It may be stretching a point to liken the Newcastle Falcons’ release of Tim Visser back in 2009 to Decca’s decision not to sign the Beatles in the 1960s but it still doesn’t look too clever a move from any which angle. There must be a Falcons official somewhere who locks himself in the broom cupboard from time to time and bangs his head against the wall as penance for his stupidity. And he may just have a counterpart doing the self-same thing somewhere in the bowels of Twickenham stadium because Stuart Lancaster would surely welcome “the Flying Dutchman” into England’s squad.
The son of former Dutch rugby skipper Marc, the young Visser was schooled at Barnard Castle in County Durham. He joined Newcastle as a teenager in 2006 and spent some time on loan at Northampton Saints, then in England’s second division. He spent three years with the Falcons, and scored five tries in his final 2008/09 season with them, exactly half the number he managed in his first league season with Edinburgh.
Visser came to the notice of Andy Robinson when he coached the capital club because they share the same agent. When the winger signed for Edinburgh he was warned that the coach could move onwards and upwards, which is exactly what happened but the pair have been reunited at national level because Visser qualifies for Scotland on Tuesday.
“It will be a memorable day,” says the Dutchman. “I have been here [in Scotland] almost three years. It will be a special day because I am part of the touring squad and it is an important day for me. My timing has been brilliant and to get on the tour to Australia, Fiji and Samoa is awesome. I have never been in the Southern Hemisphere before.”
Visser turned out to be an unpolished diamond who has been transformed into the most efficient scoring machine in the league. Everyone knows about the big man’s power and pace but one try against the Ospreys in March of 2011 suggested he is a more subtle player than some give him credit for.
The left winger received the ball 20 yards from the opposition try line with Tommy Bowe, one of the best in the business, lining up against him and no more than seven or so yards between defender and touchline. It looked like the Irishman couldn’t be beaten but Visser stepped, as if to cut inside, doing just enough to stand Bowe up, before rounding him for a score in the corner. There is more than one way to skin a winger and Visser has all the poacher’s predatory instincts.
The Dutchman has topped the Magners/RaboDirect try count in each of the last three years, he has been selected in the league’s Dream Team every season, winning the Young Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year along the way. He grabbed four tries in Edinburgh’s eight Heineken Cup matches this season and he scored the winning try for the Barbarians against England last year. Scotland can’t seem to bag many tries and Visser can’t help scoring them so it’s little wonder that the powers that be have been stalking the big Dutchman like a nervous father on Facebook. But have we all invested too much faith and hope in Visser’s ability to turn Scotland’s scoring statistics on their head?
“No, I don’t feel the pressure but the expectations are high just because of my track record at Edinburgh,” says the man in the spotlight.
“I don’t think I can personally change the try-scoring record of Scotland. It is very much a team thing. That is how it has worked at Edinburgh as well. I am just profiting from what other players do.
“There is expectation and pressure but that comes with the way I have been performing over the last three seasons. I usually perform well under pressure so I am trying to take it as a positive.”
Visser comes across as an outgoing, friendly and laid-back character, possibly even a little too relaxed for his English fiancée, Laura, who is having to do all the organising for their wedding, which takes place just days after the tour ends. Visser has been excused all duties bar one.
He must book the honeymoon and he has yet to pick up the phone with two weeks to go and counting.
It is six days and counting to Visser’s other big day. After watching Scotland’s last Test from the stands, the Dutchman has high hopes of earning his first international cap in the next one. If he does, he will come face to face with his former flatmate, Netani Talei, who stayed with Visser and Laura when he first moved to Edinburgh. Evidently the Fijian skipper is a dab hand in the kitchen.
“We all chipped in and one night Netani was making a Fijian fish dish using the whole fish,” Visser recalls. “It was brilliant, his cooking was incredible, using all the fresh ingredients. Then we heard this ticking noise. What’s that? We looked up and Netani was sucking out the eyeballs and spitting out the little hard bit in the middle on to his plate. He was really busy doing it so he didn’t see us looking at him and we were looking at him in disgust. He then said to Laura, my girlfriend, do you want to try? No, thank you very much! It was pretty extreme. I might leave that one if I get offered it on the islands.” If Visser is wary of Fijian cuisine he has embraced Scottish culture, even if talk of commissioning an orange tartan turns out to be a joke that grew a life of its own. Visser remains a proud Dutchman but he takes his responsibilities to his adopted country seriously and memorising Flower of Scotland is just one aspect of it.
“I know the first and third [verses], which are the ones they sing,” he says. “I was trying to get the first verse down after a few attempts in the front of the bus and got a few small words wrong. Then people like Geoff Cross fed me the wrong information. He gave me different words, although I’m not sure if he did it on purpose or not but, in front of the bus, getting one word wrong you know what happens then. I finally got the first verse down and then straight away I had to sing the third one which I knew and got that straight away.
“The way I explain it is that I can never change the fact I was born in Holland, that I am Dutch, but Scotland is now my home. I have lived there three years which is a long time in any sportsman’s career. The turnaround I have made has been brilliant. I really feel part of the country and have been made very welcome and proud to represent them.”
“I think if you are going to make the switch and not represent the country of your birth then you must embrace it in a full way. You can’t just stand there wanting to play international rugby and not wanting to be part of the whole thing. I want to be part of it all. I fully believe in the whole culture and the traditions that comes with it. I don’t want to be, you know, half in it. I want to sing it [the anthem], I want to do it all. I think that is the way to be. You can’t just do things halfway.”
Spoken like a true Scot.