Legends in focus: Brewster’s Wallabies debut
For former Edinburgh District and Stewart’s Melville captain, Alex Brewster [#812], Scotland’s narrow Autumn Nations Series Test defeat to Australia at BT Murrayfield on Saturday evening was an all too familiar sight.
Brewster’s glistening career began in a single point defeat to the Wallabies in November 1975 when he made his Edinburgh debut against the touring side at the age of 21.
Playing in front of 6,000 spectators at Myreside, Brewster – who began his career at flanker before moving to the front-row – had only left Melville College a few years prior and was suddenly up against a side made up of international stars.
“It was one of those things. I was 21 years old, very young, and you get thrown in at that level. It was a big eye opener,” explained Brewster.
“But I really enjoyed it, and you just get on with things once you’re in the moment and playing. You know even though it was a midweek side so to say, they were still quality and it didn’t get much tougher a side to make your debut against.”
Australia would win the match 9-10 with all of Edinburgh’s points coming via Andy Irvine.
Edinburgh had looked to be on their way to securing a famous win in front of a vocal capital support, but the touring side hit back late to win the encounter through their powerful winger, John ‘Rhino’ Ryan.
“They had a winger called Rhino Ryan – who I believe passed away at quite a young age – and I remember he ran right through Andy Irvine.
“Bruce Hay was on the wing and I remember Andy [Irvine] saying ‘Bruce is going to get this boy’ and Rhino boofed him straight through them both for the try. That was a pretty deciding moment in the match.”
Brewster would go on to represent Edinburgh for over a decade, skippering the capital side to a trio of district Championships [86/87, 87/88, 88/99].
And alongside his twin brother David – who sadly passed away in 2018 – the duo brought a tough edge to the city side, with both brothers growing up and working on a farm in Kirknewton, West Lothian.
“I played for Edinburgh for a long time and I played with some amazing guys. Bruce Hay was amazing, and Andy Irvine obviously was special,” continued Brewster.
“We won the District Championship three years in a row and that was sort of unheard of the time.
“We were beating everyone. The Anglos. The South. Glasgow was probably your weakest side at that time alongside North and Midlands. The South were always the ones to beat.
“I felt great pride in representing Edinburgh. I guess the difference was that me and my twin brother were farmers and brought a rougher edge to the city slickers.
“Going down to The Borders, you needed that. We brought a bit of a hard edge. I’ve got a lot of great memories playing down there, and some bad ones too!
The Brewster name is one that will be permanently associated with his home club of Stewart’s MelvilleRFC.
Alex, and his brother David, were part of a celebrated Stew Mel 7s side that would dominate the circuit in the 70s and 80s, with the Brewster brothers helping the Inverleith club claim the Ladies Cup at the world famous Melrose 7s in 1979.
Brewster continued: “I went to Melville College before they amalgamated with Daniel Stewart’s College. I left school in ’71 and I believe they merged the following year.
“I played Edinburgh Schools and Scottish Schools in my 5th year and then got enough highers to do what I wanted to do, so I left before 6th year where I would have played more district rugby.
“Douglas Morgan was one guy who I played with and he was kind of my mentor. He looked after me and was a huge part of my rugby career. He was Mr Stew Mel really.
“He was amazing really. Just his ethics, the way he worked and trained. He went on all these tours with Scotland or the British & Irish Lions and he brought so much experience back, and brought it to our training at Stew Mel. He was our coach and our captain so to speak.
“He captained seven seasons at the club and then I captained the seven seasons after him.”
Brewster’s success at club and district level propelled him to Scotland acclaim as he made his debut against England at Twickenham in January 1977.
His first three caps came as a flanker, before Brewster made the decision to move forward through the pack, where he was equally adept at both loosehead and tighthead prop.
And it was a decision that paid off as Brewster returned to international fray in 1985, winning a further three caps, this time, in Scotland’s front-row.
“I made my debut for Scotland at flanker but I had damaged my medial ligaments so wasn’t in the best of shape, but was just so desperate to get capped – I probably shouldn’t have been playing.
“It took me a wee while to get back into the Scotland side, and I got dropped after thinking I had had my best game at international level.
“I saw so many guys getting capped at loosehead, and I was a farmer and naturally strong, so I thought, sod this, I’m going to give loosehead a go and I had a far better career at loosehead than I ever did at flanker – I was there for a long, long time.
“For Edinburgh, I played tighthead and loosehead and I must have sat on the bench for Scotland 30 odd-times, on various different tours.
“Very few guys have done it, made the move from back-row to front-row. Probably the most recent guys would be Stuart McInally or Fraser Brown who have moved to hooker – it’s not an easy thing to do!”
Now 68, Brewster has turned his rugby resolve to business, swapping the navy of Edinburgh District, to the ‘green’ of recycling and resource management via his own organisation, Brewster Brothers.
The Brewsters have evolved the business over the years, transitioning from farming to property management then quarry restoration and, since 2017, as a resource management business.
With Alex’s son, Scott, joining the business as Managing Director, the family name is in safe hands.