Jack Dempsey opens up on ‘drastic’ move needed to reignite his rugby career and what he felt during anthems at Scotland v Australia
Sunshine in Scotland can be in short supply at this time of year and surfing opportunities are limited on the Clyde coast but Dempsey feels the move north has rejuvenated him. It has also propelled back into the Test area, but that wasn’t in his thinking when he left the Waratahs to join Glasgow Warriors in summer 2021.
Eligibility regulations were different then and for someone who had played 14 times for the Wallabies the notion of pulling on the dark blue at Murrayfield never crossed his mind. But that is exactly what came to pass on Saturday when Dempsey stepped off the bench to make his international debut for Scotland against Australia, of all countries.
The 28-year-old described the whole experience as strange, from lining up for the anthems to conversing with his old mate Bernard Foley at the bottom of a ruck. Foley and co came out on top, with the stand-off contributing 11 points as Australia hung on to win 16-15.
“It was a weird one,” said Dempsey who is Scottish-qualified through a grandparent and took advantage of a law change which allows players to swap countries if they have spent three years out of international rugby. “There was obviously a big build-up during the week, so I kind of readied myself. Even when the moment came, it was very strange. At one moment, on the other side of the scrum, was Hoops [Michael Hooper]. I’d played every pro game with him before I moved over here. It stings in terms of the way we lost, but that’s Test match rugby.”
He found the pre-match anthems particularly “weird” but had Flower of Scotland off pat by the time the teams lined up. “I just kept my head down during the Aussie one,” he said. “The Scotland boys are quite diligent in making sure the new caps know the words to the anthem. So I had a week to prep and make sure I nailed it. That moment in time, with the crowd at Murrayfield is very special.”
The No 8 thought long and hard about committing to Scotland but he is now convinced it was the right decision. “Look, I’m not going to lie. I came over here thinking my Test career was probably over,” he said. “I didn’t come over here specifically to play Test rugby. At that point, the rule didn’t exist. It was unplanned and a bit of a curveball. But I’ve loved every moment of it.
“After I got my cap, I said to the lads that I came over here in a bit of a weird place in my career. I wasn’t loving my rugby as much as maybe I used to. This has re-lit that fire under me again over the past 14 months or so. I’m just thankful that I made this move. Not only to Glasgow, but to Scotland. That’s where I’m at. I’m happy with the decision I made.”
A dynamic, hard-running No 8, Dempsey has been a real force for Glasgow and will now use the remaining autumn Tests to try to force his way into Gregor Townsend’s long-term plans, throwing up the possibility of playing at next year’s Rugby World Cup, four years after he represented Australia at the last tournament.
“I wouldn’t have made this decision if I didn’t think I was up to it,” said Dempsey. “The way that Scotland play, I feel like it suits me well. I’ve only heard Gregor speaking in training for a week. He’s saying all the right things and he’s the kind of coach you can get behind. There’s something brewing here, which I want to be part of.”
While he might miss the sunshine of Sydney, Dempsey admits his rugby career went through some dark times. “It’s no secret that we had some really rough years at the Waratahs,” he said. “That went hand-in-hand not only with my form, but also my fitness and going through injuries. I struggled to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s why I needed that drastic change – and moving from Sydney to Glasgow is about as drastic as you’ll get. Not only rugby-wise, but lifestyle-wise.
“The way the city and country have accepted me has just re-lit that fire inside me. I grew up on the north shore of Sydney, so very much spent a lot of my childhood on the coast. I’m not at Michael Hooper level of surfer. But somewhere in the middle there. That’s maybe the biggest thing I’ve found since moving to Glasgow. Going to Loch Lomond in the middle of winter isn’t quite Manly Beach. But I’ve found some other things about the culture and lifestyle in Scotland I enjoy.”
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