Scotland's Kiwi connection

By Gregor Paul

When you hear about Sean Lineen's first 24 hours in Scotland, it is a small miracle that he found the resolve to hang around and make it to his current post coaching the Scottish backs.

The former Counties-Manukau second-five and son of gifted All Black Terry, arrived in Edinburgh in 1989 with his backpack and a goal to play some rugby and travel around Europe.

He was picked up at Edinburgh airport by Scottish prop Norrie Rowan, who would also be his team-mate at the Boroughmuir club.

They went straight to training where Lineen spent most of the session releasing the alcohol he had consumed on board the flight.

There was no time to feel sorry for himself as he was taken back out on the sauce by his new team-mates. On the way to the pub they stopped at Rowan's house, where Lineen would be staying for three weeks.

"We got in there," said Lineen, "and Norrie's wife says 'who the hell is this?' He hadn't told her I would be staying. Anyway, we went back out and when I got home I found I was staying right at the top of the house. I had to get up and go to the toilet in the middle of the night. I was walking across the landing in the nude when the family Doberman came after me.

"I ran into the bathroom and locked the door. I could see him waiting outside, so I had to wait in there for 45 minutes, shivering to death, hoping he would go away."

The next four months for Lineen were only marginally less surreal. After four games for Boroughmuir, he was called into the Edinburgh squad to play Australia. He played well enough to be asked after the game whether he had any Scottish heritage. He didn't know.

"I got on the phone to mum and asked if granddad was Scottish. She said absolutely. He was John MacDonald from Stornaway so I called back the Scottish selectors and I was named in the trial teams. I had a shocker but when they announced the team, I was in."

He went on to win 29 caps for Scotland and it wasn't until the arrival of another Kiwi, John Leslie, in 1998 that Scottish observers felt Lineen had been replaced.

He probably played his best rugby in 1990, when Scotland won a Grand Slam and came within a whisker of beating the All Blacks in Auckland.

Yet, Lineen's abiding memory of that tour was not facing the haka or scoring under the sticks at Carisbrook.

"We were all pretty broke in those amateur days so we tried to raise some spending cash by flogging signed T-shirts. Scott Hastings had a mate in Hong Kong who could print them on the cheap. The whole squad signed the shirts, including Duncan Paterson the manager who was not universally popular.

"So Scott scrawled under Paterson's name R.S. Hole before they went off to be printed."

It was a different age back then and the Scots took Lineen to their heart. But as the game turned professional and more so-called kilted Kiwis drifted into the Scottish team, the atmosphere turned sour.

The Leslie brothers and Brendan Laney were in the test team within weeks of arriving from New Zealand. Others such as former Waikato wing Glenn Metcalfe, North Harbour's Gordon Simpson and Wellington's Sean Longstaff also wore the thistle.

The Scottish rugby public felt the selectors were rewarding test mercenaries - men who knew little of Scotland and just wanted the opportunity to play international rugby.

Lineen avoided such vitriol in his career, probably because he was the first rugby nomad of the modern age and partly because he committed himself so fully to the cause.

"I'm a New Zealander but I love Scotland. I wanted to do my best for the people who put faith in me. I couldn't do the emotional stuff and say I was Scottish because I am a New Zealander. But when the game kicked off I was for all intents and purposes Scottish. My wife is Scottish and my kids have Scottish accents.

"Playing New Zealand this morning, of course I really want Scotland to win. I love watching the All Blacks and want them to win when they are playing anyone but Scotland."

It is now 16 years since that night of the Doberman and Lineen is still living in Edinburgh and working as the assistant coach of Glasgow, as well as assisting with Scotland.

When former Scotland coach Matt Williams was sacked after this year's Six Nations, there was much talk of Lineen taking over. He didn't apply, though, feeling he wasn't quite ready for such a big step.

"I'm loving being involved with Scotland and working with Frank [Scotland coach Hadden]. It has rekindled my enthusiasm.

"I'm very ambitious as a coach. One day I'd love to be in charge of the national team but I need to have had some time as a head coach of one of the provincial teams first."

From an inauspicious start, Lineen is now a part of Scottish rugby folklore.

- HERALD ON SUNDAY

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