Seeking inspiration for his first team talk as Scotland captain in November 2010, Rory Lawson decided to head for Hawick where his grandfather, World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Bill McLaren, had taught and encouraged so many children to play rugby in a lifetime devoted to the sport.
Sadly, McLaren, known as ‘the voice of rugby’ for his brilliant BBC commentaries, had died earlier in the year, but the visit to the Border town rekindled memories of Lawson’s youth and gave him the subject matter to lift his side ahead of an encounter against the world champion Springboks.
“On the Friday night before a Scotland international, it is tradition after the team meeting prior to dinner that the captain gets a few moments alone with his players to share his thoughts.
“Daunted by this thought ahead of captaining for the first time I went down to Hawick on our day off, on the Thursday, to see Mum and Dad who were on their weekly visit to see Nana – what better place to get some inspiration?” the scrum-half explained.
“Papa (Bill McLaren) had passed away in the January of that year and I wanted to visit his gravestone before heading over to the shop where he used to buy Hawick Balls (sweets) as I wanted to get a couple of tins to take back to the boys at the hotel.
“During his commentary days, whenever players and coaches alike used to come up to him, Papa reached into his pocket and pulled out a selection of sweets (normally Hawick Balls) and he’d say, ‘go on son, have one of those, it’ll give you an extra yard of pace during the game’.
“I used this as the content for my Friday night chat – “boys, whether you have one of these sweets or not I want you to use Hawick Balls to plant a seed in your head to be a yard quicker than the South Africans in every facet of the game – if we aim for a yard but everyone only wins their personal battle by an inch, we’ll win the game.
“Even with this positive mindset, I remember lining up in the tunnel and looking across to the opposition captain, Victor Matfield, and seeing the behemoths around him and thinking, ‘Christ, we’ve got a long afternoon ahead of us against the world champions.’”
Dan's the man
Metaphorically feeling a couple of inches taller thanks to Lawson’s sage words of advice, Scotland put any inferiority complex to one side and cut the Springboks down to size on an unforgettable afternoon at Murrayfield.
All of Scotland’s points came from the boot of Lawson’s half-back partner, Dan Parks, whose six penalties and a drop goal gave Scotland a big enough cushion to survive the concession of a late try from Willem Alberts and win 21-17.
“It was a day made for Parksy – all about playing for territory,” Lawson pointed out. “We didn’t have the same attacking prowess that the current squad has but we knew that if we played to our strengths and put our strong pack in the right areas, we would stay in the fight, and that’s exactly what we did. It was a day I’ll never forget.”