Sliding into a chair in a Dundee bar on the first day of real summer sunshine is Richie McIver. Nicknamed ‘The Specimen’ by his teammates, he is built like a sprinter and has an unassuming grace. He may not have the sprinter’s braggadocio, but he certainly runs with conviction and he is here to tell me how his running has earned him the accolade of Premier 1 Player of the Season.
“It was totally unexpected. It is pretty good to think that people think of you so highly, particularly on top of the season we’ve had”.
He looks at ease, but in a shirt and tie gives off a very different vibe than during the moments when he is unshackled and let loose from the back of a Dundee High line-out. “I’ve scored quite a few tries this year and I think that may be one of the reasons I’ve gotten this award. I’ve had strong points in games that maybe coaches would remember [the award is voted for by the Prem 1 coaches] during the game: big hits; good ball carries and the sort of stuff that sticks in your mind.”
This award can be seen as a stepping stone. Gordy Reid won it a few years back and now he is a Glasgow Warrior. The problem for McIver, as raw as he admits he is, is that he could now possibly dream about building towards a future in rugby, even though he has already made plans to go and teach English in Japan for a year.
“I’m meant to be going travelling. I’m meant to be going away in August, but I don’t know: nothing is finalised yet. I was planning to go to Japan with my girlfriend for six months and teach English. We looked at Korea as well, and you get paid quite well for it. Then we were going to explore South East Asia.
“But some people are talking to me and I’m considering my options. Ian Rankin has been having a few words with me. If I hadn’t got this award I think my mind would be set on going, but this bit of recognition… I dunno”.
Of course, getting to where the back rower is now came as part of an organic development. He came to Dundee High a season and a half ago from local club Harris and played a bit part. Fast forward to this season and after a few games warming the bench McIver set himself out to impress the Premier 1 veterans in his team and show the rest of the division what he could do when he crashes into contact.
“I never expected the level to be so high when I went to Dundee, but the camaraderie there is unbelievable. I remember everyone at the start of the season sitting down and a lot of boys, including myself, were talking about what we wanted from that season – we didn’t expect to come so close to winning the league – I said I wanted to play at Murrayfield. We came that close…
“ Because this was my first full season I didn’t have anything to compare it to, but just the feeling of being in a winning team was unbelievable. You want to get out and play there on a Saturday, and everyone supports each other. I was kind of worried when I first got to Dundee, but after getting to know the boys, picked stuff up. I’ve still got a lot to learn, so the totally different structure and sorting yourself out defensively and learning ruck patterns has helped me. The pace is that much quicker. We’ve built a lot of line-out moves and set moves and I’ve benefited from that. Next year? If I do play I’d love to play in the Club International.”
It certainly worked, and despite the dilemma put in front of him, there is a feeling that he can only grow further. Dundee would be the perfect place for that. Recalcitrant in the face of more famous clubs, the FPs have established themselves at the top table of Scottish club rugby. They are one of four British & Irish Cup sides and they have demonstrated that they are willing to work around McIver’s natural talents.
Asked if the news was a shock the Dundonian’s smile is one of hope rather than conceit: he is only now accepting that he can improve beyond his current status. The springboard is there if he wants to run at it.
However, should the young man opt to take an adventure with his girlfriend, a textile design graduate, and pursue Eastern dreams then it could create a hole in Dundee’s back row. It must also be said that opposition tacklers will be a little relieved to hear they don’t have to throw their bodies at Richie McIver.
The player himself has some fond memories of the last season, and it must not be forgotten that his own successes are bound to those of his side. “The season was amazing and to come so close to winning the league. I remember the game against Melrose. Our centre got sin-binned and Melrose started piling on the points. I remember thinking ‘this could be a 40-pointer, easy’. But we just kept plugging away and they tired. The crowd were giving us a lot of stick!
“A couple of times in the last 5 minutes, I just remember getting the ball and going on big breaks, we were making big runs and we were one score away and I got the ball from our captain, Neil Dymock. He passed it to me and I managed to whip it out past the last boy and Cam Wyper scored in the corner. Obviously we won it with the last kick of the game. Our 10 was in the good books!
“That was probably the best feeling I’ve ever had after a game.
“After beating Melrose we definitely thought we could do something in the league. I mean, we beat them twice. It gave us, and me, that confidence. It stays with you forever, and you know you can beat the best team in the league.”
His trophy from tonight’s awards dinner will take pride of place on the McIver mantelpiece. We just do not know yet which country that mantelpiece will be in.