Obituary: Tom McClung, former Scotland international rugby player

Tom McClung, former Scotland international rugby player. Born: February 14 1933 in Edinburgh. Died: October 6 2020 in Edinburgh, aged 87.

Tom McClung in his playing days
Tom McClung in his playing days

Tom McClung was one of the leading Scottish international rugby players of the late 1950s.

He was very much a son of Edinburgh, born in the capital and educated at Edinburgh Academy up until the age of 11.

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During the Second World War, when a Luftwaffe aircraft dropped a bomb close to the family home in Corstorphine, the McClungs were evacuated to Girvan, where he attended Girvan High School.

From Edinburgh Academy, he went on to Sedbergh, the public school in the wilds of Cumbria, then to Cambridge, to Emanuel College, to read agriculture.

Tom won his Blue in the 1954 Varsity match, then returned to Edinburgh, to work in the family potato merchants business, and to play rugby for Edinburgh Academical and Edinburgh District.

He helped Accies win the Unofficial Club Championship in 1955-56, their first such success since 1930; a great season in which the only Scottish side to beat them was Glasgow Academicals.

He went on to captain the club in season 1959-60, while his years in the Edinburgh team in the Inter-District Championship were also successful – five wins in six seasons.

Along the way Tom won a total of nine Scotland caps, six in the centre, three at stand-off.

He made his debut, at centre, against Ireland, in Dublin in February 1956, converting tries by Ernie Michie and Arthur Smith as Scotland lost 14-10.

Angus Cameron, the starting stand off, had gone off with concussion, putting McClung into the pivotal role for the 14 remaining men.

He retained the stand off position for the next international, an 11-6 loss to England in the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield.

He was left out of the team which won in Paris in the first match of the following season, but was brought back, at stand off, for the visit of the Welsh to Murrayfield, and his first win in a Scotland shirt, 9-6.

Tom then retained his place in the team for the Irish and Welsh games, starting both at centre.

Scotland did not call on him for the 1957-58 internationals, an inconveniently-time injury affecting his selection prospects, but he was recalled for the first three internationals of the 1959 Five Nations, losses to France, Wales and Ireland.

Dropped for the Calcutta Cup match, Tom would play just one more international, the 8-0 loss to Wales in Cardiff in 1960.

He went on the groundbreaking short tour to South Africa at the end of the 1960 season, but he was left out of the team for the only international.

Then, he carried the can for a bit of horseplay on the flight home, when a liferaft was inflated inside the aircraft – the Scottish selectors never called on Tom again after that.

He continued to play, alongside brother Gilbert, for Accies, however, and his contribution to the club was marked when he was inducted into the club's Hall of Fame, having spent many years on the committee and been President from 1984-1986.

Tommy McClung's sense of fun might not have gone down well with the Scottish selectors, but, he continued to be a well-kent figure around Raeburn Place and elsewhere in Scottish Rugby, particularly in the Borders, where he had been a fixture in the Accies teams on the Spring Sevens circuit, and he did a great deal of business among the farming community.

That sense of fun was also seen at its best as a member of rugby's ultimate fun team, the Barbarians, for whom he played in the annual South Wales tours in 1956 and 1957.

His career coincided with a great period for Scotland's oldest rugby club, and while their XV included some genuine Scotland greats, such as international captains Douglas Elliot and Brian Neil, plus a British Lions scrum half in Stan Coughtrie, it was widely acknowledged that Tom was the back division general who made the entire team tick.

Top rugby players back then were strictly amateur. Tom's day job was in the family potato merchants' business, which he ran along with Gilbert.

Away from work and rugby, Tom was a keen golfer – at the time of his death he was the oldest member of Turnberry, which was hardly surprising given its proximity to the Girvan tattie fields he knew so well.

He was also a member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, at Muirfield and the Scottish section of the British Rugby club of Paris.In his younger days Tom was a keen cricketer, playing, naturally, for the Accies, while he was also a passionate bridge player.

Tom is survived by Marion, his wife of 58 years, sons Fraser and Gilbert, and daughter Celia and his eight grandchildren.

MATT VALLANCE