Doddie Weir is grateful for a swiftly accepted invitation to feature in the TV coverage for this season’s Guinness Pro14 and believes his involvement will give him a real lift as he continues his battle against motor neurone disease.
The former Melrose, Newcastle, Scotland and Lions lock has touched the country and captured the imagination of the rugby and sporting world since the sad revelation in the spring of last year that he has been stricken by MND. His MyName’5 Doddie Foundation has since raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to help combat the devastating disease.
Weir was on fine form in Glasgow yesterday as he joined the Scottish team who will present Premier Sports’ comprehensive coverage of the Guinness Pro14, which gets under way this weekend.
“It came out of the blue but I’m delighted,” said the 48-year-old. “I have worked with Sunset and Vine [the production company] at the Melrose Sevens so I know the team there.
“For some reason they have selected me and I am very excited to be involved because, with the issue that is going on, it gives me another reason to get up and get on.
“I don’t know what my total involvement will be but it has been discussed for me to do a number of games throughout the season, five or six was mentioned.
“Getting that phone call was nice. I got the call three weeks ago asking if I wanted to be involved. Weir is not far up in the alphabet so they must have tried a few more before me. Whether they have come to the bottom of the alphabet or not I am just delighted to be involved.”
Weir is no stranger to TV work since hanging up his boots, with his trademark tartan suits lighting up many a studio down the years.
“Yeah, the suits are going to be there,” he said. “I will maybe bring a bit of hilarity which is maybe why I have been brought in from day one to do. I might say things that maybe should not be said, or may be said.”
The inclusion of Weir and the no-nonsense Jim Hamilton to the Scottish Premier Sports team adds a bit of independent balance to fellow pundits Al Kellock and Chris Paterson, who are both employed by the SRU in ambassadorial roles.
“I am not promising anything but I might see things from a different angle,” said Weir. “Al Kellock and the rest of the boys have grown up in a different rugby era to Doddie Weir, Jim Telfer being one of my main teachers.
“He maybe looked at a video in a different way that other people did. The game is a similar one to the one I was involved in. Maybe a couple of areas I will want to freshen up on but the scrum, the lineout, winning possession and scoring points is the same kettle of fish.
“There is no point beating about the bush when somebody does something silly, let’s say it as it is. You see it in today’s environment with players built up to be positive, great, fantastic but in our day we were told by Mr Telfer if you play like that again you will have let your family down, your friends down and you will never be in the team.”
Asked if he saw himself as a potential “Scottish Brian Moore”, the mention of his old English rival from the early 1990s elicits a broad grin from Weir and a concise reply. “No.”
Weir is viewing his occasional involvement with the rugby coverage as a boost as he continues his fight against MND.
“This is a personal thing for me to be able to go to the games,” he said. “I could have turned round and said no because of the issue I have, but as soon as I was invited it was a yes, just to be able to come and talk about something I’ve been passionate about as a player for 15 to 20 years.”
Weir took the opportunity of yesterday’s launch to express gratitude once again for the support he has had since going public with his diagnosis.
“The rugby public’s support and generosity has been overwhelming and often quite tear-jerking,” he said.
“We recently announced that we’ve given £400,000 to King’s College in London for gene therapy research, £100,000 to Scotland MND for a care package and we’re talking to Edinburgh University to spend much money with them. That wouldn’t be possible without the support and fundraising that everyone is doing.
“It’s very active. It’s overwhelming what people are doing, from kids sending their pocket money to somebody just sending a letter. That is going to continue.
“The thing about this which has been hard and frustrating is that from day one I’ve never been given any cure. There is one drug available that came out 22 years ago, and that’s it. It’s like going to the doctor with a chest infection and being sent back out to find your own cure. That’s exactly what’s happening with myself and MND.
“I feel that being busy has certainly been good. I also see a chiropractor once a week. It’s hard to tell how much that is working, but I feel it has helped. Being busy and social is certainly a big part as well because it takes your mind away.
“I’m fortunate to be in that situation. A lot of other people with MND might not have the same friend base or family support because they could be stuck inside a house, don’t see what is going on and just think about MND all the time. That maybe is detrimental to their care.”
Weir is sure that his condition will not hamper him in making useful cameo contributions as the Premier Sports coverage gets up and running.
“It just affects my hands so the team will probably have to get me a headset to use rather than a hand-held microphone,” he said. “But if that’s my only issue in 19 months then I’ve been very fortunate compared to some other people.”