Aidan Smith's Saturday Interview: Auld Alliance veteran Bryan Redpath on how to out-French France and his pride at sons' Scotland journey

Basil Brush was a much-loved, rascally star of children’s telly, not intimidated in the slightest by everyone around him being that much bigger, and for 45 years the No 1 fox on the box.
Redpath in typically tenacious action against France in 1995, the year Scotland laid a 26-year hoodoo to restRedpath in typically tenacious action against France in 1995, the year Scotland laid a 26-year hoodoo to rest
Redpath in typically tenacious action against France in 1995, the year Scotland laid a 26-year hoodoo to rest

Basil Brush on the other hand was a much-loved, rascally star of Scottish rugby, not intimidated in the slightest by everyone around him being that much bigger, and in 60 appearances for his country he was a fox with a box kick.

“Boom, boom!” as the original Basil used to say. The other one you may know as Bryan Redpath but the nickname has stuck. How, though, given he’s not even red-headed, did he come by it? “That was my brothers’ doing,” the Borderer laughs. “One day, when I was back from school and sat in front of the TV, Craig and Andrew said: ‘You’re not watching Basil Brush again, are you?’ I didn’t think I was particularly obsessed with the show but after that I was ‘Basil’ or ‘Brushy’ all the time, and right the way through my rugby career.”

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The puppet and the scrum-half would meet each other as a portent to a fabulous Scotland victory over today’s opponents France. This was the 1996 game when we played like the Barbarians. Or the Harlem Globetrotters. Or indeed a team throwing the ball around with an innocence and exuberance which seemed to belong to Children’s Hour.

Redpath appeared in three World Cups, this shot from the quarter-final against Australia in 2003.Redpath appeared in three World Cups, this shot from the quarter-final against Australia in 2003.
Redpath appeared in three World Cups, this shot from the quarter-final against Australia in 2003.

“In the build-up to the match Grandstand came to see me on the building site,” recalls Redpath, who worked as a joiner in the pre-professional era when players had proper jobs. “The wee report ended with a message from Basil Brush in a Scotland shirt, 9 on the back, with the hole in the middle cut out for his tail. It went something like: ‘Hello, my old namesake and good luck against France who’re big and rough and tough but I’m sure you’ll do well!’ Grandstand gave me the shirt afterwards and my sons, Cam and Murray, took turns wearing it when they were wee.

“Folk who didn’t know me, when they saw ‘B. Redpath’ in a team line-up or something, just assumed my name was Basil. I’m stuck with it now but that’s okay. When Cam and Murray are in good fettle, when they’ve played well and are happy, I’ll text them ‘Well done today’ and they’ll reply ‘Cheers, Basil!’”

More about the prodigious offspring shortly but let’s get back to France, Redpath being a good man for some Auld Alliance reminiscing. Often his half-back partner in duels with Les Bleus was current Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend. His direct opponent in many of the tussles was Fabien Galthie, now their head coach. And the ’96 match was one of three classics between the countries in the space of a year.

We talk via Zoom, Redpath at home in the market town of Knutsford, Cheshire with wife Jill. Now 50, he’s working in finance after eight years as a coach in England. Rugby still obsesses him and while he doesn’t rule out a return to that gig at some point, he’s happy right now being a proud dad – and “Basil” – to Cam, who would surely have turned out at Murrayfield today but for injury, and Scotland Under 20s prospect Murray.

Redpath’s first start would come against the French in the 1994 Five Nations alongside Townsend who was playing his third game at 10. There had been a cameo the year before against New Zealand. “Only as a blood replacement. It hadn’t been so long ago that you played on with a gash until the interval or full-time.” They breed ’em tough in the Borders of course and another reason this match has dimmed in the mind of the ex-Kelso High pupil: Sean Fitzpatrick’s All Blacks ran in seven tries so at the conclusion of three games in ten days against the tourists – for the South district, Scotland A and the big team – Redpath had been on the receiving end of 155 points. He was sick of the sight of them after that.

He was on the losing side in that France game too and the Melrose man certainly wasn’t taking his dark blue shirt for granted. “Gary [Armstrong] was playing brilliantly at that time and there was Greig Oliver too, so even getting a game for the South was tough. Andy Nicol was coming through and the likes of Derrick Patterson and Mike Allingham meant you were glad if you were holding your own at club level. The internationals were the cream on the cake but you had to stay humble because of all the guys chasing hard. You couldn’t get cocky.”

In any case, the wind-up merchants he encountered every day in the building trade would ensure no spirit-level would be required to keep him on an even keel. “It was a good feeling going back to work on the Monday if I’d played well for Scotland – though that lot would never tell me. It was real old-school – brickies, plasterers and joiners in the smokers’ shed with me being the youngest having to sit on the floor to eat my piece. The banter was always flying. ‘You were rubbish!’, although in much worse language than that. But then at Christmas-time when we could have a few beers together these guys would soften. They were chuffed for me. ‘It’s great watching you play for Scotland,’ they’d say.”

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Despite the humility Redpath would be entitled to feel chuffed with himself – at the very least – for having just made it as far as a first cap. “My debut for Melrose aged 16 was away to Langholm on a Tuesday night and I remember Keith Robertson saying to me: “Jim thinks you’re not going to make it because you’re too wee.’” This was Jim Telfer, pretty much the fount of all Scottish rugby knowledge. Redpath, though, all 5ft 7ins of him, wasn’t stung by the great coach’s initial verdict. “Leaving school, going to work for T. McLeish & Sons, I was growing up pretty quickly but I didn’t resent Jim for what he said, or anyone else who might have agreed with him. As motivation it was there, but I knew I wasn’t the biggest and that I was going to have to be able to pass and kick well, use game knowledge and my work ethic. That’s what I was going to have to be about.”

The skill-set was evident in ’95, Redpath’s first time in Paris and – merveilleux – Scotland’s first win there for 26 years. “The Parc des Princes was amazing right from the start with the French sweating and raging in the warm-up, cockerels flying everywhere. We could see they were pumped. It was going to be brutal. But we couldn’t hope to stay in the battle up front; we knew we were going to have to come out and play.” And play Scotland did, exemplified by the Toony flick for Gavin Hastings’ thundering charge for the line to win it. “It’s passed into legend how a loose Gregor kick let in [Philippe] Sant-Andre for a try and as we regrouped Gav told us all not to worry, that we would score next – but no one really expected Gregor’s fantastic pass off the palm or Gav to be running 50 metres at his age!”

There was a quick rematch four months later in the South African World Cup - the first of Redpath’s three - but down in Pretoria it was Scotland’s turn to be done at the death. A “highly dubious” penalty awarded against us in the Calcutta Cup clash in ’95’s Five Nations had dashed a Grand Slam bid and there would be another which set up Emile Ntamack’s last-gasp try. “That was devastating,” says Redpath. It meant Jonah Lomu in knockout and Scotland duly were.

Ntamack was just one of France’s game-changers who made the clashes in Redpath’s era so challenging and exciting. Philippe Sella and Thierry Lacroix were others and then there was the fierce breakaway unit of Abdelatif Benazzi, Laurent Cabannes and Philippe Benetton. But Redpath and Townsend were beginning to dovetail. “I enjoyed playing with Chick [Craig Chalmers] who was my clubmate and with Gregor I think I was a good foil, too. My service complimented him playing as flat as he did and, with that burst of speed, a willingness to have a go. I knew from a young age that games were not going to revolve around me scoring loads of tries. I was all about the team.”

Despite their talents a flairful France was not a given. Les Bleus didn’t always travel well and a dreich day in Edinburgh could be upsetting. And in ’96 Scotland decided to out-France them, running the ball from under their own posts straight from kick-off and continuing in that free-jazz fashion for pretty much all of the remaining 79 and a half minutes. “We weren’t going to win with power so we just had a go at them. Dodsy [Michael Dods] scored all our points and I managed to have a hand in both his tries. Shepy [Rowen Shepherd] had this step-move off his left foot, a big thump that I didn’t think anyone would fall for but they did. Our pack were ball-players. We weren’t frightened of anyone and were going for another Slam.”

Through the 1990s Gary Armstrong continued to be a rival for the No 9 position and would claim it for the championship triumph in the final year of the century - “I was injured but Gazza would have ousted me anyway,” insists our generous team player. The pair were great mates, though, and during downtime formed a slapstick double-act. Redpath chuckles: “One of our stunts was sneaking into hotel rooms and smearing Vaseline on the phones. Then we’d call up the poor buggers from reception. Once I put blobs of Blu Tack in a big bowl of prawn cocktail. Unlucky Damien Cronin got them. He went mad and I had to hide for a bit.”

The serious hat went back on when he graduated to the Scotland captaincy. “That was hugely emotional. I remember the first time leading out the team at Murrayfield and not being able to look up at my mum and dad because I was churning inside. I wasn't one for big speeches and would just stress to the boys the importance of honesty, hard work and representing their families and their country well.”

That ’96 success was Redpath’s last against France. He’d play in five more defeats, concluding at the 2003 World Cup in Australia for what was his biggest margin of loss – not much of a game for his twin sister Lynne, who’d emigrated Down Under, to be watching him for the first time. His rival at the base of the scrum in those latter fixtures was Fabien Galthie. “We also had duels at club levels when I moved to Narbonne. Playing in France taught me that the scrum-half really is le petit general. Fabien was like Gazza: physical and confrontational and when needed he played as an extra back-row. I’ve a photograph of him consoling me at the end of that game. I’m pretty down because I was retiring. What do I miss about playing rugby? Everything.”

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That photo wouldn’t be Redpath’s only memento from Oz. He has footage of son Cam, then aged three, and daughter Amy singing “Flower of Scotland”. And this would play a part in the centre choosing to follow in the old man’s footsteps and represent Scotland rather than England where he’d grown up and learned the game.

“I sent it to Gregor when he was working on Cam and hoping to recruit him. Ultimately it was always going to be his decision and, after Jill and I had bought him as many pairs of tartan pyjamas as we could, whichever way he went was going to be fine with us.”

The 22-year-old had been selected by England head coach Eddie Jones for a tour of South Africa, but an injury which forced him to call off left the door slightly ajar. “Obviously deep down I was hoping Cam would pick Scotland. He’d played Under 18s for us and I knew he liked the Scottish rugby culture and mentality: dogged, rough, never say die. My advice to him - and Murray - had been that if they got the chance to play international sport they shouldn’t do it for the money or the accolades but for the enjoyment and with the team who would get the best out of them. I believed that was Scotland.”

Decision made, Redpath was overjoyed. And when Cam phoned to say the debut would be against England at Twickenham, he thought he was about to explode. “Anxiously I said: ‘How are you feeling, son?’ He replied: ‘Dad, don’t worry, I’ve got this.’ I had to do 40 miles on the bike to calm myself down.”

Cam was man of the match in a thrilling victory, Redpath being confined by Covid to a seat in front of the TV, but he celebrated with “a few whiskies” and the good wishes of his old friend Galthie were among the congratulatory texts. “Cam’s performance was fantastic but I was too nervous for him and had to watch the game back to properly enjoy it.”

Twickers, though, if you don’t count a brief few minutes last time out in Cardiff, is all we’ve seen of Cam with a thistle on his chest and if he doesn’t come back soon we might start to wonder if he was a will-o’-the-wisp character from folklore. Redpath, who needed 11 operations during his career and is currently waiting on a new shoulder, hopes his son will be luckier with injuries.

Then there’s Murray, also a scrum-half. The quieter, more laidback type, who shares Cam’s opinion that rugby in their father’s era was “chaotic, just crazy”, he has yet to be properly exposed to the pro game. Redpath says: “He doesn’t know about its toughness but is keen to learn. It’s too early to say he’ll do what Cam’s done but, well, I can dream, can’t I?” Both Basil Brush’s sons on the park for Scotland at the same time? Boom, boom!



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