Jim Greenwood: Lions rugby union player who became acknowledged as one of the game's leading thinkers

Click to follow
The Independent Online

He may never have coached an international side, but Jim Greenwood made a lasting influence on many of the world's leading coaches and became known as "Mr Rugby"in New Zealand. Acknowledged across the rugby union-playing world as one of the greatest thinkers on the game, his two books, Total Rugby and Think Rugby, became classic texts for coaches at all levels.

First published in 1968, Total Rugby was reprinted in 1978, 1985, 1992, 1997 and 2003 due to global demand. Sir Clive Woodward, a former student of Greenwood at Loughborough Colleges, wrote the foreword to the final reprint and has been a life-long devotee of his old coach.

"He [Greenwood] was well ahead of his time then [when Woodward was a student]... and 25 years later it [Total Rugby] is still the only book I regularly refer to," he wrote. In his autobiography, written after his England team had won the World Cup in 2003, Woodward added: "I went to Loughborough for one reason, to play my best rugby, and for one man, Jim Greenwood. If I was going to play for England, it made sense to go where the best coach was. No man has done more in our time to single-handedly transform the modern game of rugby."

Greenwood's distinguished playing career included 20 Scottish caps, nine as captain, and four Tests with the 1955 Lions. Yet arguably the greatest impact he had on the game was during his time as a lecturer and rugby coach at Loughborough. Among his many students during a golden period between 1968-79 were the 1997 Lions team manager Fran Cotton, Woodward, the current Scotland coach Andy Robinson and the Spain coach Ged Glynn.

Born and bred in Dunfermline, Greenwood read English at Edinburgh University before doing his national service in the RAF. Although dedicated to his home-town rugby club, and later Perthshire Academicals, he played for Harlequins, the RAF and Eastern Counties while doing his national service.

He won his first cap as one of eight newcomers in a Scottish side that faced France at Murrayfield in January 1952 and lost 13-11. It would be three years before the 6ft 2in, fleet-footed back-row dynamo would appear in the Scottish side again.

In those wilderness years he faced the 1953 All Blacks for the North of Scotland at Aberdeen and returned to the Test arena with a bang at the age of 26 in irrepressible form. The early '50s were a terrible time for Scottish rugby and Greenwood's much-heralded return was as captain against the French in the opening game of the 1955 Five Nations series in Paris.

Although his side was beaten, Scotland ended a run of 17 successive defeats at Murrayfield in their next outing against Wales and then beat the Irish as well. His form at No 8 in that championship earned him selection for the 1955 Lions tour to South Africa, where he forced his way into the Test side as a flanker.

He appeared in 16 of the 25 matches played on that tour and scored tries in the first and fourth Tests against the Springboks. The Lions drew the series 2-2 and are still remembered as one of the greatest of all touring sides.

Greenwood returned to South Africa with the Barbarians in 1958 – he played 18 times for the guest side and also toured Canada with them in 1957 – and led Scotland to victory over the 1958 Wallabies. He also played for the combined Ireland/Scotland team against England/Wales in the 1959 Twickenham Jubilee match.

His career was brought to a premature end when he broke his collarbone against Ireland in 1959. He was 31, but lined up to make a second Lions tour to Australia and New Zealand that summer. He subsequently concentrated on his duties as a schoolteacher, taking over from the double Welsh Grand Slam captain John Gwilliam as the master-in-charge of rugby at Glenalmond College before stints at Cheltenham College and Tiffin. He then moved on to Loughborough.

"I was a teacher rather than a coach," he said in an interview. "I tried to get people thinking. I wanted each player to be his own coach, to encourage the player to expand their awareness, to find truth wherever it lay.All coaching is one-to-one: there'sa place for the motivational speech, but it's far more effective to talk to people individually."

He coached in Japan, Canada and the United States and was instrumental in launching women's rugby union in England. In 1998, he was one ofthe inaugural inductees into the National Coaching Foundation's Hall of Fame. Others honoured with him at the time were Sir Alf Ramsey, Ron Pickering and Frank Dick. They were in good company.

James Thomson Greenwood, rugby union player and coach: born Dunfermline 2December 1928; married Margot; died Dumfries 12 September 2010.