Exiled: Phil Godman

For years there was a collective lament from the terraces as Scotland struggled to find a stand off. The ‘Toony flip’ had long since faded in clear memory and Chris Paterson could not run to his fall-back post without someone enquiring why he was not the countries key decision maker.

In the last few years this uncertainty has been replaced with the giddy feeling one only gets with a Christmas morning and two selection boxes.  Scotland have more than three legitimate options at 10.

The terraces are nothing if not diverse in their questioning, though, and so the lamenting changed with the times. Everyone had an opinion to change with the options and everyone had a preference for Scotland’s offensive leader. If anything should happen to one option then they would struggle to climb back into our collective consciousness.

“The last few years were tough,” Phil Godman tells at the end of a long day. “I had my first serious injury. I had been lucky before, but then I damaged my anterior cruciate ligament. This then turned into complications with the anterior; the medial; the lateral.

“I had been hoping to compete for a place in the World Cup, but I was nowhere near, really. I was back at Edinburgh after 12 months, and then I aggravated things. We got to December. It had been 14 or 15 months without rugby and the others had been playing. Mike Blair was at 9 with Greig Laidlaw at 10.

“I got some run outs in the Heineken Cup, but if I didn’t get games I was on the sidelines coming off the bench for about 10 minutes. It was almost no time.” He checks here, at the point where a bitter or terrace-seasoned man would moan. “Of course, even if I had been fit Greig was captain and one of Mike or myself would have to miss out. Mike was playing very well.”

Godman talks with the authority of a man who had watched a lot of film and spent many a minute talking through his situation on the physio bed. He is not angry, but he does not shy away from the facts either.

His time at Edinburgh was enjoyable for him. Notable for his ability to land on his feet, he was never the international fly half that could kick with unflinching authority, but he was never shy of having a go when the devil on his shoulder raised its voice.

Now he is with London Scottish, and the impulsive former Newcastle man looks like he has opted for pragmatism.

“Honestly,” he says with the sigh of a child caught hand-in at the cookie jar, “had it not been for the attempt to get to the World Cup I would have to admit that I had always wanted to play elsewhere. I had played at Newcastle and I knew I wanted to go somewhere like the [Aviva] Premiership or France.

“I was back at Christmas and I spoke to Edinburgh then. I said that I would maybe like to go somewhere else and they said they would see what happened once I ‘got fit.’ I loved Edinburgh, but I also spoke to other guys like Mike Blair and Chris Paterson. They were going and it kind of felt like the end of an era.”

What options where available to someone like Godman?

“Being an international 10 looks good on your CV, but I had not been playing. You find yourself in the second string or playing in the Heineken Cup. You have drop goals which are nice, but then 10 minutes off the bench later.

“You leave it to the agent. At one point we were talking about going to France and in talks with an Aviva Premiership team. It is difficult with them because many are looking for English qualified players unless they are desperate for someone in a specific position. Sometimes people come in late in the day.

“So I spoke to Simon Amor,” as talk turns to the future and a one-year deal with London Scottish. “It did take me a while to get my head around playing in the Championship. They [Scottish] are very professional, they have the obvious Scottish connection and they are ambitious. You need to play and you have had no rugby for two years. To get back out there you have to weigh it up.

“Obviously going to France is more lucrative. And if I had been offered that golden opportunity at one of their top teams I would have taken it. Maybe you would get nothing in terms of playing time, though, and I have a young family to think of.”

In full flow, Godman is honest, measured in his answers and confident in himself. He knows that he has reached heights that may not be touched again, but by that same stinging token he is not about to belittle anyone else. He is in a place, by his own words, that is best for him just now. He has matured.

So when I catch a sentence about being on the radar I probe, trying to find if there is a remaining kernel of perceived entitlement or longing to reclaim international rights.

“No. I still feel I can play to a high standard and I have come to the Championship. Never say never. I am just keen to play well and know that people know up there [in Scotland]. The SRU pay more attention now to London Scottish.

“I have had no talks with Andy Robinson recently, although we did talk briefly when a Premiership team was coming in. He said to take the chance. Then things moved on.”

Things have now moved on to the extent that he is living near to London Scottish and endeavouring to be the force of consistency that takes Scottish away from the Championship’s basement. It is a challenge he will be relishing, and although there are times –like at Nottingham last week –where Scottish struggle, his head does not go down. The team talk about not letting this happen again and he makes this his cause.

He is only there for a year, but there is so much scope for Godman to impress, embed or evolve that even if the likes of Laidlaw or Weir were the only options at 10 according to the terraces there is still reason to check up on an international fly-half now and again.

Just look at the renaissance of Gordon Ross…

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Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.