Rugby: Visser’s sacrifices to pay off

Back in this golden summer it was being claimed that if unknown tennis player Lukas Rosol, ranked world No. 100, could bring down Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon – as he did – then surely some hope must exist for Scotland’s rugby team when they host world champions New Zealand in the opening EMC Autumn Test.

Quite apart from rugby world rankings only going up to 96th-placed Finland, a parallel might be seen by some as pushing the boundaries of sporting imagination to the limit. Except, in one notable respect there is a link between tennis, Scotland and Sunday’s showdown.

Aged 15, Andy Murray left home to seek out competition and refine his talent through the Sanchez-Casale Academy in Barcelona. At roughly the same time a young rugby player, also now aged 25, was heading from the continent to the UK in search of higher standards.

That teenager was Tim Visser, who is about to make his home Scotland rugby debut and whose dad, Marc, retains a vivid memory of what that upheaval meant to him and his family. “Tim had been used to scoring tries from when he started playing rugby, aged eight, even if he was playing in the forwards to begin with,” he said.

“His performances including with the Dutch youth team attracted Newcastle Falcons and he was invited across for a week’s training.

“Always Tim was insisting his intention was to return home and attend the Johan Cruyff University in Amsterdam, probably to study Sports Science.

“But from the Falcons invite came a chance to spend his last two years of schooling in England at Barnard Castle and all those plans were turned upside down. We had a fortnight to prepare Tim for the start of school term and take him across the sea.

“I will never forget sitting on the ferry home with my wife realising that, aged 16, our oldest son had suddenly left home and it didn’t help that our other son, Sep, was to leave home as a teenager to pursue a rugby career that has so far earned him a one-year contract with 
Edinburgh. It hit my wife harder than me when the boys left because I am a rugby man privileged to have been capped 67 times by Holland. I knew that the game at home was a hobby and for Tim to progress would mean going overseas. It was Falcons who converted him to wing from second row where he represented England Schools but in the senior ranks he didn’t get much game time with the club.

“I remember him phoning and saying there was a chance to join Edinburgh and at that time I never really associated Scotland with the professional game so much as England but my advice was to go for it.

“Tim’s never looked back and when he called a couple of nights ago to say he had been picked to face the All Blacks he sounded as easy going as ever.

“I’ve followed and encouraged Tim since he first played aged eight and I have never known him to get nervous about a game. I’m sure he’ll take the occasion in his stride while everyone in the rugby community in Holland get very, very excited.”

So excited, in fact, that there is a large contingent coming to Murrayfield from Holland.

Visser senior, continued: “In some ways it is a pity that the Dutch national side containing many players Tim appeared with at youth level have 
fixtures in Lithuania this weekend and Switzerland the following week when Scotland 
play South Africa otherwise a lot of them would 
have travelled to Murrayfield.

“As it is there is a big group of supporters heading over and for me it will be a first chance to attend an international in Edinburgh since my club, Hilversum, toured Scotland 30 years ago and I watched an Ireland match.”

While Visser senior may be unfamiliar with Murrayfield he has certainly played at a decent level. “The highlight of my career was trying to qualify for the 1991 World Cup with Holland. We faced Italy in Rome and at half-time we led by four points before eventually going down by three or four points. Four years later Italy had grown their game so much as to beat us by 40 points but I also had the privilege of playing for Holland at Hong Kong and Sydney sevens.”

So, Scotland’s “Flying Dutchman” comes with a pedigree to the extent that, regardless of the outcome on Sunday, it could be a few years before he becomes the most capped rugby player in his own family. What is certain is that Scottish rugby owes a debt of gratitude to Mr and Mrs Visser for their willingness to see the bigger picture so far as their older son’s sporting ambition is concerned, and at some personal sacrifice. Judy and Willie Murray would surely identify with that.