As Scotland’s rugby team attempt to beat the All Blacks for the first time tomorrow, inspiration may come from within their squad which contains a player who simply refused to meekly accept his fate and instead began a battle to overcome the odds.
Hooker Fraser Brown was effectively written off five years ago when his contract was terminated by Edinburgh because of injury.
A former captain of Scotland under-20s in both their Six Nations and World Cup competitions, this one-time Biggar, Watsonians and Heriot’s amateur resolved to prove critics wrong and so – remarkably – finds himself on the bench for tomorrow’s clash, hoping to add to a cap won on tour last year against Italy.
“My mum and dad taught me when I was little never to give up,” said Brown, who eventually earned a pro deal with Glasgow and who will understudy Ross Ford at Murrayfield.
“For the best part of two years I was out with shoulder and neck injuries which were probably a result of not being fully mature, body-wise,” he explained.
“I took the decision I just wanted to enjoy my rugby again and as a first step got in touch with Mark Appleson, an former school teacher (at Merchiston Castle) who was helping coach Heriot’s.
“I didn’t know how it would turn out, but I knew if you wanted to achieve something, you had to keep pushing yourself. I also knew enjoyment was the key to playing well and getting picked and I didn’t care what position I was selected in.”
Described by the Evening News in one of his first comeback games almost exactly three years ago as “one of the great unfulfilled talents of Scottish rugby”, Brown’s return was initially in the Heriot’s back row. There, regular try-scoring helped him catch the eye, and he got an opportunity with Scotland sevens, then as cover in the Glasgow set-up when players were away on Six Nations duty.
When he was called up for last year’s Scotland tour, it was the day after he signed with Glasgow.
“Given my background I suppose somebody might have had to swallow hard before deciding to get me back into the professional ranks,” said Brown, “but I knew the work I had done was going to make it hard for people to say ‘no’.
“My aim was to be able to put pressure on people to give me another chance and, yes, it was quite lonely at times working my way back while doing my bit on the family farm.”
Such positivity has carried over to this weekend’s encounter, Scotland going into action on the back of 27 defeats and two draws against the All Blacks stretching back to 1905.
Called up to replace Scott Lawson, whose family also farm near Biggar, Brown said: “It is probably everybody’s dream to play against the All Blacks.
“Of course you dream of beating them and I don’t think it is just a dream. For us as a squad, we don’t go out thinking, ‘These are world champions, let’s watch them play’.
“We got out with the belief that if we play 100 per cent there is no reason why we can’t beat anybody.”
Brown does not subscribe to the belief that New Zealand might be taking Scotland lightly by heavily rotating their squad. “They’ve still got (Dan) Carter, (Richie) McCaw, Sonny-Bill Williams and (Julian) Savea, all quality players, in their 23,” he said.
Scotland coach Vern Cotter, himself a Kiwi, rightly puts an emphasis on what his charges will be concentrating on…themselves.
“If we can have a performing scrum that puts them under pressure and a lineout that gives us 100 per cent return like last week, it may give us opportunities” said Cotter. “We have a mobile forward pack, reasonable speed in our back line. So, it seems logical in a way we develop that type of game.
“We can’t just develop one style. The All Blacks tore England apart by changing the game they played in the last 20 minutes.
“If they have to knuckle down and take it up the middle they will. They are going to put pressure on our play. We have to be quick to support our ball carrier.”
Earlier this week, Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw sounded a rallying call to the effect that the team must not be intimidated or go into their collective shell. “We don’t want to die wondering,” declared Laidlaw.
That is very much the theme of Cotter in calling on his side to take the contest to illustrate opponents.
“Players here have got big hearts. We have just paid respects to people who died in the First World War,” said Cotter.
“Thirty Scottish internationalists were killed. Scotland is a brave nation with brave people. It is not lack of bravery that will stop us having a go.”
Just supposing Scotland did get themselves in a winning position and bearing in mind that as recently as 2001 the Scots trailed by nine points with 13 minutes remaining and missed a penalty to close the gap further, will they have the mental strength to see the job through? Cotter said: “The only advice to the players is to concentrare on things you can control and we try and develop processes that create (good) habits under pressure.
“Focus on the instant. The past is not worth wasting energy on and likewise the future.”
Ireland pushed New Zealand all the way last season and Scotland would back themselves against those foes time and again.
Improbable results do occur – just ask the indefatigable Fraser Brown.
But for starters, Scotland have to get themselves into the game and stay there; in three of their last four visits, the Kiwis have scored three or more tries by half-time and the least a sell-out crowd will be hoping for is a competitive performance for the first time since that clash 13 years ago.