Johnny Matthews: From Elie to Lille in a flash to become a try-scoring Scotland cap

Johnny Matthews scored and assisted on his Scotland debut
©Bryan Robertson

On Saturday September 23, Johnny Matthews was out for a walk with his wife Mel and friends in the picturesque seaside town of Elie on the east coast of Scotland.

Seven days later, he was in the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in the cultural hub of Lille in France coming on for Ewan Ashman to make his Scottish debut at the Rugby World Cup.

The 30-year-old Glasgow Warriors man entered the fray in the 59th minute of Scotland's Pool B match against Romania and managed to bag a try with a trademark support line to help his side to a handsome 84-0 win as they kept their quarter-final hopes alive.

This coming weekend, the Scots have a huge showdown with Ireland to see if they can progress to the last eight of the World Cup, but for now, let’s look back on Matthews’ big day and hear from some who know him best…

'It is just unbelievable': Matthews reflects on a mad week

Twenty tries for Liverpudlian Matthews for Sedgley Park in England’s National Leagues brought him to the attention of some in 2014/15 and, after a stint at Rotherham Titans, he was back at the same club scoring 29 tries in the 2016/17 campaign.

Before that, he had already been involved with the Scottish age-grade programme thanks to qualifying for the country through his Glasgow-born mother.

He wore the thistle at under-18 level and was part of the under-20 set-up in 2012/13 before picking up a knee injury.

In 2017, he moved to Scotland to play in the Premiership for Boroughmuir and he became a standout player for the Meggetland men over the next couple of years, scoring tries for fun. He was also involved just as Boroughmuir Bears were starting their Super6/Super Series journey, but few could have imagined how the next stage of his journey would pan out.

After a stint training with Glasgow Warriors in 2019/20, he has now been with them for the last three years full-time and played for Scotland A in Chile last summer.

After helping Scotland beat Romania last Saturday, the man himself said:  "It is just unbelievable, a week ago I wasn’t expecting this, so it is all a bit surreal. I am just delighted to be part of this group. What a bunch of boys they are and I can’t stop smiling.”

'We knew we had a player on our hands when he joined Boroughmuir'

Ally Hay is the chairperson of the Boroughmuir club in Edinburgh and, like many, is delighted to see the success Matthews is having.

"We knew we had a player on our hands when he joined Boroughmuir in 2017 during Peter Wright’s period as head coach," Hay said. "Johnny is a player who gives his all and that was apparent from day one.

"His try-scoring record is not all about being at the back of driving mauls, Johnny gets around the park tremendously [as witnessed in Lille on Saturday] and a number of his tries come from support play or finishing from further out than five metres.

"As well as playing for us, Johnny spent a year or so as commercial manager at the club. He worked hard at bringing different sections of the club together and that was an enormous benefit to us all and he showed his enthusiasm.

"It’s becoming more and more difficult for players to cut their teeth in the amateur game and get picked up by the pro teams, let alone make it to the international scene. It’s great to see guys like Luke Crosbie break through in the way that he has and now Johnny.

"He remains hugely popular at Meggetland and he visits regularly. We are delighted for him.”

Neill Wood is currently director of rugby at Boroughmuir and was one of the first people to meet Matthews at the club back in 2017 when he was forwards coach.

"It was obvious when he started at ‘Muir that he was destined for bigger and better things,” Wood stated. "He had a determination to succeed and was a great leader during his time at the club. It was clear that his ambition was to become a professional rugby player and he worked really hard on all aspects of his game to improve. He was a great lad to coach and he enjoys every minute of his rugby.

"He was also a great sevens player while at Boroughmuir and had natural speed."

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When he was at Boroughmuir, Matthews made a lot of close friends and the group included Archie Russell, Jordan Edmunds, Murray Johnstone and Tom Wilson.

Russell, the younger brother of Scotland star Finn, was Matthews’ best man in the summer and said: "I’m absolutely delighted for him getting this opportunity. From living with him for over two years in Edinburgh, I know how hard he has been working for this. He is also coming off the back of an exceptional year with Glasgow so in great form.

"It couldn’t happen to a better guy, he has a really solid set piece, he knows how to score tries and he is an asset to any team he plays in."

Edmunds, the Scotland Sevens and GB Sevens man who is currently with Edinburgh Rugby during their pre-season, added:  “I think anyone who meets Johnny knows he's a larger-than-life character. When he arrived at Boroughmuir he just blended in seamlessly on and off the field, adding huge value to the club.

"He's put in some shift and been on some journey to get where he deserves to be - and he can always sniff out a try."

Johnstone said: "Johnny is a great player and an amazing mate. He’s worked really hard to get to this point and I’m really proud and happy for him. Off the pitch, he’s a chilled, laidback guy, but he worked hard during his off-season to keep himself in shape for when an opportunity like this came around."

And Tom Wilson, now based in Hong Kong, said: "Johnny has worked hard for years and it’s great to see all his hard work paying off. Every level he has played at he has always had a knack for scoring tries, either at the back of a maul or from some metres out.

"One of my favourites he scored was playing for Boroughmuir in the sevens versus Jed-Forest when he ran in from 80 metres. I thought it was 40 metres, but Johnny insists it was 80 and he is deceptively quick for a stocky lad!

"Seriously though, he’s had to overcome more hurdles than most players and there’s not many that would have kept pushing which is testament to his character."