Obituary: Brian Henderson, former Scotland rugby internationalist

Brian Carlyle Henderson, former Scotland rugby internationalist. Born: 31 January 1939 in Edinburgh. Died: 5 November 2020 in Edinburgh, aged 81

Brian Henderson in his Scotland kit
Brian Henderson in his Scotland kit

Brian Henderson, who won 12 caps playing in the centre for Scotland in the 1960s, has died, aged 81.

Henderson wasa trailblazer for the national side, indeed, it is said he caused something of a problem when first chosen, for the Calcutta Cup match of 1963, at Twickenham.

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Legend has it, the Scottish Rugby Union's shirt order for each season was for seven 38 inch chest strips – for the backs, and eight 42 inch chest strips for the forwards. But at 6ft 3in, and nearly 16 stones, Henderson was the second-tallest man in the team, and heavier than more than half the pack – too big for the designated size.

He had shown a talent across a range of sports while a pupil at Dalkeith High School. He was a good footballer and a single-figure handicap golfer in his teens, where he played regularly at Broomieknowe, close to this home. He spent three seasons in the First XV at school, and also played at Dalkeith RFC, before, in his late teens, switching to Edinburgh Wanderers, the SRU's tenants at Murrayfield, and the only open first-class club in the capital at the time.

He joined Norwich Union Insurance straight from school, and was with the company his entire working life, apart from his two years of National Service, with the Northamptonshire Regiment. His time in khaki included a spell on active service in Aden in 1959. Back home he continued his Army connection, as an officer in the 15th (Scottish) Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, in the Territorial Army.

His form for Wanderers saw him gain his first Edinburgh District caps in the 1960-61 season. His sheer size and the ferocity of his tackling marked him out as a coming man, but, strangely enough, he did not feature in the Scotland Trials prior to being capped for the first time in that Calcutta Cup match on 16 March, 1963.

Henderson was a regular choice at 13 for Scotland for the following three seasons, during which he formed a fine midfield partnership with Iain Laughland, who also died this year. He played in a further three Calcutta Cup games.

He was a Barbarian, being invited to join the old club in 1963. But, sadly, he never played for Scotland against the southern hemisphere giants. Injury cost him appearances against New Zealand and South Africa, although he did play for a combined Edinburgh/Glasgow side against Wilson Whinerary's 1963-64 All Blacks. He had retired, aged just 27, before the Australians arrived in late 1966.

He was selected to play against the All Blacks but injured himself in a club match against West of Scotland on the Saturday before the international and had to pull out of the team.

He missed the match against the Springboks in 1965 because he had not recovered from an ankle injury, sustained in the draw at Twickenham.

In 1966 he was sounded out about availability for the British & Irish Lions' Tour to Australia and New Zealand, but, as was all too common at the time, business commitments – plus his imminent marriage to Sandra – meant he had to turn down the honour.

Brian Henderson won his 12 caps over a 15-cap stretch. He was never dropped by Scotland, injury costing him the other three possible caps, and he finished in credit – five wins, two draws and five losses from his 12 appearances.

Reading contemporary match reports, his ferocious tackling is often highlighted; he apparently had a reputation as being a man you would not wish to go one-on-one against – The Scotsman's Norman Mair dubbed him: “The Tackling Terror”.

However, he was also a powerful runner, ball in hand. He scored two tries in Scotland's 8-16 loss to France, in Paris in 1965. For the first, he raced home from 40 metres out: “going through four tackles on his way to the line,” according to one report.

Other reports of the time credit his tackling with resulting in spilled ball, which Scotland capitalised on.

His near 40-year career with Norwich Union saw him rise to the position of Head of Business Development for Scotland and Northern Ireland. He took early retirement in 1994, to devote himself to his family and take on new challenges.

These included a solo Lands End to John o' Groats walk in 1996, during the 38 days of which he carried a 45lb pack on his back, wore through two pairs of boots and raised a considerable sum for charity.

Henderson wearing a backpack was nothing new – in his playing days his fitness regime included carrying a rucksack weighed down with bricks and wearing army boots, running up and down Salisbury Crags.

He served as a trustee on the Scottish Orthopaedic Trust, and the Water of Leith Conservation Trust for many years. In the latter role, he was very hands on, frequently spotted wearing waders, in mid-stream, removing dumped supermarket trollies and other debris. He also helped build gardens and rest points along the Water of Leith Walkway.

He was a member of the British Olympic Appeal Committee leading up to the Atlanta Games of 1996, back in the pre-lottery days.

He also continued his life-long love affair with golf, as a member of Royal Burgess GC, while he was a gifted poet and a familiar and popular figure on the after-dinner speaking circuit.

A larger than normal centre, Brian Henderson grew into a larger than life character who will be much-missed, particularly by Sandra, sons Rory and Sandy, daughter Catriona, and his four grandchildren.

MATT VALLANCE

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