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Chris Paterson to retire from international rugby

Guinness PRO12 Editor

21 Dec 2011

Chris Paterson, the most capped Scotsman in the history of the game, is to retire from international rugby with immediate effect.

In a stellar 12-year international career, Paterson wrote his name into the annals of Scottish Rugby by breaking just about every conceivable record. His size eight and a half right boot was the most consistently prolific weapon in Scotland’s arsenal for a decade.

Yet for a man that was 12½stone his ability to excel against the 6ft 5ins, 18st monsters that now regularly appear in back divisions, was a source of equal pleasure.

In an exclusive interview with www.scotlandrugbyteam.org Paterson said: “I’ve always said I wanted to bow out at the highest level of the game, while I still had the ability to go on.

“It was a massive goal for me to play for Scotland at my fourth Rugby World Cup, especially after the injury on the day of my 100th cap.

“I did get to New Zealand, not only that, I felt I played well and my final game, against England at Eden Park, was a special occasion, a brilliant atmosphere and such an intense game.

“Since coming back (from the RWC) I’ve had a while to think about it and I believe now is the right time to make my decision, especially when I’ve still been playing well at that level.

“My biggest fear would be devaluing what I have achieved and devaluing the jersey. You have to stop at some point and this is the right time for me.”

Paterson, who turns 34 in March, will continue to give his all to his club, Edinburgh Rugby, for the remainder of his contract, which concludes at the end of this season, although he does have the option to extend for one year.

The twin peaks of his achievements, statistically, are his caps and points for his country, 109 and 809, both records.

But for those of us who have been privileged to watch him go about his business, it’s the manner in which he has performed both on and off the pitch that has made the biggest impact – the ultimate model professional and ambassador for all that is good about Scottish rugby.

Mossy first toured with Scottish Schools in 1996 – the year after rugby was declared professional – and he was well on the way to qualifying as a PE teacher when he became a rugby pro.

His career, then, has been played out in the full glare of celebrity where the labels “star” and “hero” are liberally proffered and might turn many a player’s head.

He explained: “That’s just not me. I’m aware people can change but I’ve always had old-fashioned values. At my first club, Gala, if you played well, you got a pat on the back, if not, you were soon told about it.

“So for me it’s always been important to deliver for my family and friends and for the supporters, to make them proud.”

Paterson has set goals throughout his career and has never been one for any hoo-ha but alongside his 100th cap, there are other obvious highlights.

“Everyone remembers their first cap. My ambition was to experience what I’d watched both at Murrayfield and on the TV when I was growing up. I wanted to know what that felt like and desperately wanted to make a good job of it and I’m so lucky to have done that 109 times.

“I also thoroughly enjoyed the Rugby World Cup in Australia in 2003. The whole experience in Australia was special.”

A young lad, on a family holiday to Queensland from south-coast Australia, Edward Ellice-Flint, ended up retrieving balls for Mossy during his kicking practice at Scotland’s training camp in Caloundra and it was symptomatic of Paterson’s approachability and the way in which he inspired countless young people that Ellice-Flint, an Aussie football fanatic, was soon asking if a great grandparent was enough to qualify for playing rugby for Scotland.

That tournament ultimately saw Paterson entrusted with the stand-off jersey that many argued he should have held throughout his career – surviving even a dunt on the head in the pre-match warm-up in the quarter-final against Australia- to continue his fine tournament with his first ever drop goal for Scotland.

While the debate raged about his credentials in the number ten jersey, Paterson largely kept his own counsel. “Yes, I grew up as a stand-off but I’ve played most of my rugby in the back three and, whether it sounds cheesy or not, the truth is I would have played anywhere for Scotland.

“It’s not a topic that I have any regrets about. My gut feel is that if I’d stayed at stand-off I don’t think I would have had over100 caps as you need to be in the (defensive) frontline a bit more at ten. I believe I’ve maximized what I could have done, had an amazing time and always given everything in representing my country,” he said.

As a keen student of the game Mossy knew his stats better than any journalist and he didn’t need telling of the sequences of unbroken success or, indeed, when he surpassed Gavin Hastings’ career record total for Scotland in the first Test of the 2008 summer tour to Argentina. The next again game, in Buenos Aires, saw him surpass Scott Murray’s then record and become the most-capped Scotsman of all time.

He captained Scotland on twelve occasions, too, and it seemed was always one of the trusted lieutenants to whom a coach would turn.

His longevity in international rugby has been all the more remarkable when the era has been characterised by physicality, power and big athletes and his return from the kidney injury that he sustained on the day of his 100th cap against Wales, yet again epitomised his single-minded determination to strive for the next game and improvement.

“That’s always been my focus – to think about the next game. Now I’ll be able to look back. Ian McGeechan always said that as a player you don’t own the jersey, you just fill it for the time you’re lucky enough to have that duty and you seek to make the people who filled it before you proud and also your family, friends and supporters proud.

“I have to thank everybody that’s helped me along the way – from Gary Parker and Garry Callander, my first coaches at Gala, to all those at professional and representative level, especially Geech, Jim Telfer, Frank (Hadden), Mick Byrne and the current Scotland coaches.

“The absolute stand-out has been Rob Moffat. He helped me through school and in my professional career and it didn’t matter whether Rob was my coach at Edinburgh or whether he was elsewhere. He was always on the end of a phone if I needed to chat something through with him, an absolute inspiration.

“I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to many great players I’ve been proud and honoured to play alongside and those off the pitch who help to get a team ready, especially the medical teams led by Dr James Robson.

“Most of all I want to thank the supporters. When I think of some of the cheers I’ve had at Murrayfield over the years I get goose-bumps, and I’ll never ever forget that feeling.”

Tributes to Paterson were led by SRU President Ian McLauchlan. He said: “What an example Mossy has set over his years in a Scotland jersey. Brave and dedicated, his consistency whether in goal-kicking, running in open play or cover-tackling has shone like a beacon.

“I wish him all the best in his future. I know he’ll continue to give his all for Edinburgh and I very much hope that Scottish Rugby will be able to tap into his many qualities going forward.”

Scotland head coach Andy Robinson said: “What a fantastic career Chris has had for Scotland. He should be celebrated as one of Scotland’s greatest ever internationalists.

“I respect his decision and thank him for all he has done. Having coached against him, he was a player I always ear-marked as a real threat. Coaching him has been a delight, primarily because of his many attributes, not least that constant desire to get better.”

The most-capped Scots woman player, Donna Kennedy (115 caps), said: “I totally admire the man. He’s been an outstanding figurehead on and off the field and a true role model for the sport. To gain one international cap is a great achievement – to reach 109 is outstanding.

“When you step into the international arena and maintain the level of career that Chris has had, including all the domestic games that he’s played throughout the last twelve years, it’s really remarkable. I totally understand the passion you have for playing for your country, how that feeling keeps you going and how hard it must have been for him to walk away from all that.

“Chris presented me with my 75th cap and I was so honoured – it’s something I’ll never, ever forget. I wish him all the best for the future.”

Rob Moffat, Paterson’s coach from his school days at Galashiels Academy, through to age-grade international and pro-team level, added: “Chris is the model professional with the sort of family support that means he would always have his feet on the ground.

“He never wants to be second, a real competitor. For me, the biggest accolade I could give Chris over the last few years is his relentless determination to improve his game.

“At times over the last two to three years he has played the best rugby of his career. He’s worked very, very hard and young people have to realise that, if it ever was the case, the days you could rely on natural ability alone, have long since gone.”

Scotland kicking coach, Duncan Hodge, was a team-mate alongside Paterson when Mossy won his first cap against Spain at Murrayfield in the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

Hodge said: “I first remember Mossy playing sevens at Melrose and it was obvious even then what a great footballer he was.

“I can’t remember there being any fuss or concern about Mossy when he won his first cap. Nobody was saying ‘we’ll have to look after him’. There was just an appreciation that he would go out and do his job.”

Mike Blair, Paterson’s colleague with both Edinburgh and Scotland, said: "I regard myself as being very fortunate to have played the vast majority of my professional rugby career with Mossy for Edinburgh and Scotland."

"He is an incredibly competitive guy who still tops most fitness tests and I think it's great that he has been able to retire right at the top of the game and on his own terms as there is no doubt he could still play international rugby for a couple more years."

"I've enjoyed playing my rugby with Mossy because underneath all the dedication and training he plays the game with a smile on his face."

The last word goes to Mossy’s fellow Borderer, the second most-capped Scotland back and Scotland attack coach, Gregor Townsend.

He declared: “When I think of Chris, the words professionalism, competitor and humility are closely linked to how he has conducted himself over his illustrious career. I’d also add inspirational – as I can only imagine the many thousands of kids that have taken up the game in Scotland thanks to his exploits on the field and his exemplary demeanour off the field.

“The way he has dedicated himself to self-improvement has also inspired many of his teammates to raise their standards and ask themselves if they have done enough to reach their potential.

“He has always been one of the first out on the field at training full of positivity and enthusiasm, and definitely the last to leave the training field. This dedication in conjunction with a wonderful ability to focus his mind on the process transformed his goal-kicking. It is apt that two of the best goal-kickers in world rugby have announced their retirements from international rugby so close together.”