Major teams: Melrose
Test span: 1964-70
Scotland caps: 25 (25 starts)
Lions caps: 8 (8 starts)
Test points: 9 (3T)
Rugby’s Greatest: Jim Telfer
The son of a Borders shepherd, Jim Telfer is a legend of Scottish rugby on two fronts.
As a belligerent back-row, his courage, work-rate and rucking skills made him an automatic choice for Scotland from his 1964 debut onwards.
In only his second Test, he earned the Scots a 0-0 draw against New Zealand by diving on a loose ball near his own line and hanging on for grim death while the All Blacks tried to shoe him to oblivion. Two months later, on his first start at No 8, he scored a try to help beat England and spark the first pitch invasion seen at Murrayfield.
Telfer trained five times a week in order to gain an edge – a commitment that was unheard of in the 1960s. And he became a disciple of the ferocious rucking game employed by New Zealand sides of that and many an era.
He played eight Lions Tests across the 1966 and 1968 tours, and Colin Meads, with whom he was to cross swords on many an occasion, believes Telfer should have captained the first of those tours to his country. “He should have been an All Black forward,” he says.
A chemistry teacher by profession, Telfer began coaching in earnest in 1974 and so embarked on a golden second career. Highlights include coaching Scotland to a first Grand Slam for 59 years in 1984; whipping the Lions pack into shape in 1997 in an infamous session of 60 scrums in half an hour; and securing Melrose’s first Scottish Division One title – a success that brought him as much pleasure as any.
Nicknamed ‘Creamy’ after a Grand National horse of the 1940s that he admired, Telfer coached with the same hard-nosed, no-nonsense attitude that he showed as a player. He remains the only Scottish international to have played against the big three southern hemisphere giants and not lost – an epitaph he will probably take to his grave.
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