The Glasgow Warrior reflects on how he became a Scotland international

Spotlight on Scotland prop Oli Kebble

THE PROP is not even remotely sold on the idea. However neat a metaphor it might be for Scottish and South African cultures unifying, Oli Kebble just does not see why you’d put iconic Scots culinary items on the braai. As he says: “I really enjoy a square sausage, but have you ever put it on a barbecue before?

“Keep the haggis and square sausage for breakfast, I reckon!”

He has a point. And while it’d suit us to stumble into an awkward line about devouring foes, it’s better to talk about the ‘give it a go’ ethos that’s led the residency-qualified Kebble to Glasgow.

The son of a Springbok and the product of Cape Town’s Bishops school, rugby was an inevitability for Kebble. Always solid in the set-piece, he has persisted to boost dynamism too. Expanding horizons is nothing new.

“I did my A Levels at Dulwich College,” he says of an early stint in the UK. “I went on an exchange from Bishops and really enjoyed it. I was quite keen for a change of environment and Dulwich said they’d happily have me back. I never looked back.

“I’d like to say it felt like another continent but I really enjoyed the experience, meeting new people – it was all awesome. Obviously it was much further away from home but it didn’t give me too much stress. My parents also said, ‘If you want to do it, we’re more than happy to support you’.”

Spotlight on Scotland prop Oli Kebble

Heavy traffic: Facing Scarlets with Glasgow (Inpho)

The biggest rugby difference is that school games in South Africa draw thousands of spectators, while in the UK… Not so much. And then there was the string of games Kebble played at centre.

Would he ever suggest Glasgow boss Danny Wilson rolls back the years and puts an early-teens number on his back? “Oh no, I’m way too fat and slow for that now! I love playing in the front row…”

Kebble’s father Guy, also a loosehead, has four Boks caps. The pair talk “almost every day” according to the son. When he was first finding his feet with the Stormers and at U20s, Kebble had more need for advice and a “hard-nosed approach”. Today, the pair share thoughts more in a discussion about rugby in general.

Talking. It’s important. And as conversations about mental health and the need to check on sports stars become more commonplace, players are appreciating the value of mutual support all the more.

Kebble says: “That is incredibly important. I’ve probably become more aware of that the older I’ve got. Maybe when I was a bit younger I was less mature, not too deeply concerned about my team-mates, as I am now.

“It doesn’t even need to be a direct question about how they are (with their mental health) but more just checking in with mates and making sure everyone is okay. If they need someone to talk to, I make myself as available as I can.”

On the field, Glasgow have been a poorly-oiled machine – changes in personnel, Test call-ups and injuries didn’t help in a rough start to the season. Some critics say they must forge a new identity, and fast. As Kebble sees it, it’s not a systemic issue but one of personal discipline within the system, so far. The aim amongst senior players, Kebble adds, is to lift squad morale and rediscover a knack. He’s also truly proud of the shift the wider squad have put in.

Bottle-blond Kebble is, of course, a Scottish international. His first cap came off the bench against Georgia, in a friendly just before the Autumn Nations Cup began.

Spotlight on Scotland prop Oli Kebble

Test stage: Kebble facing Wales in October (Getty Images)

People often talk of the disparity between pressures in the club game and Internationals. So what was that first-ever Test scrum like?

“Well, it bloody collapsed!” he says. “But we won the penalty, so it was all fine. For me, the build-up to the game was way more nerve-racking than the actual game, you know? I was really proud and excited to represent Scotland and then it was the nerves beforehand, sitting on the bench and watching the boys play really well. Then obviously it was getting that call to get my strip out and go on the field – it was kind of like a weight off my shoulders and then once that happened it was all smooth sailing.”

And the standard across the games, can you feel a difference?

“You’re surrounded by the best of the Scottish players and when you’re playing Internationals it’s playing against the best of the country you’re playing against. It’s a general high standard from player to player on the field.

“What I would say is that international rugby definitely needs its crowds back. Because I have watched many games at Murrayfield before I was selected, and the way that the crowd pulls the boys up is incredible.

“I’m really looking forward to hopefully getting the opportunity one day, when I can play in front of a sold-out Murrayfield, because it will be really special.”

It would certainly be something to ring home about.

This article originally appeared in the February 2021 edition of Rugby World magazine.

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