British rugby is mourning the death of Lions star Ken Scotland who introduced instep goal kicking to Kiwi crowds and was named as one of the players of the 1959 New Zealand season for his dazzling attacks.
Scotland – who made 27 test appearances for Scotland, and won five Lions caps – died in Edinburgh at the weekend, aged 86.
The Cambridge University student, a double rugby and cricket international, caught the eye in New Zealand in 1959 in a star-studded Lions backline.
The Lions lost the series, 3-1, but, renowned New Zealand rugby writer Terry McLean declared they “won the glory” with Scotland one of their standouts in a star-studded backline boasting Tony O’Reilly, Peter Jackson, David Hewitt and Bev Risman.
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The New Zealand Rugby Almanack selected him as one of five players of the year, noting he was the Lion “most likely to win a match for his side” with his “speed, elusiveness and eagerness to attack”.
He scored match-winning tries in at least two provincial games and grabbed a hat-trick against Hawke’s Bay in his first game on Kiwi soil and a double to beat Bay of Plenty-Thames Valley.
Scotland played in four backline positions and scored 12 tries in 22 games on the tour of Australia and New Zealand, a year after winning his sole Scottish cricket cap against Ireland in 1958.
British and Irish Lions fullback Ken Scotland saved a try and kicked a vital goal as Scotland beat Ireland in 1960.
He appeared in five of the six tour tests, missing only the second test against the All Blacks with injury after a heavy knock sustained against Manawatū-Horowhenua.
The attack and artistry of the Lions backs wowed Kiwi crowds – more than 800,000 watched the 25 tour games with test attendances topping 210,000. Scotland, next to top try-scorer O’Reilly, was among the biggest drawcards.
Older New Zealand rugby fans attest he was the first player to kick goals here with his instep – a round-the-corner style borrowed from association football – as opposed to the traditional toe-kicking mode favored by All Blacks fullback Don Clarke.
Clarke – dubbed ‘The Boot’ – was a master and effectively won the series for the All Blacks, kicking 36 points across the four internationals, including six penalties in an 18-17 first test victory in Dunedin where the Lions scored four tries but were penalized 35 times.
Scotland, who wasn’t always the tourists’ first-choice kicker, told the Lions’ website in 2008 that the 1959 team had “a different philosophy about place kicking in those days. Basically, whoever was nearest the ball or whoever shouted loudest would have taken the kicks at goal. And the fact is, if we had kicked our goals we would have won that first test. We should have taken a specialist kicker.”
Scotland, who effectively kicked off either foot, weighed just 11 stone 2 pounds (70kg) on tour, but was frequently able to give his Kiwi markers the slip.
McLean, writing in his 1959 tour book The Kings of Rugby, described the Scot as “an intelligent young man who ‘saw’ the game extremely well” whether playing fullback, flyhalf, halfback or center (where he lined up for the Lions’ 9-6 wins in the fourth test).
“His handling was flawless, his punting … was fine, and he completed the tour with the reputation as the finest running fullback to ever visit this country”.
McLean also declared that the “durable, versatile, adaptable” Scotland in one test had “floated like summer down through the New Zealand defence”.
Journalist and novelist Allan Massie wrote in A Portrait of Scottish Rugby that Scotland was “the first fullback to fully exploit the attacking possibilities of the game” and that he had “popularised” the instep kicking style.
“He wasn’t of course the first to refuse to be restricted to a fielding, tackling and kicking role, but not even the great New Zealander Bob Scott had brought the same spirit of intelligent adventure to the position,” Massie asserted.
Scotland was born in Edinburgh where his father followed the Hearts football team, but he captained rugby, cricket and tennis teams at George Heriot’s School. He later impressed as the best golfer on the Lions team, according to McLean who played some rounds with him.
While doing national service with the army, Scotland – a career flyhalf to that point – was invited to a Scotland trial as a reserve fullback. He was selected his test debut against France in Paris in 1957, where he kicked penalty and a dropped goal for a famous 6-0 win.
He retired in 1965 and later coached his beloved Heriots FP club.
Andy Irvine, the start fullback, who followed in Scotland’s sprigmarks, for Heriots, Scotland and Lions, told the Scottish Rugby website: “Ken was undoubtedly one of the greatest players ever to grace the rugby field and was one of the nicest chaps you could ever meet.
“He had a brilliant rugby brain and such a lovely manner in how he would explain his thoughts and ideas to assist players. Not only a great player but an equally great coach.”