The balance of power in Scotland’s famous McLaren/Lawson rugby family has shifted. The late, great broadcaster Bill McLaren and his son-in-law Alan Lawson – owner of 15 Scotland caps – vied for top billing for years. But Alan’s son Rory has now upped the ante by captaining Scotland to two wins.
Rory had overhauled his dad’s total of caps back in November 2009, but had earned most from the bench, so by starting four of Scotland’s last five Tests and leading the team against South Africa and Samoa, he has made a big breakthrough. His mum Linda certainly agrees. “I used to be Bill McLaren’s daughter and now I’m Rory Lawson’s mum,” she laughed proudly at a Voice of Sport dinner in London, organised by the Bill McLaren Foundation. Rory smiles. “She’s had a great few weeks. She’s aware of the effort and work I have put in.”
Beyond the family home, Lawson, 29, is still fighting another battle for superiority. He has spent most of his 22-cap career as Scotland’s third-choice scrum-half behind Mike Blair and Chris Cusiter, making just one start in his first 18 Tests, but that is changing. Cusiter, the youngest of the trio at 28 and with 52 caps, has been out since May with a knee injury, but Blair – one month younger than Lawson and with 66 caps – sat on the bench while Lawson played in the two wins in Argentina last summer. Blair was back for the first November Test against New Zealand as Lawson hadn’t recovered from a broken hand suffered while playing for Gloucester in September, but Scotland lost 49-3, Blair got concussion and Lawson returned a week later to face South Africa – this time with the captain’s armband.
Perhaps more importantly, Lawson kept his place and the captaincy for the third November Test against Samoa, with Blair on the bench again. Cusiter – last year’s Six Nations skipper – should be fit within the next couple of months, so Scotland coach Andy Robinson will soon have a big call to make. “I have known Cus and Mike since schoolboy days and the tussle between us will go on until we all stop playing,” says Lawson. “The summer was my first opportunity and I was hugely disappointed to break my hand, which put a little speed bump in the way. Starting for Scotland in November was a huge honour and to get the captaincy alongside that was massive.”
Lawson insists the transition from bench-man to captain wasn’t as seismic as it might seem. “Even if you’re on the bench you’ve always got to prepare as if you were starting because someone can be injured early doors. Being captain did change the dynamic of things to a certain extent, but I felt pretty relaxed all week. It was all about being positive and trying to get the boys who had been involved in the All Blacks game to mentally and physically recover. I had to get across the point that you don’t become a bad team overnight.”
Lawson’s Scotland side beat some awful, rainy conditions and the Springboks, and the memory still sends tingles down his spine. “It wasn’t a sellout but the noise and spirit and passion that came across from the crowd was unbelievable. I haven’t heard Flower of Scotland sung the way it was during the game before.”
Their next opponents were Samoa and Scotland scraped a 19-16 win, and now that 2011 is dawning, with the World Cup on the horizon, Lawson is keen for Scotland to keep up the momentum. “The biggest lesson for us now is that we can’t take the first game of any series to get into it. It’s no good starting the Six Nations in the second week. It could be a very open championship and the way we start it will be very important.”
Before Scotland head to Paris for their first match on 5 February, Lawson will be giving his all for a Gloucester club which was rocked by the death of chairman and owner Tom Walkinshaw before Christmas. “Tom had been ill for some time but it was still hugely sad,” says Lawson. He knows Gloucester’s form this month will have a bearing on their chances of making the Premiership play-offs as well as determining whether they reach the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals. “We’ve shown what we’re capable of in spells and we’re in a decent position at the turn of the year, but we have to kick on and put ourselves in a good place for the last third of the season.”
Lawson’s own form in January could well dictate whether he starts the Six Nations as Scotland’s No 9. “It’s no use looking to international rugby unless you’re playing well for your club. The competition at Gloucester is such that I’ve got to be at my best every single week.”
Having made just two appearances as a replacement in the 2007 World Cup, Lawson is hungry for more in 2011, but he’s not about to get carried away by his success in 2010. “There are few better places in the world to play a World Cup than New Zealand. It’s in the back of my mind but I’ve got to perform to get in a position to be selected. The only people making firm plans are my family and girlfriend.” How proud would they be if Lawson became a World Cup captain?
This article appeared in the February 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine
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