Retiring Al Kellock eyes Pro12 glory for Glasgow

FORMER Scotland captain Alastair Kellock is determined to end his fine career with a Guinness Pro12 winner’s medal around his neck.
The 33-year old has played senior rugby for 17 years. Picture: Toby WilliamsThe 33-year old has played senior rugby for 17 years. Picture: Toby Williams
The 33-year old has played senior rugby for 17 years. Picture: Toby Williams

The Glasgow Warriors skipper and talisman announced yesterday that he will be hanging up his boots at the end of this season, though the 33-year-old insists there are no thoughts of winding down as the table-topping Warriors make their final push for a historic title win.

The 56-times capped lock forward, who has played 154 games for Glasgow since joining from Edinburgh in 2006, will take up an ambassadorial role with the Scottish Rugby Union in the summer, in which he will engage with the rugby and business communities as well as helping to continue the development of his beloved Warriors, in a similar position to that also carried out by the legendary cap centurion Chris Paterson.

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Kellock admitted yesterday that it had been a hard call to make, but was sure it was the right one.

“I made the decision one way then changed it the other way then back the other way again over the past three or four months,” he said. “But I eventually realised it was the right time. I know that’s a bit of a cliche but physically and mentally I felt it. Physically, to be part of this Glasgow team you’ve got to be playing at your best. I feel I still can but I don’t want that to slip. I want to go out playing well.

“As far as the psychological side, I suppose the biggest element is I feel I am really looking forward to the next stage. I can sit back and be very happy and proud of the journey I’ve been on and look forward with positivity to the new challenges that will come along.

“I love the business side of our sport and bringing people in to see what we do here at Scottish Rugby and with Glasgow. And I look forward to learning more of that.”

The proud Glaswegian – a former pupil of Bishopbriggs Academy and product of local club Allan Glen’s – will now throw everything into securing the Warriors a place at and, he hopes victory in, the Pro12 final on 30 May in Belfast. He said: “There is an awful lot of rugby still to go this year and one of the great things about deciding now is I know I can push as hard as I possibly can and be playing as well as I can.”

Kellock also played for Stirling County before earning a professional contract with Edinburgh in 2002. He made his Scotland debut against Australia at Murrayfield in November 2004 and went on to captain his country on ten occasions.

His international career was marked by both terrific successes and heartbreaking disappointments.

He responded to the setback of just missing out on selection for the 2007 Rugby World Cup and soon forced his way back into the Scotland side. When Chris Cusiter was injured early on in the November Test against Australia in 2009, Kellock took over the captaincy and led Scotland to a historic 9-8 victory – a first over the Wallabies since 1982. In 2010, he skippered Scotland to a first-ever overseas Test series triumph when they defeated Argentina 2-0.

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Kellock was named captain for the 2011 Six Nations Championship and scored his only international try in the first game – a 34-21 loss to France in Paris.

Andy Robinson selected Kellock as his captain for the 2011 World Cup but things did not go well in New Zealand. After an underwhelming opening victory he was left out of the squad for an equally insipid win over Georgia in the next game. The real hammer blow came in the next match when the skipper was again not even on the bench for the crunch match against Argentina, which Scotland agonisingly lost 13-12. He did return for the make-or-break final pool match against England in Auckland but again Scotland lost a lead in the dying minutes and, for the first time, failed to reach the quarter-finals.

Kellock was part of another piece of history in the summer of 2012, albeit not as captain, when Scotland secured back-to-back wins over Australia with a 9-6 win in Newcastle, New South Wales – a first Test win Down Under for 30 years. But there was disappointment in late 2013 when an arm injury ruled him out of the following year’s Six Nations.

If his Test career has been something of an emotional rollercoaster, the story of Kellock’s time at Glasgow has been one of steady and sustained improvement to the point where the Warriors are now one of the most consistent teams in the Pro12 and a shining beacon in the often dark skies that have hung over Scottish rugby in the professional era.

“The development of Glasgow into the club it is now is the most satisfying thing of my career,” reflected Kellock yesterday. “Going from playing in front of 1,500 at Hughenden to now regularly more than 6,000 at this wonderful set-up we have here at Scotstoun. It outweighs any individual highlights I’ve got by a long way.

“We learned so much from where we were back then. And it was learned from losing so many games. I remember sticking something up at Whitecraigs [the then Glasgow training centre] years and years ago. It said ‘if we continue to do what we’re doing, we’ll continue to get the same results’ – something along those lines. Then it listed the things underneath that we needed to change.

“It wasn’t just performance. It was culture, a work ethic and a sense of togetherness. We got those bits right. We worked incredibly hard on being a tight squad. We got to the point where on the training park, in the gym, on the pitch, it was 100 per cent effort at all times. You knew that was expected of you in a Glasgow jersey. The fitness tests stand out for me. Doing all things correctly became hugely important and it spread from there. These are the foundations upon which what you see here at Glasgow now are built and we should never forget them.”

Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend paid a glowing tribute to his captain, who skippered the side for a 150th time in last Friday’s dramatic 34-34 draw with Leinster in Dublin. He said: “Al has been instrumental in Glasgow’s rise over the last five or six years and he’s been an excellent role model for our values, with the work he does to improve himself, his team-mates and the club. He is very passionate about rugby in Glasgow and it’s great that he’s moving into an important role with Scottish Rugby and Glasgow Warriors when he retires.

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“Al has put his body on the line a lot during his nine years with the club and he’s still competing very hard with the other second-rows to be selected ahead of them. In my three years at the club he has been an excellent person to work with – the ideal captain. He has left a fantastic legacy for the future of the club to continue to grow. I know how much it would mean for his last season to be even better than last year and he’s training really hard to be at his best for our remaining games.”