Even England’s World Cup bolter Ruaridh McConnochie is amazed by his sudden shot at stardom


He was once asked to be Bastian Schweinsteiger’s body double and was dressed as a Harry Potter character when called up by Eddie Jones.

From the fifth tier of English rugby to a shot at the World Cup, via the Olympic Games and just one season in the Premiership, Ruaridh McConnochie does not have your typical rugby story.

So how did a lanky, sports-mad but socially-awkward lad from Kent become England’s potential bolter pick for Japan?

McConnochie’s first inkling he would be involved in pre-tournament training came on the Sunday after Bath’s last match of the season in May. He and the squad were on an ‘all-dayer’ to Bristol, heroes and villains the fancy dress theme.

‘Ruaridh (pronounced Rory) was dressed as Voldemort when Eddie Jones rang!’ recalls team-mate and Welsh legend Jamie Roberts. ‘A nice moment. As we got off the train everyone was shaking his hand.’

If that was the start of a new chapter, McConnochie’s book begins in Tenterden, Kent.

Born to Scottish parents and with two brothers — Jamie, two years older, and Callum, two years younger — he attended Cranbrook School and later joined London Scottish.

Those school days have stuck with the utility back. There is a picture that sits proudly on his father Rennie’s fridge of the moment all three boys played together for Cranbrook. When asked to bring a favourite rugby memento into the England camp this summer by Jones, McConnochie, 27, took that picture from the fridge, not his Olympic silver medal from the Rio Games.

‘That’s awesome,’ says Phil Llewellyn, McConnochie’s former club and university coach, when told that story. ‘It shows how grounded they all are.’

Dad Rennie was a cult hero on the Sevens circuit, following his boy around the world from 2015 to 2018.

‘There’s a Rennie-shaped hole in the crowds now!’ Tom Mitchell the England and GB Sevens skipper says. ‘He was mostly cheering for us when Ruaridh was playing against Scotland!’

One incident tested that, though, when McConnochie faced Scotland in Dubai.

Llewellyn relays the story: ‘Obviously Rennie is a big Scotland fan, so there was a bit of a conflict. Ruaridh scored in the corner and Rennie was going absolutely mental saying, “This is wonderful, but my English son has just knocked Scotland out! I’m never going to be allowed back into Scotland again!”’

It took a while for McConnochie to reach Sevens fame, though. He was never selected for even a county side as a teenager, let alone an academy. After a gap year teaching and playing for Rangataua in New Zealand, McConnochie read sport and exercise science at the University of Gloucestershire.

Llewellyn used to drive him three hours each way on weekends to play for Nuneaton, in the Midlands Premier of National Three. ‘He’d never played senior rugby, but within the first couple of weeks he was playing as he does now — with a smile on his face,’ says his mentor.

‘I don’t think he liked it when I compared him to Iain Balshaw, but Ruaridh has always had a glide and silkiness like him — you think he looks easy to tackle, but he’s deceptive. His scoring rate for Nuneaton was pretty much a try a game. Prolific.’

A breakthrough soon came. McConnochie trialled for England students in 2013 aged 21, but missed out to Simon Hammersley, now Sale full-back.

A year later and GB Students Sevens came calling, and at the world championship in Brazil he scored twice off the bench to win Britain the title against Belgium.

He was given a one-week trial with the full England Sevens side and was a fully-fledged World Series star by 2015.

‘I remember thinking when he first came, “He’s a spindly, lanky specimen!”’ says captain Mitchell. ‘He looked a bit out of place, but with ball in hand he was unbelievable at beating defenders.

‘He was happy just to pick up a load of free kit when selected in the Sevens squad! When you’ve paid subs to play, anything more is a bonus!

‘He’s held on to that perspective. He’s a good bloke, never too big for his boots.’

At 6ft 3in and 14 st 7lb, his unusual physique soon brought McConnochie some strange requests.

‘Ruaridh was approached to be a body-double for Bastian Schweinsteiger in a photo-shoot for an advert,’ laughs Luke Treharne — the Wales Sevens skipper and McConnochie’s mate.

‘He’s like some of the Pacific Islanders; they’re the most lovely blokes off the pitch but you step on the Sevens field and know you’re in a game!’

While the Olympics loomed in 2016, it was never on McConnochie’s radar. He travelled as a reserve for the Games but never felt worthy — which baffled his team-mates.

‘He said, “I shouldn’t be here, I’ve only been on the World Series for a year”,’ says GB’s other reserve Treharne. ‘Everyone said, “What are you on about mate? You’ve been awesome all year”. He’s still a bit star-struck playing for Bath!

‘I was gutted to be a reserve but he thought it was class. We went to the kitting-out day and because we weren’t in the main team we weren’t allowed to have the same gear as the others.

‘I was moping, but Ruaridh was the happiest man in the world! There was so much positivity it wore off on me in the end.’

With Alex Davies injured, McConnochie was called into the final 12 at the last minute.

‘Ruaridh is incredibly awkward meeting new people!’ Mitchell says. ‘He’s one of the biggest sports fans ever. In the Olympic village it was awesome. We were rubbing shoulders with Andy Murray and Mo Farah.

‘Ruaridh was too nervous to talk to anyone, but was in awe. He comes out with random stats. One for the pub quiz sport round!’

Mitchell also admired how McConnochie supported his girlfriend, Vicki — now a qualified policewoman — who overcame cancer last year.

‘He was brilliant throughout,’ says Mitchell. ‘So strong — but more than that, very impressive around that situation.’

After winning Commonwealth Games bronze with England Sevens, he changed codes. Bath picked him up last summer and the ‘kid in the sweet shop’ — as Llewellyn describes him — immediately impressed. With Joe Cokanasiga with England and Semesa Rokoduguni injured, he had his shot on the wing.

‘He’s absolutely rapid,’ says Roberts. ‘He reminds me of Alex Cuthbert when he arrived on the scene. His pace and ability to change direction are frightening.’

Last year McConnochie paid to watch the Premiership final at Twickenham, doubting if he could make the transition to XVs.

This Sunday he could well face Wales at Twickenham, and on Monday be named in England’s World Cup squad — five years on from nights at Nuneaton.



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