Friday night at Murrayfield against Connacht gave Edinburgh fans a chance to say thank you to recently retired club legend and the “squadfather ” Alasdair Granville Dickinson as he presented the match ball.
Dicko made his Scotland debut at the 2007 Rugby World cup when he was a late addition to the squad to replace the injured Allan Jacobsen. It probably wasn’t the debut he’d have liked as he lined up against Carl Hayman and the All Blacks for a largely second-string Scotland side that lost 40-0.
In true Dicko style though he was quoted at the time as saying: “That was a kind of mixed emotions game. It was such a massive game and my debut. I’m happy that it happened. Even after the game I was pretty happy, but I’d learned a harsh lesson. It showed where I was in my development as a player and what I had to do”.
He faced Hayman 8 months later whilst playing for Gloucester against Newcastle in the English Premiership. By his own understated reckoning, he “did quite well “.
He went on to represent Scotland a further 57 times and appeared at 3 World cups with his final appearance for his country in June 2016 against Japan when he lined up in the front row alongside fellow Edinburgh players Stuart McInally and WP Nel. Al unfortunately only lasted 3 minutes, sustaining a hamstring injury. Injuries would be a theme of the later stages of his career.
Big Al made over 120 appearances for Edinburgh in two spells that bookended his 15-year professional rugby career with another 100 appearances for Gloucester and Sale Sharks in between.
The 2015 European Challenge Cup run is an obvious highlight from Alasdair’s time in the black and red. He featured in most of the games leading to the final that year including wins against Dragons, Bordeaux, and London Irish before coming up short against a Greig Laidlaw powered Gloucester. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne was never quite the same since!
Another notable moment for Alasdair came in December 2016 when he returned to the Edinburgh side after recovering from the injury he sustained against Japan in time to record home and away victories against Stade Francais in the Challenge Cup.
After missing the whole of season 2016/2017, he returned to action for Edinburgh on March 3rd 2017 at Myreside v Ospreys but aggravated a foot injury.
That unfortunately proved to be his last game.
After a long battle to get back to match fitness, Dickinson officially announced his retirement from playing in August of this year when he said:
“For me, my body just couldn’t keep up with the demands of the professional game and I believe it’s now a good time to call it a day.”
A consummate professional who was initially thought to be too lightweight to be a serious front row contender, he worked tirelessly on his technique and his physique and became one of the best looseheads around during his peak years. He was a good ball carrier, tackler and the epitome of what is now expected of every modern prop forward.
It is particularly telling that in the 23 games that Scotland have played since Dicko made his last appearance, we have used 6 looseheads – Darryl Marfo, Rory Sutherland, Jamie Bhatti, Gordon Reid, Allan Dell, and Alex Allan. Every squad announcement in this period was greeted with a cry of “when’s Dicko back?”.
In the previous 23 matches we had used just 3 – Ryan Grant (also recently retired), Gordon Reid and Dicko himself. When he was fit, Dickinson started every important match we had in that period.
It appears to this correspondent that neither successive Scotland coaches nor the wider rugby public were convinced by any of these replacements. In Dickinson’s absence it is a shirt very much up for grabs.
Thank you Alasdair. We salute you.