Bruce Douglas: Doing the business after rugby

Ex-Scotland prop says older players finding it hard to stay in game

Andrew Henderson and Bruce Douglas, right, with the Calcutta cup after Scotland's win over England in 2006
Andrew Henderson and Bruce Douglas, right, with the Calcutta cup after Scotland's win over England in 2006

Former Scotland prop Bruce Douglas accepts that “in the current circumstances” the 18-year playing career he enjoyed, amassing an impressive 43 Scotland caps along the way, might not have stretched as far into his 30s as it did.

The current climate, which is already having a financial toll on world rugby, is seeing clubs look more to youthful prospects and, after transitioning himself into launching a successful business, the former loosehead’s advice to older players is to start thinking seriously about their post-playing days.

“I would suggest trying things and seeing what interests you,” said the former Borders Reivers man as he spends lockdown in Cardiff with his Welsh wife and stepdaughter.

“With the way things are now, the squads that are being announced are trending a bit younger. The older players are going to find it harder to stay in the game.

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“I look at my career I probably would have been out of it four or five years younger in the current circumstances. One of the best bits of advice I got when I was still playing was from a friend and he said, ‘you’re actually in a really lucky position because most of us take whatever job we can get,’ but the guys who actually try 
a few things 
when they’re still playing can choose what they do more post-
rugby.”

After the demise of the third pro-team based in Galashiels in 2007, Douglas went on to enjoy a well-travelled career after winning his last cap for Scotland against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in 2006. He played for Scarlets, Montpellier, Worcester and Dragons and was already looking at a future in business before finally hanging up his boots.

“When I was still playing I was doing work for a company called Exec Search part-time through a contact I knew from my time at Worcester,” he explained.

“When I finished playing full-time I transitioned into coaching at the Dragons one day a week. At that time I was doing a bit of work for finance boutiques and private equity and realised that was an industry I was interested in working in.

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“I did some research into what I might do and management due diligence and human capital planning seemed like a really a good fit. It made sense to me very quickly.

“I did a Masters in organisational psychology and got accredited with HR qualifications and launched in 
April 2017.

“What we do, effectively, is management assessments for private equity firms 
that are looking to buy 
businesses.”

An Edinburgh boy and former pupil of Heriot’s, he still has a base in the Scottish capital, splitting his time between there and Cardiff. He did an 18-month stint assistant coaching at Goldenacre but is now fully focused on his business Confidas People.

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Apart from a few appearances in the late 1990s during the early days of professionalism, he never played for his home city club, devoting five years to the Netherdale-based 
Reivers experiment.

“It was a nice idea. The first year was quite well put together but it wasn’t massively supported and driven through,” he recalled.

“If you wanted a ticket you had to go through Murrayfield in advance and we had a marketing person and the first time she came down it was the first time she’d been to the Borders. We only had one coach for a while, with the SRU sending in support coaches on an ad-hoc basis and there was budgetary constraints. Sadly, it probably was the right decision to cut it because it just wasn’t being supported properly.”

One benefit of the Borders experience was spending time under the tutelage of veteran Kiwi coach Tony Gilbert, who emerged as a big influence on the young Douglas, who is now 40.

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“Tony was a great guy, just about encouraging us to be better young men really,” he said. “We were a mix of guys, a lot of us quite young with no experience of professional rugby, so to have somebody who had a nice grandfather type of persona was good, though he could be quite tough. He probably could have done with a bit more support around him but he was a great leader.”

Not many Scottish internationals can claim to have won three in a row in their first caps but Douglas achieved that in November 2002 with a clean autumn Test sweep of Romania, South Africa and Fiji.

“In my second cap it was the first time since the 60s we had beaten the Springboks, so that was a great occasion to be part of.

“Playing in the the World Cup in 2003 was great, too, against the hosts Australia in a quarter-final in Brisbane was special, then there was the Calcutta Cup win in 2006 as well. They would have to be up there with the highlights of my international career.

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“There were challenging moments too, when Matt Williams was in charge, there were some difficult days and dark moments then. But I do look back with mostly really fond 
memories.”

For the young players who are now champing at the bit to get back playing again, Douglas would advise them to broaden their horizons once they have put a solid few years of development into the Scottish system. “Absolutely, for their benefit as a player and a person,” he said. “It’s something I draw on now in the business, having experienced so many different cultures and coaches with different approaches to things and how they shape their teams.

“In terms of the current set-up in Scotland, if the young boys can be kept in the system for a while, that’s great, but there comes a time when their ambitions might broaden and the salaries elsewhere are quite tempting. When they have a certain level of experience, moving away is a great way of keeping their development going.”

l Bruce Douglas launched Confidas People in 2017 following an 18-year rugby career. The small business innovates in private equity takeovers – looking at hiring new staff or promoting/developing current members of staff depending on the need.

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