Past Life: Shetland and International Rugby

From Shetland Life, April 1984, No.42

by Martin Emslie

The Scottish rugby team’s recent success can hardly have escaped the notice of most people whether they might be rugby fans or not. This season’s record of having drawn the match with New Zealand and then successively beating Wales, England, and Ireland (thus winning the Triple Crown) and then adding the Grand Slam by defeating France on 17th March, will probably go down as Scotland’s best ever season. Only in the 1924-25 season has Scotland achieved anything like this success previously.

These results must have delighted Scottish rugby fans world wide and one person who must be particularly pleased is Adam Robson, the present President of the Scottish Rugby Union. Many people will know that Adam Robson’s mother came from Yell and that his liking for the islands has resulted in his becoming a sought after painter of Shetland land and sea scapes and a much enjoyed author of the book, Saga of a Ship, his celebration of the Earls of Zetland and their service to the northern isles along with their further adventures overseas.

My own first recollection of Adam Robson however is of a distinctive, bald-headed Scottish wing forward chasing about the Murrayfield rugby pitch in a very effective manner and yet, as a young teenager I couldn’t resolve the fact that a man who was old enough to be bald could also be young enough to play international rugby! He played 22 times for Scotland gaining his first cap against France in 1954. Scotland lost that day, for the 12th time in succession, and were to lose a further five times before beating Wales in 1955 and ending the worst run of defeats of any international side. Adam Robson won his third cap in that match and continued to be selected throughout the late 1950s winning his last cap in 1960.

For another Shetland connection it is necessary to go back to 1871 and to Raeburn Place in Edinburgh where Scotland played England in the first ever international rugby match and a glance through the Scottish team list shows one name that is well known to Shetland – Clunies-Ross of Cocos-Keeling Islands fame. Having been educated at Madras College for seven years and then St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities, Alfred Clunies-Ross was to play for Scotland only this once. He was described as being half-Scottish, half-Malaysian and certainly the photograph of the Scottish team shows him as being distinctly Malyasian in his features. Nevertheless, he like Adam Robson could trace Shetland ancestry and I wonder if they are the only two players with Shetland connections who have represented their country at rugby. It would be interesting to know if there are more and perhaps the subject could be widened to include all sports!


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