of the lineout like an enraged hippopotamus or elephant was one of the most stirring spectacles in Scottish rugby. I can still picture it vividly when so much that happened then has been forgotten.
His introduction to Scottish rugby was unusual. In December 1960 a Scottish select played the Combined Services at Murrayfield. It was an afternoon of thick Edinburgh haar - no floodlights then of course - and much of the play was invisible to spectators. But every now and then this huge figure would emerge from the mist charging into the Scottish midfield. Few rank-and-file supporters had heard of him previously, and I’m not at all sure that the selectors had either. But the ‘Campbell’ in his name alerted them to his Scottish qualifications - not that much attention was paid to such matters in the old amateur days. Within a few weeks he was playing for Scotland, and he stayed there until 1966 to win 23 caps.
Scotland had a good team then, but it lacked bulk. Hamish Kemp, the best lock of the Fifties, stood only a little over 6ft and rarely weighed more than 14 stone. In comparison Campbell-Lamerton, at 6ft 5in and sometimes weighing 17st, was massive. In partnership with Frans ten Bos (Fettes, Oxford University and London Scottish), he gave the Scottish pack a power and solidity it had long lacked. In this time victories were more common than defeats at Murrayfield and Scotland also won in Paris, Dublin and Cardiff. The 1962 win at Cardiff was our first in Wales since 1937 - and our last for another 20 years.
No-one would have described Campbell-Lamerton as a particularly skilful ball-player. Indeed it was easier to imagine him in kilt and singlet throwing the heavy stone over the bar or tossing the caber at the Braemar Gathering than on the rugby field. He ran with an extraordinary galumphing high-stepping stride, which must have been disconcerting, even alarming, for a prospective tackler and which was at once exhilarating and oddly comic to behold. You mightn’t have expected him to be able to leap in the lineout, but he did, very effectively. He stood no nonsense from opponents, on one occasion laying out a French forward who had ill-advisedly taken liberties with a particularly sensitive part of his anatomy.
He was the most whole-hearted of players which is why the Murrayfield crowd soon took him to their hearts, and he is one of the few Scots to have gone on two Lions tours. In 1962 he fielded at No8 in a couple of Tests for Arthur Smith’s team in South Africa, though he was certainly not a natural back-row forward. Nevertheless he gave his best and made a notable contribution to the series. He captained Scotland a couple of times, but was not happy in the role. He was perhaps over-conscientious and a worrier and it affected his players.
It was therefore a surprise when he was named as captain of the 1966 Lions tour to Australia and New Zealand. He knew - everyone knew - that he was a compromise choice, and his selection was resented by some in the tour party, and by more in the press. So he was under pressure from the start, and under more when the first two Tests were lost to New Zealand. He found himself being asked at press conferences whether he was prepared to drop himself from the team.
He always replied that he would try to see that the best man played, and indeed had the courage to drop himself from the last Test. It wasn’t his fault that the 1966 side became the first Lions to lose all four Tests in New Zealand. No-one, as the famous Welsh journalist J B G Thomas, a fierce critic of his selection and of what he perceived to be the anti-Welsh bias of the three other unions, admitted could have tried harder on and off the field to make the tour a success. So much, he wrote, did Campbell-Lamerton "try and worry that by the end of the tour he had lost two stones in weight".
He played no international rugby after that tour, and it was sad to see him go. I doubt if any other Scottish lock of our time has given spectators more enjoyment, except perhaps Alastair McHarg.
His contribution to the Scotland XV was on the same scale as his mighty frame.