Andy Irvine, Scotland’s ‘all-time great’ rugby full back, was born on the 16th of September, 1951.
Andrew Robertson ‘Andy’ Irvine was probably Scotland’s greatest rugby player – at the very least, he is one of the all-time greats of Scottish rugby. Certainly, he features regularly at the top of polls for such things so he’s got the popular vote, for sure. Of course, he’s not playing any more, which is whyfor ‘was’ instead of ‘is’. Then again, looking at what Scotland has to offer now in terms of rugby players, maybe ‘is’ isn’t too far off the mark. There’s no doubt that Andy could generate excitement and exhilaration amongst the fans and spectators in any match, making an impact such as is sadly lacking from the current crop of over-coached and under-achieving international ‘stars’.
Andy Irvine was born in Edinburgh on the 16th of September, 1951 and played at full back for the Scottish national side between 1972 and 1982, winning his first cap against the All Blacks and his last against the Wallabies. During his international career, he amassed fifty-one caps (fifteen as captain) and scored two hundred and seventy-three points for Scotland. At the time of his retirement, he was Scotland's most capped player, although he has since been overtaken by several players, but in an age when more and more games are played per season. Andy also won nine caps for the British and Irish Lions spanning three Lions’ tours, taking his total haul of points from full cap internationals to three hundred and one, which was at that time a world’s record (it stood for five years until 1987, when Michael Lynagh overhauled his total). Irvine also played for the Barbarians, representing Heriot’s Rugby Club.
Irvine was undoubtedly a dazzling fullback; unquestionably the greatest running full-back that Scotland has ever produced. He was a rugby player of genius, blessed with tremendous pace and he was also a goal-kicking machine. However, he was not without his limitations, which were debated right at the beginning of his international career. There was a time when it was considered that he wasn’t secure enough in defence, particularly against the high-ball – the Garryowen’s, so beloved of Bill McLaren. As a result, he was played on the wing, which is from where he made his contribution to the Lions, including an amazing performance on the 1977 New Zealand Tour in which he rattled in a tally of five tries in one midweek game. Irvine’s unique attacking qualities were best realised from deep or wide positions and, fullback or wing, his eye for space, incredible speed, side step off either foot and change of pace, meant that defenders never knew on which side he was going slip through. He was “as slippery as an eel” as Bill McLaren probably said, more than once. Funnily enough, Irvine was a threat to opposition defences even without the ball. In one game against Wales, it is clear that a try by Iain Robertson was the result of the Welsh defence paying over much attention to Irvine, which allowed Jim Renwick to pop up a pass into the gap for ‘Robbo’ to score.
Another memory is one of Andy Irvine’s most striking performances, which came in the
1980 Five Nations encounter with France at Murrayfield on the 16th of February. Leading up to the game, there wasn’t much cause for optimism amongst the Scottish supporters and the ‘Wooden Spoon’ beckoned. By half time, there was no sign of the result being anything other than an away victory and entering the final quarter, France was leading by 4-14. Suddenly, the Scots on the field began to get their act together and Irvine was at the forefront of an amazing revival. A wonderful move, involving no fewer than eight players, created a gap through which Irvine sped and scored in the corner. On that occasion, he also made the conversion, which had been a concern earlier in the game as he had failed to find his range. Within five minutes, another marvellous phase of play put Scotland on level terms when Irvine once again finished off a move that involved a number of players. He touched down by the posts and, whilst he gathered his breath, Jim Renwick made no mistake with an easy conversion. Scotland was then in the lead for the first time in the game and when Irvine added two penalties to make it 22-14, the victory was sealed. It is stretching things just a bit to say that Irvine won the match single-handed, but in the space of just over twelve minutes, Scotland turned a ten-point deficit into an eight-point advantage and Irvine was responsible for sixteen of those eighteen points.
Outside of Scotland, Andy Irvine is remembered as one of the finest attacking fullbacks of all time, comparable with the likes of Christian Cullen. In Bill McLaren’s autobiography, ‘Talking of Rugby’, Bill chooses a ‘World XV’ from the period just after the 1991 Grand Slam. The list is primarily based on who he'd most enjoy watching, rather than any other criteria, and Andy Irvine is on that list. He also appears on the ‘Wall of Fame’ at Twickenham. Having mentioned Bill McLaren, how can we forget his commentary when Andy Irvine kicked the last minute penalty to win the 1974 Calcutta Cup? “High enough, long enough and STRAIGHT enough,” drawled Bill in his inimitable Borders brogue.
Since retiring from rugby, Irvine has become a successful businessman and is a director of Edinburgh-based property firm, Jones Lang LaSalle. He is a former President of the Scottish Rugby Union and in 2010, he was appointed independent Chairman of the Magners League. He also remains chairman of the British and Irish Lions Committee, a role he took on in 2007. Currently, he is the favourite to be appointed British and Irish Lions Team Manager for the 2013 tour of Australia.