Quite a career
December 31, 2011
Chris Paterson was a prolific points-scorer for Scotland © Getty Images
Every Rugby World Cup brings with it a number of retirements and leaves a few players just short of landmarks as the international game passes them by.
It would seem that Martyn Williams is doomed to remain tantalisingly just one short of his 100th cap for Wales, perhaps glancing ruefully in the direction of the newly-minted Sir Graham Henry and his preference for Kiwi Brett Sinkinson as his openside around the turn of the century. Similarly, with Munster so flush with scrum-halves that they have been happy to let Peter Stringer play in the Heineken Cup while on loan with Saracens, it seems that the admirable Irish No.9 will wind up two short of his century.
For others the decision is voluntary. Chris Paterson - named alongside Williams as an MBE in the New Year honours - doubtless felt that enough was enough at 33. In his case, one of the landmarks he has just missed is an entry in this column's occasional Book of Unwanted Rugby Records. Three more losses and he'd have become the most-defeated international rugby player of all time. Instead that record continues to be held by Italian scrum-half Alessandro Troncon, who lost 67 Tests with the Azzurri.
Troncon, living proof that these unwanted records tend to wind up in the hands of the very best, is instead likely to be overtaken by one of his compatriots.
Mirco Bergamasco leads the way with 63 defeats, with Andrea Lo Cicero, Salvatore Perugini, Mirco's brother Mauro and Marco Bortolami in close order behind him. Sergio Parisse is perhaps the likeliest long-term holder of the title and perpetuator of the principle that the worst records are held by the truly great, as he is already a 58-time loser at the age of 28.
Troncon has the further unwanted distinction of conceding more points, 3199, than any other international player, but does at least cede the worst points difference record to Perugini, whose teams have conceded 926 points more than they have scored. Readers will be unsurprised to learn that George Gregan and Richie McCaw dominate the happy end of this equation. Gregan's record of 93 victories will almost certainly fall to the All Black skipper in the next year - he has 91, and only 12 defeats compared to Gregan's 44. The Australian may hang on to his points record slightly longer as his teams scored 4072 to the 3612 scored by McCaw's teams in 36 fewer matches, but is well down in the points difference rankings - headed by McCaw with plus 2125.
The other record that might have been within Paterson's grasp was a more desirable one - that of Scotland's all-time leading try-scorer. This remains one of the oldest records in the book with Ian Smith, who retired in 1933 and finally lost his all-time Five/Six Nations record to Brian O'Driscoll earlier this year, tied at the top on 24 with Tony Stanger. Paterson stands third with 22 tries.
What is notable about this is that it is just about the only significant Scottish career record that Paterson does not hold, a near monopoly not matched by any player from any other country. The one category in which he does not seriously figure is as a drop-kicker, a mark which did fall this season as Dan Parks' consistent pursuit of the three-pointer boosted his total to 17, taking him past John Rutherford's previous Scotland record of 12. But having started only a small number of his internationals at outside-half - although he finished quite a few more there - Paterson was never likely to contend in this particular category.
He is, though, well clear as the most-capped Scotsman with 109 appearances, more than 20 ahead of runner-up Scott Murray. His 96 starts also of course head the list, with Murray again second on 84. These are records he's likely to retain for some time - John Barclay, who has 32 caps at the age of 25, could be a challenger, but the likelier bet is that somebody will emerge from the clutch of prodigies currently being incubated by Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Paterson is the most-defeated Scotsman, with 65 losses in those 109 matches - Scott Murray is second with 55 - but he does also have the consolation of having taken part in more victories than any of his compatriots - 43. Next on the list, in a rather cruel indication of changing Scottish fortunes over the last 10 years is Scott Hastings, who played in 34 winning Scotland teams and ended up a loser 29 times.
Taking records held by somebody called Hastings has been a Paterson trademark. Usually, though, it was Gavin. Paterson's 809 points overtook the mark set by Gavin before he retired with a total of 663 for Scotland. That included 86 conversions and 140 penalties, totals Paterson has eclipsed with 90 and 170 respectively. This despite of the fact that he was not a regular kicker in the early stages of his career, scoring more tries than penalties or conversions in the 26 matches he played before being landed with the responsibility as a matter of course.
Perhaps the most striking evidence of Paterson's remarkable durability is that he is among the top three Scots in two different positions. While he played less than half of his international career, 49 matches, on the wing, only two Scotsmen - Kenny Logan (62) and Shaun Lamont (52) - have played there more, and Paterson (17 tries) was a more prolific scorer than either (Logan 13, Lamont 7). He played 43 times at fullback and again ranks third, behind Hastings (61) and Andy Irvine (47), although here he was less prolific than compatriots who would undoubtedly be rated great rather than merely good, scoring only five tries from No.15 against 10 by Irvine and 17 from Hastings.
Then of course there are the 36 consecutive kicks he landed for Scotland - not a team guaranteed to leave you with the bulk of conversions from in front of the posts - in a run that incorporated the entire 2007 World Cup and the 2008 Six Nations campaign. He was tough enough to come back from a potentially career-ending injury in his 100th test and win nine more, and good enough to play with distinction for Scotland at wing, fullback or outside-half. It was some career, and it will take up space in the record books for quite a time to come.
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