Rugby international and coach;
Born: December 30, 1938; Died: June 28, 2012.
GORDON Macdonald, who has died of bowel cancer aged 73, is believed to have had the shortest international rugby career of any player capped by Scotland.
His brief exposure to the game at its highest level came on February 22, 1969, when he entered the field in the dying moments of a 16-0 Irish win over Scotland at Murrayfield.
Scotland centre Chris Rea had dislocated a shoulder and was taken off. In those days, replacements were only allowed for an injured player – that injury having been certified by the trackside doctor as being too severe to allow the player to continue. Thus it was with Rea, and Macdonald went on for a short period, still argued over as being between two and five minutes; what is not disputed is that in that time Macdonald did not touch the ball or make a tackle.
It is believed that he actually went on to the pitch before the doctor had decided Rea was unfit to resume and with the SRU of the time notorious for their penny-pinching, it was rumoured he would not be awarded his cap. However, this proved not to be the case and Macdonald's cap and Scotland shirt are today to be seen, framed and hanging up in Maidenhead Rugby Club's club house.
He was born in Glasgow, attending Belmont House School, before going south to his public school, Oundle. It was expected that, in time, he would take over the family firm – Macdonald's Biscuits, manufacturers of Penguin biscuits, but his father received an offer which was too good to refuse, from United Biscuits, so it was with that firm the young Macdonald began an eventful working life.
Moving to the south of England, he joined London Scottish and was soon ensconced in the first XV, which was, at that time, one of the top club sides in the country and awash with internationalists. He was soon playing regularly for Middlesex in the old Counties Championships, and for the Anglo-Scots. His consistent play for the great London Scottish teams of the 1960s was rewarded with a two-season spell as captain. He led the XV through the great unbeaten season of 1968-69, when the Richmond-based Exiles topped the RFU Merit Table, the forerunner of today's English Leagues. During this wonderful season he not only won his cap, he also became a Barbarian and travelled to Argentina in Scotland's end-of-season tour.
At this time he was virtually a full-time rugby player, juggling work with the demands of his club, Middlesex, whom he captained, Anglo-Scots and Scotland squad training. This was a seven-day-a-week commitment to the game he loved.
On retiring from playing, he continued as a Middlesex selector and also became one of the game's first proper coaches. He quit the biscuits business and ran a printing works. Away from work he replaced the rugby "buzz" with a burgeoning interest in the turf.
He owned several horses before, in a poacher-turned-gamekeeper move, he teamed up with trainer David Gandolfo. It was said Gandolfo trained the horses, Macdonald trained the owners.
His first marriage, which produced three children, sons Rory and Euan and daughter Melanie, ended in divorce, but he found lasting happiness with second wife Anne, another member of the Anglo-Scots diaspora. She survives him. They had one son, James, a fly half good enough to feature in the Anglo-Scots development side and Scotland age group sides, who for a time hinted at perhaps restoring the Macdonald name to the Scottish international side, before a series of injuries saw him accept club rugby would be his limit.
For the last 20 years of his life, Macdonald was associated with Maidenhead Rugby Club, as director of rugby, but most memorably as an excellent coach of young players.
He may not have played in many internationals, but he got the same number of caps as every other Scottish internationalist: one. He was not the best player ever to wear the famous dark-blue shirt of the Exiles, but he had a gift given to few – he was a born leader. The London Scottish side he led had more internationalists than uncapped players, but even the British Lions respected his leadership skills, his tigerish tackling and his excellent kicking from hand or place.
As a coach he had the cap and the experience to get through to his young charges, but his natural exuberance and joie de vivre enabled him to persuade them that rugby Union was a game worth playing.
Gordon Macdonald's time on the international pitch was short but his time in rugby was long and illustrious, as was the respect which he built up, shown by the full house at his funeral and at the celebration of his life which was his wake at Maidenhead Rugby Club.
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