Turn of the century

Scotland’s sharpshooting fullback awaits a historic 100th cap

Often blessed with cauliflower ears, crooked noses, ursine lumbers and a jagged jumble of teeth – rugby players are usually fairly easy to spot. Yet when we arrive at St Andrews to meet Chris Paterson, the man who jogs off the training pitch appears fresh of face as well as fleet of foot. Indeed, were it not for the Scotland jersey, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d never had to make a tackle, let alone faced a decade of professional pounding from 19-stoners who wear their charm in their scything studs, whirling elbows and pounding knees.

Record breaker

But appearances, it seems, can be misleading – Paterson has not only regularly represented his country, but, with a tally of 741, is also the most prolific points scorer in Scotland history. And, with 98 caps already in the bag, he looks more than likely to hit the hundred mark during this Six Nations – a milestone made all the more astonishing by the physical rigours of the modern game. Indeed, he’s been available for selection for almost every international since he made his debut in 1999, and his longevity and ability to withstand the physicality of the profession are, he observes, due to the fact he’s been ‘massively fortunate, hugely lucky…

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Scoring the winning drop goal against Australia during the 2009 Bank of Scotland Corporate Autumn Test match at Murrayfield, Edinburgh.

Despite his impressive personal record, however, the Scotland fullback is not one to rest on his laurels, and is more keen to look to the future rather than dwell on the past. ‘Once I got one cap, I wanted another, and another. I’m never happy with what I’ve done. I always wanted the records,’ he reflects, ‘but once I’ve broken them I never sit back and think about them… I’m not that kind of person.’ And, ‘although it would be a huge honour to reach 100, my goal is to get to 99 first.’

Rugby family

Growing up in Galashiels, in the heart of rugby country, Paterson had an impressive pedigree for the game. Not only was he a pupil at the same school as Gregor Townsend, but his father also played, his brother played for the Scotland under-21s and his uncle, the late Duncan Paterson, won 10 caps at scrum-half for his country in the early ’70s, so he grew up hearing stories of both the good and the tough times of life behind the scrum.

‘My main motivation is still to improve, and I feel I’ve still got better games in me – that’s what drives me on. ‘You’re given a responsibility to do your country proud.’

He was also a regular visitor to Murrayfield and was lucky enough to be there to witness the victory that ensured Scotland’s Grand Slam in 1990 – a win that was made all the sweeter as it was against the Auld Enemy. ‘I’ve always played rugby with the hope of playing for Scotland’, Paterson admits. Ninety-eight games later and his enthusiasm for pulling on the dark blue jersey remains undimmed.

‘My main motivation is still to improve, and I feel I’ve still got better games in me – that’s what drives me on.’ And he also knows the weight of expectation that comes with the jersey. ‘You’re given a responsibility to do your country proud.’ Yet, despite the weight of responsibility that is placed on Paterson’s relatively slender shoulders – at just over 12 stone, he’s a minnow of the modern game – he has proved himself more than able to cope with the pressure, and his remarkable reliability was reflected by an astonishing run of 36 consecutive goals kicked for Scotland in 2007-2008. In an era packed with sporting egos, however, Paterson remains refreshingly self-deprecating and down-to-earth. ‘I don’t see myself as a guy people look up to,’ he observes. Indeed the full back almost seems embarrassed to have outplayed Gregor Townsend, out-kicked Gavin Hastings and scored more tries than any player bar Tony Stanger and Ian Smith – some of his own boyhood idols. Perhaps this is reflection that the last decade has not been a fruitful period for Scottish rugby, and despite several notable wins over the French, the English and – most recently and most impressively – the Australians, he’s ‘not yet done what the great players have done’ and won a Six Nations, let alone a Grand Slam.

Chris Paterson with the 1872 cup.

While the bookies see such an occurrence, this year at least, as somewhat unlikely, what is clear is that Paterson will long be held in affection by Scotland’s rugby supporters, and not just remembered as the man who replaced ‘Big Rory’ as the face of Scott’s porage oats. What’s more, whether he reaches triple figures or not, it also seems certain that his numerous records are likely to stand for some time – a fitting tribute to one of the game’s more affable characters and to a remarkable and eventful career.

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