Chris Paterson adjusting to life on sidelines

Chris Paterson makes his debut for Scotland against Spain at the Rugby World Cup in 1999. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Chris Paterson makes his debut for Scotland against Spain at the Rugby World Cup in 1999. Picture: Ian Rutherford

SCOTLAND’S most-capped player is enjoying working with new talent as well as developing the game in his ambassadorial role

Within six months Chris Paterson went from scoring the try and drop goal that won Gala the Scottish Cup to winning his first international cap as a 21 year old on the same pitch in the 1999 World Cup.

Scotland’s record points scorer, and the only man to don the dark blue in four World Cups, was the uncapped “wildcard” in that squad 16 years ago and made his only appearance of the tournament at full-back in the 48-0 win over Spain at Murrayfield.

He has worked closely with wingers Damien Hoyland and Rory Hughes, both of whom were this week named in Vern Cotter’s extended training pool. So could either of them emerge as “bolters” in the final squad like he was all those years ago?

“It is something they tended to do in the past, Lions tours as well. It’s probably not as common now,” said Paterson. “I was on an uncapped tour to South Africa in 1999 and wasn’t in the initial World Cup training squad that played warm-ups against Romania and Argentina. Then, the day before the final squad was announced, my phone went out of the blue.

“I think Vern referred to this squad as a ‘living document’ and it is. It will move and change. The door won’t be closed on anyone at this point. It’s up to every individual to take their chance.”

Paterson, who retired in 2012 to take up a dual role as Scottish Rugby Ambassador and specialist coach, knows both Hoyland and Hughes well.

“I’ve worked with both,” explained the now 37-year-old. “Damien has excelled at sevens this year and is a great bloke to work with. He got in touch with me two years ago and said he wanted to do some work on his kicking from hand, that was off his own back so that gives an insight into his desire to succeed.

“Rory I’ve worked with at Glasgow and he is one of the guys that stays out to do extra training with me at the end. So both have good attitudes and this is a great opportunity for them to learn and promote themselves in this environment.”

This year in England will be the first time since that iconic presentation of the William Webb Ellis Trophy by Nelson Mandela to Francois Pienaar at Ellis Park 20 years ago that a World Cup has taken place without Paterson on the pitch for Scotland. He is quite happy to enjoy the extravaganza as a fan this time.

“I’m really looking forward to it, especially with it being here in the UK,” he said. “It’s accessible, we have games in Newcastle, which will be brilliant. The game has moved so far in the past four years on so many levels, so I just think it will be really exciting, with some cracking games and, hopefully, Scotland performing well.”

The hope is that the feelgood factor surrounding Glasgow’s Guinness Pro12 triumph can galvanise Scotland heading into the competition. Although he spent much of his career at Edinburgh, Paterson was briefly attached to the then Glasgow Caledonian Reds when he first turned pro, playing “around 100 minutes” for them, he reckons, before being switched to Edinburgh Reivers after that 1999 World Cup.

He loved every minute of that 31-13 defeat of Munster, masterminded by his friend and fellow Galalean Gregor Townsend.

“It was fantastic,” said Paterson. “The big thing for me over the whole weekend and since was Gregor’s interview after the game when he said ‘it’s a start’.

“I think that’s the best message because there are a lot of young players in that team who have achieved at a young age. They’ve got over that hurdle of winning silverware, having gone through the pain of losing silverware the previous year. So there is a lot of experience gained.

“I’ve always looked forward as a player and in life and, brilliant achievement as it is, the big thing is what comes next – the value that trophy can give the current crop, the city and the culture around Glasgow, the west and the whole of Scotland.”

Paterson was speaking at Napier University’s Sighthill campus for the launch of the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy, Edinburgh. It is a facility he would have loved to have had at his disposal when he turned pro back in 1999.

“Even then, the difference between amateur and professional rugby was night and day in terms of the time you committed and the physicality,” he recalled. “Then in, say, the last four years of my career, there was a big shift towards the science side of things.

“There’s no point just focusing that on the elite levels, as the older players may have maybe already formed habits and so on. If you can apply all this stuff to the younger levels, there will be a longer term benefit.”

Paterson may still be our only cap centurion, finishing on 106, but he is no longer our only Scottish Rugby Ambassador, Al Kellock joining him in that club after ending his career on such a glorious high in Belfast last weekend.

Paterson said: “The role I do is very varied. It has two parts – there is the specialist coaching role at all levels from grassroots, clubs and schools to under-16, 18 and 20s, regional players, a bit of work with Glasgow, too. And then there is the ambassadorial role as well which is really varied. It’s really being out and about and growing the game, again in clubs and schools, and supporting Scottish rugby in its commercial initiatives. Al’s role will be slightly different but, like me, he will be looking to make that transition from playing and dealing with stopping.

“I can’t speak for anyone else, everyone is different but, from my point of view, I was happy with what I had done. If your career is taken away from you through injury or bad form, and you have a bitter experience towards the end, then it would be harder to walk away.

“I was happy enough to retire internationally after the [2011] World Cup, then score a try in my last game for Edinburgh and walk off the pitch with a smile on my face. And Al is obviously walking off with a big smile on his face, so he should be fine.”