The greatest second-rows of all time: Gordon Brown
Scotland second-row Gordon Brown was a formidable set-piece forward
Major teams: West of Scotland
Test span: 1969-77
Scotland caps: 30 (28 starts)
Lions caps: 8 (8 starts)
Test points: 8 (2T)
And there were few personalities that came as big as ‘Broon frae Troon’, as he will forever be remembered.
The son of a Scottish goalkeeping father and international hockey-playing mother, the 6ft 5in Brown was a formidable set-piece forward with surprising skills with ball in hand. His brother Peter also packed down for Scotland in the second row and Gordon became the first Scot to replace his own brother as a substitute, against Wales in 1970.
Large and hardy, he often ended up in the mix when things got tough. However, it was Brown’s warmth and gregariousness off the field that saw him elevated to the pantheon of British greats. After all, this was Willie John McBride’s right-hand man for the victorious Lions tour of South Africa in 1974, as well as helping the side to that historic series win over New Zealand in 1971.
It was on the 1974 tour that one of the most famous stories about Brown originated. In one dicey match, Brown hit Johan de Bruyn, a big man with a glass eye. It shot out, and as a result both teams and the match official halted play to try and find the eye on the turf. When de Bruyn eventually found it and popped it back in, Brown delighted in telling audiences for years afterwards, a tuft of grass was also sticking out of the socket.
Brown scored two tries in that Test series and five years later his career ended with another tour of New Zealand in 1979, but by that point his Scotland stint was fizzling out.
In 2001 he succumbed to a battle with cancer, at the age of 53. His passing shocked the rugby world – this was a player who hardman Bobby Windsor of Wales said “I love you” to and whom de Bruyn later presented the famous glass eye as a gift – but he was remembered with fondness.
He was a raconteur who liked the post-match festivities, but he was also the rugby players’ rugby player – a battler – and probably Scotland’s greatest-ever lock.