Obituary: Ernie Michie, Scottish rugby internationalist with lifelong love of the sport

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Ernie Michie, rugby player. Born: 7 November, 1933 in Dundee. Died: 13 November, 2021 in Inverness, aged 88

Obituary: Ernie Michie, Scottish rugby internationalist with lifelong love of the sport
© Ernie MIchie was capped 15 times for Scotland between 1954 and 1957

Ernie Michie was an outstanding Scottish rugby internationalist who earned 15 caps as a second row forward between 1954 and ’57, making his debut against France shortly after his 20th birthday when playing for Aberdeen University, while his final cap came against England three years later out of London Scottish.

He also played for North/North and Midlands District against New Zealand and Australia. Selected for the British and Irish Lions on their 1955 South African tour he was at 21 the second youngest member of the party and he later represented the Barbarians seven times. He also played for the Army, Combined Services, Leicester, Langholm with whom he won the unofficial Scottish Championship and Border League and Highland.

Later when living in Dornoch he was instrumental in establishing Sutherland Rugby Club for whom he played till the late 1970s and helped them acquire facilities in Brora. As a lifelong enthusiast of the sport, it was fitting that during the 2019 World Cup in Japan where son Fergus was working for England Rugby, the link with his father’s rugby career was identified and highlighted in the press.

An extremely talented player particularly noted for his lineout expertise and vigorous play in the loose, he was unfortunate not to win more caps but at that time consistency was not the selectors’ forte. Among numerous laurels, the ‘ultimate’ for him was being capped for Scotland. He said: ‘”Running out for the first time at Murrayfield playing for Scotland was unbelievable.” Latterly he was delighted to be given a personalised pair of Scottish Rugby cufflinks with number 656 engraved, his cap number.

Ernie cut his rugby teeth at Aberdeen Grammar School before representing Aberdeen University where he studied forestry and played in the pipe band. He was first selected for North District aged 19 and after a good performance against New Zealand in Aberdeen was selected for the national trial leading to his international debut against France. Times were tough for Scottish rugby as the national team had last won in 1951 and 17 successive defeats were recorded till victory against Wales in 1955, the occasion of Ernie’s 5th cap and one fondly remembered by him. He recalled the team meeting for the first time “for tea” two days before the game and their only training session the day before the match. Arthur Smith’s wonderful try was also vivid in his recollection.

His excellent form resulted in selection for the Lions on their South African tour where he played 11 midweek matches. Although unable to secure a Test place, he enhanced the experience by piping the team on to the pitch dressed in full Highland garb. He thoroughly enjoyed the four-month-long tour, his comment that playing there “was like tackling wildebeest on a concrete pitch!” reflecting the physicality of opponents and the hard baked grounds.

While undertaking national service with the Royal Engineers near London, he represented London Scottish, the Army and Combined Services and later played for Leicester. During that period he represented the Barbarians seven times, twice on Easter tours to Wales and on a four-match tour of Canada in 1957.

In 1958 work as a district officer with the Forestry Commission took him to Carlisle, where he joined Langholm and played a crucial role in their 1959 success in the Scottish Championship and Border League. They did so in considerable style, going through the whole season undefeated, the only one of Britain’s 420 clubs to achieve that feat. According to teammate and future internationalist Tom Elliot: “Ernie made a huge impact when he came to Langholm and was one of the standout players in that championship victory.” For his part Michie held the club in great affection, citing its “tremendous camaraderie” as the best he ever experienced.

By 1963 again because of work he had moved to Fort Augustus where he joined Highland Rugby Club in Inverness for whom he played, coached and refereed for over a decade and also enjoyed close affinity. That included playing for the club in its 50th anniversary match against an International XV when aged almost 40 against opposite numbers Gordon and Peter Brown, then at their peak.

Ernest James Stewart Michie was born in Dundee, the elder son of Ernest, a doctor and wife Elizabeth. The couple were then resident in Rousay, Orkney where they returned after Ernie’s birth. Within a few years younger brother Iain appeared as the family moved to Tomintoul, Banff, Bucksburn and then Aberdeen. Later Iain moved to Canada where he predeceased Ernie who maintained close contact with niece and nephew Brenda and Iain.

Ernie first attended Banff Academy and then Aberdeen Grammar School before going to Aberdeen University. He met future wife Sybil George, a nurse, at a dance in Cairney Parish Church hall near Huntly and the couple married on 22nd March 1958 at King’s College Chapel in Aberdeen. They enjoyed 63 years of happy and fulfilling marriage during which they had children Iain, Morag and Fergus.

Largely through Ernie’s employment the couple moved fairly frequently, living in Carlisle, Fort Augustus, Inverness, Dornoch and Castle Douglas where he retired in early 1990s before returning to Dornoch and several years later moving to Inverness where they remained.

He became a keen golfer and irrespective of weather conditions played Royal Dornoch every Sunday and also enjoyed walking his dog Mac over the links. A nature lover and great fan of the outdoors, landscape gardening was another absorbing interest.

A fairly reserved self-effacing gent who never publicised his accomplished sporting past or wanted any fuss made of it or him, he enjoyed a laugh and a joke and was always mindful of others.

He is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren Ailsa,Ruaraidh,Erin,Hamish and Ewan.

JACK DAVIDSON

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