Brothers in arms: the siblings who played rugby for Scotland

When a player pulls on a Scotland jersey it often inspires his sibling to earn a cap of his own. Forty-seven sets of brothers have worn the dark blue and that tradition is in no danger of dying out

The Scots Grays: Richie Grays form picked up when Jonny, left, muscled his way into the Scotland reckoning. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
The Scots Grays: Richie Grays form picked up when Jonny, left, muscled his way into the Scotland reckoning. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Iain “the Bear” Milne (44 Test caps) tells a good story about brother David, who made his sole appearance for Scotland off the bench against Japan during the 1991 Rugby World Cup. When the two are together in company, David invariably lets drop, “we won 45 international caps between us”. Only a sibling would take such liberties.

The third brother, Kenny, played alongside “the Bear” on his Scotland debut in 1989 and again on his brother’s swansong against New Zealand one year later and recalls the experience.

“Having someone with the size and experience of ‘the Bear’ literally wrapping his arms around me during my first cap against Wales was very comforting,” says Kenny.

“He used to say to me, ‘six inches in the scrum is worth a yard to a centre’, which is one of the reasons I always focused on my scrummaging.”

With a small gene pool and an even smaller playing pool, siblings have always played a big part in Scottish rugby. In all 47 sets of brothers have represented Scotland in the international arena.

The tradition of Scottish siblings in rugby stretches back a long way. Just four years after the first ever international match took place in 1871, three Finlay brothers, Arthur, James and Ninian, all took to the field against England, and just last year Ken, George and Tusi Pisi repeated the rare feat for Samoa against South Africa in the Rugby World Cup.

Sean Lamont is still plying his trade for Glasgow Warriors and he used to have Rory alongside him until injury put paid to the younger brother’s career. Nevertheless the pair played a commendable 29 times together for Scotland between 2005-12 and, according to the younger sibling, it simply wasn’t the same without Sean.

“It was a very special feeling playing alongside your sibling,” argues Rory, who has taken time adjusting to life after rugby. “It is difficult to explain but on the odd occasion when Sean wasn’t there, I felt that something was somehow missing from the occasion, it was incomplete.”

Hot on the Lamonts’ heels were the Evans brothers, Max following Thom into the Scotland squad, and the New Zealand pairing of John and Martin Leslie helped Scotland win the 1999 Championship, the last one featuring just five countries.

The Leslie brothers were very different characters, John the thinker and speaker whereas flanker Martin preferred to do his talking on the field. When interviewed together one time John gave a long, eloquent and erudite reply to a journalist’s inquiry. When the same question was directed at Martin, he responded: “Yeah, what John said.”

In an earlier vintage Gordon Brown was once dropped for his own brother, Peter, who evidently took the greatest pleasure in telling his big brother who was responsible for this slap in the face.

The Calders may have been twins and both won Grand Slams but Jim and Finlay never appeared on the same Scotland team sheet. Jim’s international career finished in 1985, Finlay’s started one year later. Conversely Scott and Gavin Hastings played together a record 51 times and toured with the Lions together twice: in 1989 to Australia, where they won, and four years later to New Zealand, where they didn’t.

“I don’t think Gavin ever gave me any direct advice,” says Scott who made his debut alongside his older brother in 1986, “but there was an understanding between us, all it needed was a nod or a wink, we were so like-minded.

“I remember against Ireland one year I covered for Gavin and he said, ‘I’ll buy you a pint for that one’. Sure enough at Dublin airport he walked up with a pint of Guinness to settle his debt.

“Above all it was just exciting playing with your brother, you spurred each other on and inspired each other to greater heights.”

As Hastings says, playing alongside your own brother inspires at least two players and those team-building exercises, massacring rabbits or training with the Marines, are rendered redundant where brothers are involved because they arrive ready bonded. And, as Hastings points out, brothers usually encourage each other on to greater things.

Look at the example of the Gray brothers if you doubt it. A couple of years into his Scotland career Richie was coasting and had even been dropped when his little brother came to the fore. Jonny has threatened to overshadow his 6ft 9in second-row partner, an unwelcome development for Richie who has reacted with some of the best performances of his career.

The good news is that the long tradition of brothers appearing together on the Scotland team sheet looks set to continue because four of the current national squad boast siblings who are in the system.

Finn Russell’s young brother Archie has just been picked in the Scotland club international squad as an outside centre. Peter Horne’s little brother George helped Scotland to an admirable fourth place in the Cape Town Sevens last weekend. Magnus Bradbury boasts a younger brother Fergus, a giant of a man at 6ft 5in tall, and Zander Fagerson’s brother Matt, a flanker with Scotland’s U19 squad, has already made four appearances in Glasgow colours despite finishing school just last summer.

“It’s great to have him in the same team, I love it,” said Zander in a recent interview and Matt returns the compliment.

“Zander had a ‘no excuses’ mentality while he was at school,” says Matt. “We used to go to the gym together and things like that and that mentality kind of rubbed off on me.

“I don’t feel any pressure on my shoulders because of what he has achieved, it makes me proud so it’s a good thing, it’s a very good thing.”

That attitude was seconded by Archie Russell, Finn’s 21-year-old brother, who has dropped out of Murrayfield’s academy system but seems to be flourishing in the club game with BT Premiership title contenders Ayr, for whom he and Finn turned out against Hawick this season, the only time the pair had played together.

“I think having Finn where he is is a good thing, it’s all positive,” insists Archie. “It’s good to see him doing so well and I suppose it gives me a bit of motivation as well. The best advice I ever got from him, and this was for on and off the field, was when he told me not to be afraid to try things and if they didn’t work out not to worry, let it go and move on. Don’t let a mistake impact on your game.”

And advice coming from a trusted source is all the more likely to be heeded.