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My Life in Rugby – Hugo Southwell: Former Scotland, Edinburgh, Stade Francais and Wasps full-back

Hugo Southwell - Scotland

LIKE so many Scotland players of my generation some wonderful highs were mixed with some real lows during my time in a dark blue jersey.

Never being on the losing side to England in three consecutive Calcutta Cup games at Murrayfield, between 2006-2010 (two wins and a draw), was obviously a big career highlight for me and a bit of a claim to fame, because I was the only player to start all three.

As we’re seeing from events in Japan, the Rugby World Cup is one of the tournaments that everyone wants to be involved in, and I was lucky enough to get picked in ’07. Unfortunately, we got inched out by Argentina in the quarter-final at the Stade de France. I came on with about five minutes to go when there was one score in it and remember us being five metres out from their line. But instead of us keeping the ball in hand, we kicked it away and an opportunity to make the last four for the first time since 1991 went begging. It was really frustrating.

Sadly, I never got to experience another World Cup as a player; I was all set to go to New Zealand in 2011 but I injured my knee playing for Stade Francais in the second last game of the Top 14 season.

Playing rugby for Scotland was an amazing experience; I never thought I’d be in that position. Cricket always was my passion growing up, but I got released by Sussex at the age of 19 and went to university instead and, from there, that’s where rugby took over.

Worcester offered me a trial and subsequently a contract after spotting me playing for University West of England (UWE) in the Bristol Varsity match. Craig Chalmers was down there with me at the time and with my Mum’s Scottish connections, he said, ‘why don’t you give it a crack up in Edinburgh?’

My great-grandfather was chairman of East Stirlingshire Football Club when Alex Ferguson was manager at the start of his career so there was a big family pull to that part of the world. I wasn’t getting as much game time as I’d have liked at Worcester, so I spoke to Frank Hadden and that was that. By the summer I was on tour with Scotland in Australia; it was all a bit of a whirlwind.

Hugo Southwell
French fancy: Hugo Southwell in Stade Francais colours during the 2009 Heineken Cup quarter-final away at Toulouse. Getty Images

After spending nine years at Edinburgh, I decided it was time to move on and try something new. Simon Taylor had been my Scotland room-mate and he gave me a tip-off that Stade were looking for a full-back because Ignacio Corleto had fallen out with Max (Guazzini, the club owner). Ewen MacKenzie signed me but I never played under him; I had three different coaches in the two years I was there. Family life was difficult, our first child was born whilst we were in France, but from a rugby point of view, I really enjoyed it. Playing in front of 80,000 people at Stade de France, you can’t beat that.

In my four years at Wasps, I only played three because of injury. The year I was captain we very nearly went down but some key moments, like Elliot Daly’s kick from the halfway line against Gloucester and Tom Varndell’s try-saving tackle against Bath, helped to keep us up. If we’d have gone down, I think Wasps would have gone out of business. Despite the struggles, I loved following in the footsteps of some great guys like Lawrence Dallaglio in wearing the armband.

Playing at full-back, I was between Christian Wade and Tom, and Elliot was at 13. Trying to keep up with those guys in speed training was never going to happen, not when I was fully fit and certainly not after a bad groin/hamstring injury. I couldn’t sprint properly, it always felt like something was stopping me. Eight months after trying to get back, I went to see specialist in London, and he advised me that the proximal tendon was two-thirds frayed. With the age I was at (33), his opinion was that it was highly unlikely that I would ever come back from it. I felt I had another year or two to give so that was frustrating, but a lot of people have had to retire a lot younger than me.

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