British and Irish Lions | Roger Baird: From Kelso to Lions Test try scorer

Ever present during the 1983 trip to New Zealand, Roger Baird etched his name in Kelso RFC history as one of their five players to represent the British and Irish Lions.

Following in the footsteps of Ken Smith, who toured in 1959, Baird was the first of a formidable trio to come through the Borders club in the 1980s and don the famous red jersey.

John Jeffrey and Alan Tait would later go on separate tours, having played with Baird on Kelso’s successful side which won back-to-back titles in 1987/88 and 1988/89.

British & Irish Lions Profile: #590 Roger Baird

Baird has made 11 appearances for New Zealand, including all four Tests, and has one of the most unusual career feats of scoring in a Test for the Lions but never for Scotland.

Six years later it was Jeffrey’s turn to tour Australia with the tourists before Tait starred in the iconic 1997 Tour, while more recently Ross Ford became Kelso’s fifth Lion in 2009.

Not bad for a town of just over 5,000 inhabitants.

Lions in 1983

“We’ve had some great streaks of success since I’ve been involved,” said Norman Anderson, Kelso’s player, president and secretary for five decades.

“Winning the league twice in the 80s and then making two Cup finals in the late 90s. That team in the 1980s had Roger Baird, John Jeffrey and Alan Tait, so that was very strong.

“Roger had gone on tour in 1983, then played with John and Alan. John went to Australia in 1989, then Alan in 1997. He was first selected by Kelso in 1987 before moving on to the league.

Baird made his debut for the Lions in the second game of the 1983 Tour against Auckland before scoring two tries in the tourists’ 27-19 win over Wellington.

He also started in victory over Manawatu before lining up against New Zealand for the first Test in Christchurch, which ended in a narrow 16-12 loss to the mighty All Blacks.

As well as scoring another brace against Wairarapa Bush, Baird also scored in the loss to Canterbury and the third Test loss to the All Blacks as the hosts won the series 4-0.

Your Club Your Lions: Kelso RFC

“We lost two of the provincial games against Auckland and Canterbury, and we shouldn’t have lost either,” recalls Baird. “We were lucky to win the first test and ruined everything.

“It would have made a huge difference in terms of momentum. It wasn’t the best Lions team that went there, we were a bit undercooked and poor [coach] Jim Telfer!

“Even as Scotland manager he had an assistant in the form of [the unrelated] Colin Telfer, who was the backs coach. But on this Lions tour, it was just Jim alone, which is really amazing.

“The New Zealanders were light years ahead, they had about ten in their coaching staff.”

And although the Tour ultimately ended in disappointment for Baird and his fellow riders, he still has fond memories of his time in the red jersey and that try in the 15-8 defeat at Dunedin.

“It could have gone better but look, it was still a fantastic Tour,” Baird said.

“We had our [30-year] meeting in 2013 and just about everyone showed up. It was brilliant. We had a lot of fun. And it was nice to get that test, I guess, after my meager attempts with Scotland.

Roger Baird

Baird received his cap with his unique game number, #590, as part of the 1888 cap project in 2018 – although a postal mix-up nearly ended in disaster for the Kelso legend.

“Over the weekend it was delivered,” he explained. “I knew it and I knew it was going to happen but I was out with the dogs and came back to find one of these cards through the door.

“So I was like ‘oh it’ll be in the post and I’ll have it Monday morning’. Then when I went there on Monday I looked at the card and found that it didn’t wasn’t at the post office at all.

“The note from the parcel company said ‘we left it in a safe place, your green bin’.

“I knew we had a bin collection at the end of the week so I freaked out a bit and went home to see if the damn thing was still there!

“Fortunately, it was the gray and brown bins that were collected, not the green. But everything could have gone wrong. »

Baird ended his playing career with 27 caps, also helping his country win the 1984 Grand Slam and a first victory in Australia, but it was with the Lions that he really made his mark.

“There’s a lot of luck to be a Lion, some great players don’t have that luck, you just happen to be playing well and fit when the Tour comes around and you’re selected,” Baird added.

“You never take these things for granted. It’s been an incredible 50 years for us at Kelso, from 1959 with Ken Smith to 2009 and Fordy.

Charles P. Patton