CRAIG Chalmers will quit Scottish rugby at the end of this season in the hope that a move to Oxfordshire club Chinnor RFC might provide a better route back to professional rugby.
The 44-year-old former Scotland and British and Irish Lions fly-half was a key figure for Melrose during their golden era of six Scottish titles, alongside the likes of Bryan Redpath, Graham Shiel, Doddie Weir, Carl Hogg and Robbie Brown, and coach Jim Telfer. He was part of Scotland’s last Grand Slam team in 1990 and won 60 caps in an 11-year international career supporters now look back on with envy.
He left a career with Scottish Power to play pro rugby for the Border Reivers, Glasgow Caledonians, Harlequins, Worcester and Birmingham before returning to his native Melrose and bringing the curtain down on his playing days in 2005 with a 200th club appearance.
Chalmers moved into coaching and steered the club to four cup final appearances in a row, winning the cup in 2008 and 2011, helped to bring the Division 1 Championship trophy back to the Greenyards in 2011 after a 14-year absence and followed up last season by keeping it there. Melrose Sevens, Border League and other trophies were landed, and Chalmers was a strong influence in professionalising the rugby side of the club on a limited budget. His coaching was recognised with a call to help coach the Scotland Under-20s and A teams, the latter role resulting in a 35-0 win over England Saxons.
However, off the field Chalmers’ reputation appears to have suffered irreparable damage with the SRU. He was splashed across the front of a tabloid after a bust-up with his now-estranged wife at a wedding and then arrested after the Melrose Sevens in 2010 for being abusive towards stewards after a mix-up at the evening social event, and duly spent the night in a police cell.
The SRU took exception to his honest if controversial views in the media, and as a result he was dropped from coaching positions and had applications for roles with the Borders, Edinburgh and Glasgow pro teams dismissed without interview.
The passionate Borderer, who works for a security company, is now heading to London after linking up with contacts in the game in the south.
“I have made the decision to move to London for personal reasons,” he said. “I have accepted a rugby position in that area and look forward to the new challenges that lie ahead. It has been an honour to have coached Melrose during such a successful period of its history, however, the time is right for me to move on.”
The new role is head coach at Chinnor RFC, a National league Two side with ambitions of progressing to the Championship.
President of Chinnor RFC, Simon Vickers, praised outgoing coach Jason Bowers, and said “To enter our 50th year with our best ever showing at National 2 level is outstanding, and we hope that Jason will always hold the club close to his heart and will be a regular visitor in the future.
“It is perhaps a mark of our on-going success and enthusiasm that we have been able to secure the services of the top-flight former international and coach Craig Chalmers. Albeit Melrose play at a higher level than Chinnor it is clear that they operate with similar principles of whole club rugby and we are sure that Craig will be instrumental in securing our current position and enabling the players to continue to develop.”
Chalmers added “I have been impressed with the set up at Chinnor RFC and it is clear to me that there is a sound platform to continue building on past successes. Whilst it will be sad to leave a club with whom I have spent very many happy years as player and coach I look forward to my new challenge down south.”
Craig will join the club on 19 March as 1st XV Director of Rugby, a role he will relinquish at the end of this season to then become 1st team coach when Bowers departs.
John Reed, the Melrose RFC president, commented: “Craig has been an outstanding servant of Melrose RFC both as a player and coach. No-one is more passionate about Scottish rugby than Craig.
“He leaves having led the club to two championships, four cup finals, three years of British and Irish Cup involvement and an outstanding record on the sevens circuit including winning our own tournament.
“As a player he won six championships, the national cup and two Melrose Sevens winners’ medals. Quite simply his record speaks for itself and he is undoubtedly the most successful individual our club has ever produced. Everyone at the club wishes him well and the best of luck for the future.”
Chalmers’s assistant John Dalziel will take over as head coach in the summer. The former Gala, Melrose and Border Reivers player has been earmarked by the SRU as a promising coach and is this season working with the Scotland Under-20s.