Chris Paterson still has the mud from the St Andrews training pitch on his knees as he enters the plush library at the Old Course Hotel and plonks himself on the sofa, raising an eyebrow at the fancy cakes laid out on the coffee table. A gentleman from The Scottish Field is among those waiting to speak to him – better prepared, one suspects, than Hugh Grant on his Horse & Hound assignment in Notting Hill.
Paterson is in demand on the eve of the Six Nations because he stands on the threshold of rugby union's Centurion Cap Club. The back of all trades and goal-kicker supreme is already Scotland's most capped player, with 98 international appearances behind him. Last Monday he sat with some all-time Caledonian greats – Jim Renwick, Roy Laidlaw, Gavin Hastings, Gary Armstrong, Colin Deans – at the funeral of Bill McLaren, the Hawick flanker turned Voice of Rugby. It is little wonder that the 31-year-old Edinburgh player is struggling to grasp the magnitude of his looming milestone achievement.
"It's strange," Paterson ponders. "It doesn't feel like I've got 98 caps. I just want another one, and another one, to keep going. Of course, there'll come a point when I finish and I'll look back then on what I've done in my career. But I do have 98 caps and, thinking of Bill, I am hugely fortunate and almost embarrassed that I've been lucky to amass that amount when someone like Bill did not get the opportunity to win one."
Like McLaren, Paterson happens to be drawn from self-effacing Borders stock. He has always shrugged off recognition of his extraordinary goal-kicking achievements in the competitive international arena (16 out of 16 and 15 out of 15 in the last two Six Nations, 17 out of 17 in the 2007 World Cup). But "almost embarrassed"? How could the Galashiels man – an international for 11 years, a veteran of three World Cups and Scotland's record points scorer (741 and counting) – possibly feel like that?
"I don't know," Paterson says. "It's just the luck... I've been massively lucky. I feel quite uncomfortable talking about it because I want to get more. I want to do more. I want to prove it again. Every time there's a new Six Nations, or a new season, I feel as if I'm starting from square one because, yeah, I am getting older and everyone is probably expecting me to drop off a bit. But that drives me on to work even harder and improve on where I was last year."
It was against Spain in the 1999 World Cup that Paterson made his debut for Scotland, in a team featuring Doddie Weir, Paul Burnell and David Hilton. Since then, he has flitted between full-back, wing and fly-half. Recently, at the end of Frank Hadden's stint as head coach and at the beginning of Andy Robinson's tenure, Paterson has become accustomed to walk-on roles. He played in all eight of Scotland's matches in 2009, but in six of them as a replacement. Despite his Midas touch with the right boot, his 99th cap could come after another spell of bench duty in Scotland's Six Nations opener against France at Murrayfield a week today.
As one of the very few international backs who look the same as those slender chaps from the pre-creatine, whey powder days of yore, it seems the 12st 4lb Paterson has been deemed too much of a fly-weight for permanent starting duty as a back-three player, or even a fly-half, in the bulked-up modern day international arena. But he has replaced that traditional caber-tossing Caledonian strongman as the kilted figure on the front of Scott's Porage Oats packets.
It was Paterson's drop goal that slayed the Wallabies at Murrayfield in November. He puffs out his cheeks when asked how many of his 98 caps he would trade for some rare Scottish success in the Six Nations – a Grand Slam, a championship or Triple Crown. "That's why we play: for team success, to make everyone proud of the nation," he says. "I've not finished yet. There's still time to achieve things in the championship."
Scotland: One to watch
Euan Murray Invalided out of the Lions tour last summer, which might otherwise have made him a star, the Northampton prop will fancy himself in the Six Nations. True, he will be standing down from the first match against France next Sunday due to his Christian beliefs, but that just adds to this fine forward's intriguing back story – and it also keeps him fresh for the rest of the Championship.Reuse content