The Scottish Borders is where it all started for many a British & Irish Lion.
Loosehead prop Rory Sutherland became the latest player from that part of the world to pull on the famous red jersey during the 2021 Tour of South Africa.
The 27-year-old has since moved to a new club in English Premiership side Worcester Warriors, but it was much closer to home that his rugby journey began.
Sutherland, who was born in Melrose, first played the sport while he was a pupil at Trinity Primary School in Hawick, a town that was to play a key role in his formative years.
Via stints with Hawick, Biggar and Gala, he eventually joined the professional ranks at Edinburgh, with his form there leading to international honours with Scotland, and his Lions call last summer.
For many in the Borders, rugby runs through the blood and it was his family’s love for the sport that led to Sutherland being first introduced to it.
“Rugby’s run through my family for a long time and I picked it up at an early age,” Sutherland said.
“My dad was a rugby player, my grandad was a rugby player and I was always one of the kids that was fortunate enough to have a lot of family standing at the side of the field.”
Games used to come thick and fast for the young Sutherland, who moved up to Hawick High School following his time at Trinity.
“We used to play three games at a weekend,” he said.
“We would play Hawick High School on a Saturday morning, we would play Hawick Wanderers on a Saturday afternoon – that was Hoggy’s [Stuart Hogg’s] club as well – and then Hawick Albion on the Sunday.
“I used to stay at my grandparents. They stayed on the hill just above the ground, so I used to stay there on a Saturday night and then get my boots in my grandparents’ house and then run down the hill to play the game on a Sunday.
“We had a lot of rugby at a weekend. There’s no chance you’d be able to play three games nowadays at a weekend.”
Despite this hectic schedule, it’s fair to say rugby was not a matter of life or death for Sutherland, who at that point wasn’t playing in the position that has taken him to the pinnacle of the game.
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He had by this time, however, represented his country at age-group level.
But it was during his first year at senior level at Hawick, a club that has produced Lions such as Colin Deans, Jim Renwick and Tony Stanger down the years, that he first made the move into the front row.
Sutherland said: “When I left school, rugby wasn’t of massive interest to me and at that point I was a flanker.
“After that tour with the Scotland under-18s, I was then advised to try and make the move to prop, so I did, and I played a year at Hawick as a prop.
“And at that point, the coach from Hawick then got a call to go and be coach at Biggar RFC.
“So we went out there for a year and Biggar was a great club – it was full of a lot of great people – but I just didn’t enjoy my year of rugby there.”
That disillusioning year with Biggar could have been where it ended for Sutherland, who was still barely out of his teenage years, but it was with another giant of Borders rugby that his enthusiasm for the game was rekindled.
Sutherland said: “At the end of that year, I was going to give it up, and then (former Scotland prop) George Graham called me to go to Galashiels, so I went down there for a pre-season to try it out.
“I really enjoyed it; great bunch of guys, great club and George is a fantastic coach. He really turned rugby around for me.”
It was while he was playing part-time for Gala that his form began to attract the attention of scouts in the professional game and it was in 2014 that he was approached by Edinburgh, at which point a rapid rise began.
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Sutherland was still on a Scottish Rugby Academy deal when he was able to break into Edinburgh’s first team and his first full professional contract was awarded ahead of the 2015/16 season.
“At that point I was an engineer – I was actually standing in the workshop welding something,” Sutherland said on how he found out Edinburgh were interested.
“I got the phone call, put the mask up, put the welder down and answered the phone and it was Stevie Scott at Edinburgh Rugby. Ever since then, I have never looked back.”
Sutherland made his international debut for Scotland against Ireland during the 2016 Six Nations, less than two years after he had been playing in the amateur ranks for Gala.
However, a major setback followed later that year when a serious abductor injury suffered in the warm-up of a European Challenge Cup tie against Harlequins ended up putting him out action for 14 months.
Thankfully, he was able to recover his form once he made his comeback and after being one of the stars of the 2021 Six Nations, Scotland’s most successful in several years, Sutherland was called into the Lions’ squad to Tour South Africa.
He featured in two of the Test matches against the Springboks last summer, starting in the 22-17 victory in the First Test before coming off the bench during the Second.
But he’s never forgotten his amateur roots and it’s what he went through as a youngster that played a big part in making him into the player, and person, that he is today.
Sutherland said: “Rugby for me has taught me a lot of things.
“It’s taught me discipline, it’s taught me a lot about my character: be comfortable while being uncomfortable, as a lot of coaches like to say, but again rugby runs massively in my family.
“It’s really nice to be able to do it for a living now and do it for a career.”
On what it was like to play for the Lions, Sutherland added: “It’s a huge jersey to fill and there are a lot of legends who have worn the jersey before me.
“But mainly my wife and my kids are mainly what I think about when I pull that jersey on.
“I said that I was always a kid that was fortunate enough to have a lot of family standing on the sidelines cheering me on, whether rain, hail or shine.
“Sadly, some of those people are not with us anymore but that’s what I think about when I pull the Lions jersey on.”