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Issue 11 - The Kilted Kiwi

Scotland Magazine Issue 11
November 2003

 

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The Kilted Kiwi

He's only a bit more Scottish than national soccer manager Berti Vogts, but rugby star Brendan Laney has fallen in love with Scotland, almost as much as Scotland has fallen for him, says Alex Mead

After less than two years in Scotland, Brendan Laney has achieved more than most Scotsmen dream of doing.

Not only does he play professional rugby for top provincial side Edinburgh, but he’s also become a pivotal part of Scotland’s national side and was instrumental in the country’s historic win over South Africa last autumn, scoring 11 points in the 21-6 victory.

What’s even more impressive about Laney’s achievements is that he’s not even Scottish. In fact, by all accounts, he’s a New Zealander. Having lived his whole life in the land of the long white cloud, Laney only set foot on Scottish soil in 2001.

And, barely seven days after doing so, he found himself in the navy blue of Scotland playing in a full test against his fellow countrymen, the mighty All Blacks.

“I never thought that within a week of arriving I’d be playing for Scotland against the All Blacks,” Laney told Scotland Magazine.

“It was a weird sensation as I’d lined up alongside a lot of the boys in New Zealand only a few weeks before.

“I didn’t know all the words to the anthem but I was very, very proud nonetheless.”

Through rugby’s bizarre legibility laws, Laney qualified thanks to a maternal grandmother born in Lesmahagow.

At first, the press were fierce in their criticism of the Scottish Rugby Union for picking Laney, but, now he’s notched up more than 100 points for his adopted country, things have gone somewhat quiet.

“Coming over to Scotland for rugby was a good job opportunity for me,” says Laney. “My agent had approached a few clubs and Edinburgh was one of the ones interested.

“I’d done all I could back in New Zealand and achieved all my goals, and this was a great life experience for me to play overseas.

“Edinburgh was ideal for me as it meant I could explore the side of my family that comes from Scotland. My grandmother moved over to New Zealand a very long time ago but she still has a very thick Scottish accent.”

While Laney’s ancestry did play a part, with an offer to play for English high-fliers Sale also on the table, it was a previous trip to Edinburgh that won him over.

“I’d been to Edinburgh before for a five day trip and it was fantastic, I really liked it.”

Another key factor in Laney’s decision was undoubtedly the close connection between his New Zealand home of Dunedin and the city of Edinburgh. Dunedin is in fact the old gaelic name for Edinburgh, and was given the name by the Scottish settlers who made it their own many years before.

In modern times, the cities are officially twinned and not only are the street names the same but the architecture also bears more than a passing resemblance.

For instance, ‘Juliet’ towers that can be found on some of the older houses in Dunedin are similar to those in Edinburgh. A statue of Robert Burns – designed by Edinburgh’s Sir John Steel back in 1887, confirms the true Scottishness of the New Zealand city.

But the similarity between Laney’s past and present homes goes beyond just bricks and mortar.

“The whole country is a lot like New Zealand,” he says. “When you get into the car and go into the country, you’ve got the space of the countryside, rolling hills, lots of greenery and some real rugged country. And the views are amazing.”

In the relatively short time he’s been in the country, Laney has done his best to see as much of the country as he can.

“Whenever I get the chance I jump in the car to look around,” he says. “I’ve visited the birthplace of my grandmother in Lesmahagow, been up to Stirling and down to the borders and, of course, all around Edinburgh.

“I really enjoy the borders, it has fantastic countryside and Edinburgh is awesome. It’s certainly better than Glasgow, it’s more cosmopolitan and has so many different cultures there. The architecture is also amazing, as is the night-life with all the restaurants and bars it has.”

One of Laney’s many road trips has seen him take in the historic 15th century Stirling Castle and its magnificent situation, high on volcanic rock, has clearly left its mark.

“Stirling Castle is fantastic, it’s amazing to think that anyone would even try to attack it as they did,” enthuses Laney.

“Scotland has such an immense sense of history, I’ve also been to Edinburgh Castle and it’s an impressive sight to behold. It makes you wonder how it was even built in the first place, it really is that awesome.”

Much as the ‘kilted Kiwi’ has enjoyed the many beautiful sights Scotland has to offer, he’s also found its people particularly welcoming.

“Over the course of the first two weeks I was here, I reckon I met about 100 people,” he says.

“They were all so great to talk to, that really got to me.

“Sixteen months on and they’re still fantastic and I’ve been around a lot more now and met a lot more people.”

Having said that, Laney admits, thanks largely to his hasty entrance onto the international scene, not everyone was quite as pleased to see him.

“A few of the boys in the changing room were dubious of me at first,” says Laney.

“But then I’d basically done nothing to earn my place in the Scotland side.

“They didn’t say anything at the time though and hopefully I’ve answered any doubts they had with my performances since then.”

Indeed he has, so much so that as the Scotland side head to the southern hemisphere to compete in rugby’s world cup, Laney is very much part of the set up.

And you can be sure that, with the Scottish blood in him running stronger than ever, he’ll certainly give his all for his new home. A home that has made his departure from New Zealand much easier.

“I always miss New Zealand as it was where I was born and bred, and I obviously miss the sunny weather. But I’ve made a choice to come here and if I spent all my time thinking about New Zealand I’d never enjoy my time here. That said, I’ve totally bought into the way of life now and am very happy.”

So much so, that for the moment, he can’t see his immediate future anywhere but in the Scottish capital.

“We’ve got an initial five year place and we’ve really enjoyed our time here so far. There’s one more season left on my contract and when that comes up ideally I’d like to re-sign and carry on playing for Scotland.

“I like the way of life here and my wife enjoys her work here too, so I certainly want to stay for a few more years.”