Doddie Weir was a legend on and off the pitch, as renowned for his top-class rugby career as his pioneering dedication in tackling motor neurone disease.
He was also the life and soul of a party, a fighter, a prankster… and a prawn cocktail aficionado. Oh, and he was too wily to ever incur the infamous wrath of Jim Telfer.
As Scottish rugby and the sport in general mourns the loss of one of its greatest characters following his death at age 52, some of Weir’s former colleagues share their memories and stories of a true giant of the game.
- Rugby Podcast – Doddie Weir special
- ‘Doddie Weir – six feet seven inches of joyous chaos’
- Tributes paid to ‘force of nature’ Doddie Weir
- Watch: ‘Doddie Weir: One More Try’
‘He just laughed at me as I swung punches at him’
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend was a Scotland team-mate of Weir and played against him for clubs in Scotland and England.
“He was a brilliant team-mate. He’s one of the very few players who could keep certain coaches in check – he could wrap Jim Telfer round his little finger. He knew the line, with a final word or cheeky comment that he could get away with.
“I’m two years younger than Doddie but I came into the Scotland squad looking up to him – literally and figuratively. He got in the Scotland team at 19 and was already like a senior player when I arrived. He had the ear of the coaches and senior players like Gavin Hastings and David Sole loved him.
“He’s very tough. People don’t realise this because he liked to laugh – but he liked to fight as well. I remember going up against him in the Gala-Melrose derbies.
“In one game I’d just come back from a broken wrist and it was all strapped up. He noticed this, and there I was at the bottom of the ruck on my first game back and he’s standing on my hand. I reacted and tried to hit him – couldn’t get anywhere near. He’s laughing at me as I’m swinging punches.
“He always talked down his achievements. He played over 60 times for Scotland, was a Lion, championship winner with Melrose and Newcastle, scored two tries against the All Blacks in a World Cup quarter-final.
“He was a very good player, but we remember him for being the best team-mate you could have. And the life and soul of any room he walked into.
“The glint in his eye was still there a couple of weeks ago. We had a Borders reunion a couple of years ago and he was up to mischief that day. He usually had his lieutenant with him, Gary Armstrong. When we were in camp they’d be putting Vaseline on your phone, turning your bed upside down, clingfilm on the toilet seat.”
Ian McGeechan gave Weir his Scotland debut in 1990 and coached him on the 1997 British & Irish Lions tour, before injury ended his involvement.
“Sadness for what we’ve lost. He was just an unbelievable character and if you say the word ‘Doddie’, most people in the UK would know who you’re talking about. That’s a tremendous legacy to leave because it’s associated with MND and the challenge that Doddie set himself to raise the profile and the funding for it.
“He was an exceptional rugby player and sometimes that’s underestimated. At 19 he went on a Scotland tour back in 1990 because of the respect he already had and the talent that was there.
“Doddie was brilliant at setting the environment. There was no negativity. It was all positive and looking forward. Yes, there would be challenges, but Doddie wouldn’t let you feel sorry for yourself. He wouldn’t let you think anything negative.
“With Scotland and with the Lions, he was just so important in creating that environment that people, not just players, flourished in.
“Doddie knew when things needed to be done properly, but also he didn’t like things being half right. One thing that’s been shown since his terrible illness is just how positive he has been for challenges.
“He didn’t want people to forget about it – he’s put himself out there for one reason – for MND to be understood by as many people as possible – and he’s challenging governments now and has been quite rightly [wanting them] to stand by their words and put money in and take it forward.
“He’s representing all the people who don’t have the voice that he had. The sadness is we’ve lost the man – but we’ll certainly never lose the spirit.”
‘He was trying to put on weight – so ate five Big Mac meals in one go’
Former prop Peter Wright was a Scotland team-mate of Weir’s.
“His big thing in his life was food. Doddie was like 14 stone when I first played for Scotland, which is ridiculously light for someone who was 6ft 7in.
“I remember we were going from Murrayfield out to the hotel at Dalmahoy and Doddie was saying he was trying to put on weight and going on a new diet. I asked him what he was going to do and he said he was going for quantity. I asked quantity of what and he said ‘Big Macs’.
“So we go via McDonald’s and he buys five Big Mac meals and drives to Dalmahoy and eats them on the way. We weren’t very scientific in those days and he just thought that the more rubbish he could eat, he would put weight on.
“We used to go out for meals and he would have two or three starters, he would have two main courses, as many desserts as he could get a hold of.
“It just made you laugh the whole time. Prawn cocktail was his thing and every meal would start with a prawn cocktail. But he would have soup with that as well.
“You just knew he was always a bit different, a bit crazy. You just enjoyed his company.
“If you can find anyone out there with a bad word to say about him, I would call that man a liar. I don’t think there’s anyone else in the world who’s had that impact on people and I think that’s why the MND thing has been so successful.”
‘He was the best line-out player in the world in the mid-90s’
Jim Telfer coached Weir at Melrose, the Scotland national team and British & Irish Lions
“He came to Melrose as an 18-year-old. We had a good group of players and went on to win a few championships.
“He was athletic and an excellent player, always destined for higher honours. He had a tremendous advantage in being 6ft 7ins, but also had an advantage in being so athletic. I always thought Doddie would have been a great 400m runner.
“He came to us as a young second-row but his dad wanted him to play number eight because at that time there were a few injuries with shoulders and backs and he didn’t want Doddie to get his back compressed.
“I knew eventually he would end up as a second-row. He just got better and better. The club environment certainly helped – Melrose won most of their matches and played a style of open, quick rugby that suited him – but to get in the Scotland and Lions team you have to do it on your own.
“He was too clever to ever incur my wrath. He could weigh up the situation very well. He never crossed the line with me.
“People says he was lazy – he wouldn’t volunteer for extra training, he was a bit jack the lad, but he did his bit. He wouldn’t volunteer to do weights because his strenuous work on the farm was the way he tried to develop his body.
“His main asset was his superb ability in the lineout. I think he was the best lineout player in the world for two-three years in the mid-90s.
“If he stood at two in the lineout, the hooker would have the fear of death in him to think that he had to throw it over Doddie.”