Speaking at yesterday’s squad announcement press conference at BT Murrayfield, Gregor Townsend spoke at length about his former team-mate and friend, Doddie Weir, his fight against MND and his inspiring work to raise funds for MND research.
Firstly, Doddie was a very, very good rugby player. People forget that because they see him as a larger than life, fun character. He likes to talk down his rugby achievements. Doing after-dinner speeches he’ll say he lost so many games for Scotland and he makes it sound as if he wasn’t a great player. In fact, he was the first modern second-row player in the northern hemisphere.
When I was at school and he was coming into the Scotland team, there was Ian Jones in New Zealand, changing the position from big lumps who would scrum and maul to players who could leap in the lineout but also play rugby. Doddie was our Ian Jones. He got into the Scotland team at an early age and then got into the 1997 Lions squad and was up against some very good players. He was on his way to playing Test rugby for the Lions until that horrendous karate kick and that knee injury which ended his tour.
He played in some great Scotland teams but also won the English Premiership with Newcastle. Doddie was first and foremost an excellent player, but also fun to be around.
My first Scotland tour was to Australia in 1992. Doddie had only played for Scotland for two years but it felt like he was an established player.
I remember he tried to get me to ride a horse for the first time and I got kicked off twice and then I got allergic to the horse and my eyes were swollen up. Doddie was laughing. You always found fun in his company and you still do. He’s a brilliant after-dinner speaker, world renowned, and he’s great company.
It’s great that he’s a Scottish rugby legend. We all know what happened a year ago – that game against New Zealand at BT Murrayfield with how he handled himself, how the game was put together, what the players did when he walked out to present the match ball with his boys was a moment that transcended sport.
It’s great that Doddie is here a year later, still fighting against that disease and still raising awareness.
I don’t think anything can match that evening against the All Blacks. It was special. We’re paying tribute now outside of Scotland and it’s great that the Welsh Rugby Union have agreed to this and that we will play in his name.
To have a Doddie Weir Cup that will last forever is great. For our players to be involved in the first one is special.