Ruaridh McConnochie: ‘I couldn’t believe it when Gregor called me’

Ruaridh McConnochie won the first of his two England caps against Italy at St James’s Park, Newcastle
©Chris Lishman

Following his call-up to the Scotland national team, Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie says that it has been “surreal” to be named in Gregor Townsend’s squad for the Guinness Six Nations.

In 2019 McConnochie won two caps for England, the wing part of Eddie Jones’s Rugby World Cup squad in Japan, but in the years that have followed did not gain any more caps. As the 31-year-old’s surname suggests, the former England and Team GB sevens players’ roots do not lie in England.

Since his last cap for England against the USA at the World Cup, McConnochie’s career has been disrupted by a slew of injuries and seen his involvement at club level limited. Now able to test himself at the international level once again, the 31-year-old says that the fire to play more Test rugby has remained.

“Yes definitely, it was always there,” McConnochie said. “It’s the elite level of the game, the top of the pyramid. It’s the ultimate pressure environment and I loved my time with England, being in that environment of being the best every day.

“I feel like I thrived in that, and to get the opportunity to do that again is really exciting.”

McConnochie’s mother, Seonaid, grew up a stone’s throw from BT Murrayfield Stadium, his father, Rennie, born and raised in Glasgow before attending university in Edinburgh. Subsequently moving to the English capital, McConnochie would be schooled in Kent and played in London Scottish's age grade ranks before going to university.

It was a chance meeting between McConnochie’s father and Scotland’s head coach which in some ways set the wheels in motion. While some years ago that Townsend was told to “look out for my son, he is playing for London Scottish under-18s", it was a surname which would not be forgotten and after the changes to World Rugby’s eligibility rules, the chance to play for Scotland became a possibility again.

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“It’s been quite surreal,” McConnochie said on Wednesday afternoon. “I couldn’t believe it when Gregor called me at 20:30 or 21:00 on Monday night. We had a chat a few months ago about my hopes to play for Scotland, and I said I was 100 per cent keen.

“I was thinking ‘it is 21:00, maybe I am further away from the squad than I thought I was’, then he called me, and it was pretty cool explaining it to my family.”

While McConnochie became known for wearing a white jersey, he had grown up idolising those that wore blue. With such strong links to Scotland and a large portion of his family living in East Lothian, it is not hard to see why the opportunity to represent Scotland is appealing.

There is some fortune to his recruitment by Townsend. With Darcy Graham out of the Six Nations with injury, there is a spot on the right wing up for grabs and acquitting himself at Oriam would put McConnochie in the frame for a second international Test debut.

It is also a second chance at achieving a childhood dream which was once thought to be long gone. When signing professional terms with England sevens in 2015, the chance to represent the country of his parents’ birth seemed to have disappeared, until starting the conversation about switching allegiances began to gain some traction at the end of 2022.

“I grew up in a very Scottish family and my dad is a very proud Scot, supporting Scotland most of his life,” McConnochie said. “He trialled for the Scottish schoolboys, and I grew up hearing his stories about his favourite players from the 80s and 90s.

“It was always in our thoughts we were Scottish fans. I played for England Universities, and I messaged the Scottish Exiles programme a few times and did not hear much back. When the England sevens came around, I sat down with my dad and said to him, ‘you know that this means? If I say yes to this, I won’t be playing for Scotland’.

“To be fair to him, he said it was 100 per cent the right decision. I would love to say there was a choice, but there wasn’t.”

So, your dad was pretty happy with this call-up?

“He was really excited,” McConnochie said. “I have always had full backing from them in any choice I made. 

“It was a bitter pill for him to swallow when the England set-up came knocking and we thought we had said goodbye to Scotland and a childhood dream, but I am so happy it has been able to come around and have the opportunity to train with the squad and push into the 23.”

McConnochie will be playing against some of his prospective teammates this Friday night in the Challenge Cup. Playing Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium, Johann van Graan’s side are miraculously in with a chance of making the playoffs, despite just having just one point to their name after three games.

The plan already for McConnochie was to stay with his father in Perthshire after the Warriors clash, but instead of a flight back to West Country for training at Farleigh House, the 31-year-old will instead be travelling to Edinburgh to meet up with the Scottish national team.

It could be an interesting debut should his audition be successful, Scotland’s first game of the Six Nations a Calcutta Cup encounter with England at Twickenham Stadium. While much can be made of playing the nation he used to represent, McConnoshie is grateful for the road he has taken to get to this stage.

After an injury disrupted start to the season, McConnochie has made seven appearances for Bath this season
©Patrick Khachfe/Onside Images

That road has seen the wing go from schoolboy rugby to representing the University of Gloucestershire, pulling on an England Students jersey, representing Nuneaton RFC and getting the opportunity to represent GB Student Sevens.

Ultimately catching the eye of ex-England Sevens and Team GB coach Simon Amor, McConnochie would then go on to win a silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games and before transitioning to full-time 15s, picked up a bronze medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

“I look back with an immense amount of pride,” he said. “To get to that level and be given that opportunity – I’ve got a lot to thank Simon Amor for. I was a university student playing third or fourth tier uni leagues. We were getting beat by Bath Uni threes on a regular basis by 50 points.

“I was playing National 3 for Nuneaton and they [England Sevens] offered me a trial out of nowhere, then they offered me a contract at the end of it. I absolutely loved my three years there, I’ve got friendships for life. I got a load of shit from the lads straight away, messaging me yesterday with different GIFS.

“Then into 15s, I’ve got a lot to thank Eddie [Jones] for as well. He didn’t need to put the trust in me that year. To be able to go to the World Cup in my first year in 15s was unbelievable, something I’d never dreamed of.

“I still look back on it with immense pride. I’ll never not be proud of my career and my journey up to now. If I hadn’t done that career and that pathway, it might not have brought me here to this opportunity to play for Scotland.”

That route to the professional game is one that McConnochie is rightly proud of. Having never been in an elite environment until professionalism in 2015, it is the wing’s diligence, hard work and attitude that has helped him reach the top of both sevens and 15s across the past seven and a half years.

Having made the leap in every high performance environment he has stepped into; you may well see McConnochie singing Flower of Scotland across this Six Nations. Ahead of a game this Friday in Glasgow, the flyer says he will go about his business in the same way as he heads into a new challenge.

“Because of my career and the pathway I took, each time I’ve had a call-up, in my head it’s been unexpected – I haven’t had a plan going into that season,” McConnochie said.

“Obviously I’d spoken to Gregor and said my goal was to have a crack at the Scotland squad, but it wasn’t this autumn or this Six Nations. It was, if it comes around and I feel like I’m playing well enough.

“I have always been about leaving no stone unturned, going after things with nothing to lose. No pressure whatsoever on my shoulders. I feel that’s helped me a lot along the way. I’m 31, but it’s still the same thought process each week.

“I was a super fan before I got a professional contract and to be here now, I’m incredibly lucky and know that every day.”