Locks can be bruising abrasive and sombre characters, it is a dark desolate unforgiving place in the second row, and the lack of daylight no doubt plays a huge part in their demeanour, but in this case Debs McCormack is a friendly modest and down to earth IT specialist, who plied her club trade with Harlequins, and of course internationally in the dark blue shirt of Scotland.
This particular flower of Scotland was a rare species, that bloomed in winter, for club and country, and sent many an opponent homeward to think again.
The deep roots of this bloom stretch a very long way, all the way from Scotland to the more temperate climate of Kent, a long way south of the border.
She qualified to play for Scotland through her gran, who left Motherwell during the Second World War and headed to London to bravely help the war effort, there could surely be no be no worthier qualification criteria than that.
Born in Gillingham, Debs started playing at the age of ten for Medway RFC, when her brother also began to turn out for the club.
She was encouraged by coach Karen Findlay, whilst at Richmond, to attend Scottish trials which with the extortionate travel costs for a starving student left her deeply out-of-pocket, but the rest as they say is history, and she made her Scotland debut against Ireland in the 2014 six nations.
A former Fort Pitt Grammer school pupil, Debs views Medway RFC as the greatest influence on her career.
She was a hugely popular figure at Harlequins, where her down to earth and friendly manner, as well as her playing ability, earned her huge respect and popularity.
Retirement, and knowing when the time is right to retire, is undoubtedly one the hardest moments of anyone’s sporting career, even when it is decided on one’s own terms.
Debs McCormack did everything on her own terms during a long club and international career, so it came as no surprise that when it the agonising moment of dealing with sporting retirement arrived, in 2019, she had the strength of character, and the wisdom, to make that difficult decision.
I have been extremely fortunate to have met and watched some of the greats of the game, and with my hand on my heart I can honestly say I have never come across a greater team player than Debs.
Compliments and praise, even when they were justified and worthy, never sat easily on her modest and very sore shoulders, I don’t think Debs will ever realise just how good a player she was, or indeed how popular she was with team mates, fans, and journalists alike, only because that does not fit in with the humble way in which she operated.
Rugby, and in particular the women’s game, has benefited from her legacy, those following in her wake will find the path that little bit smoother, thanks to her and others.
Debs epitomised and displayed everything that is good about our wonderful game, she respected and demonstrated its values with honour, and there is no greater compliment I can pay her than that.
I count myself fortunate that I was able to witness at close hand the latter part of her rugby playing journey, including her 30th Scottish cap, which at one stage we both believed was cursed. But come it did, eventually, against France in Lille, in the 75th minute, a moment I witnessed in a Parisian hotel on a dodgy French television set. I’m pretty it was sure it was my endless shouting at the screen that finally convinced Scotland coach, Shade Munro, to bring Debs off the bench.
How she balanced university, a job and elite rugby I have absolutely no idea, but she did so with apolomb, and despite the huge demands on her Debs always still found time for everyone who needed a chat, an encouraging word, or just a smile.
Rugby gave her a lot, but in return she also gave rugby everything she had, Harlequins and Scotland were the lucky recipients of her unconditional loyalty. Debs was never one to make a fuss, even during a long injury spell when diagnosis of the problem proved elusive, in fact her shoulder still isn’t right, and it was one of the factors in her decision to retire.
31 caps for Scotland and 23 competitive appearances for Harlequins, including two Tyrrells Premiership finals, reveal the impressive bare facts, but her rugby career was about far more than that.
A try for Scotland against Spain in a World Cup qualifier, and tries in the semi final and final of the 2017 Tyrrells Premiership for Harlequins are wonderful memorable moments, as indeed was her hat- trick of tries on the other side of the world in Australia for Sydney outfit Eastern Suburbs against Wollongong, a performance that earned her a place in the Shute Shield team of the week.
Debs last ever try was scored for Harlequins v Darlington Mowden Park Sharks at Surrey Sports Park on Saturday 18 January 30th 2020 at approximately 1.35pm, her 70th minute touchdown was greeted with much delight by the home crowd and indeed by the match announcer that day a certain Mike Pearce.
Jade Konkel currently in New Zealand preparing for Scotland’s opening Rugby World Cup match against Wales spent a large part of her career having her right ear eroded by Debs’ hip bone, as number 8 for Harlequins and Scotland and sums things up perfectly.
“Debs was one of a kind, a team mate who was always there for me no matter what. Even just for a cup of tea in the evenings. She was an incredible player, team mate and friend who I miss hugely on the field of play”.
Debs is part of ITV’s television coverage of the tournament, her warmth, knowledge and friendliness have transferred wonderfully to the small screen in an instant, and if you are looking for an Agent after the tournament Debs I’ll happily settle for 10%.