Blair Cowan: My mother’s pride at home debut

New Zealand-born Blair Cowan will make his home debut for Scotland against Argentina this evening
New Zealand-born Blair Cowan will make his home debut for Scotland against Argentina this evening
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A record BT Murrayfield crowd for a Test against Argentina will this evening make acquaintance with Blair Cowan, a 28-year-old New Zealander who qualifies for Scotland through his Dunoon-born mother.

Cowan steps into the open-side flanker role filled in the past by some of the greats of Scottish rugby like Derrick Grant, Rodger Arneil, David Leslie and Fin Calder.

While Cowan might be setting foot on the hallowed – and hybrid – turf for the first time, he is no doubt about what it means.

His rugby-mad mum, who has travelled across the world to witness his home debut and fourth cap – he won three on tour this summer – will see to that.

“My granddad, my mum and my uncle are all based in New Zealand but they’re all very Scottish – born here and raised here,” says Cowan. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of my father’s side – he’s a Cook Islander – and I’m proud of where I grew up.

“But a lot of what is driven in to me is from my Scottish side. They’re very passionate, proud people and I think that shows in the way I play – with my heart on my sleeve.

“When I speak to my grand-dad on the phone he gets a little crackle in his voice when I give him some good news and that almost brings me to tears.

“It’s really nice to be able to represent Scotland on behalf of them as well because my family have been the backbone to my career. I owe a lot to them when I go out to play.”

Leslie once memorably defined the open-side role as “self sacrifice of the human body”, meaning it is necessary to dive head first at opponents’ feet to secure possession.

Cowan identifies with those sentiments.

“I love having my hands on the ball, and I also love the breakdown,” he said. “I like getting in the mix and annoying people by slowing the ball down at the breakdown.

“I love the attacking side – the whole dog aspect is why I see myself as a No.7.

“I’m born to it – when I was a kid, my mum was always saying I was putting my head in stupid places and getting knocks. I think it’s developed from there.

“I’ve moved around a lot in my career, but when I talk to coaches who really know me, they say ‘You’re a 7, mate. You’ve got the mindset of a 7.’

“I’m comfortable at 7. I like the free rein of going out there and finding positions naturally, whereas at 6 or 8 you’re more set-piece orientated.

“I love the whole 7 role. I love being in the dirt of it all, and as I’ve played more at 7, I’d say that’s me naturally. So I’d say I’m a 7 that can play 6 and 8 quite comfortably.”

Cowan, who has moved from Cornish Pirates to Worcester to London Irish, is quick to concede that others might have a different view of how “comfortable” he is in the role, none more so than his mum, Joan, 53, who has been known to organise pre-season training regimes for her son when he visits during the Northern Hemisphere summer.

“She’s just mad, really,” said Cowan. “She does it all – Ironman, half Ironman, the works. She actually played rugby, so it is in my blood, I’d say.

“She’s 100 per cent qualified to criticise me. The worst thing is – although I don’t admit it – when she says it, I know she’s right.”

Hopefully there won’t be anything to criticise tonight after the latest in a line of kilted Kiwis, starting with Sean Lineen back in the late 1980s, earns his Murrayfield spurs.