Scottish Rugby is immensely saddened to learn of the death in an accident in South Africa earlier today (Monday 3 July) of the former Scotland scrum-half Greig Oliver. He was 58.
Oliver won three caps for Scotland between 1987 and 1991 in an era where replacements were only permitted due to injury.
In a familiar refrain, Scotland were blessed with quality scrum-halves when Oliver was in his pomp, with British Lions and fellow Borderers Roy Laidlaw and Gary Armstrong (among others) vying with him for the number 9 jersey.
Oliver, a proud product of the Hawick club, won promotion through Scotland under-21, Scotland B and Scotland A ranks and was an unused replacement for the full national side, on several occasions, most memorably as a key figure in the 1990 squad that won only Scotland’s third Grand Slam.
He marked his first cap for Scotland in the inaugural Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 1987 with a try in a 60-21 win over Zimbabwe at Athletic Park in Wellington. He was Hawick’s 50th international player.
The following year, it was Zimbabwe again – this time on a non-cap tour that was given the status of a development trip.
Oliver was the star of the show with a hat-trick of tries in a 31-10 victory at Hartsfield in Bulawayo. No OTT celebration for him that night. He was more concerned with the welfare of the staff at the brilliant old colonial hotel, the Churchill Arms, which was the squad’s base.
In the Scotland tours to Japan in 1989, New Zealand in 1990 and North America in 1991, he played in 15 of the 24 games, including five non-cap internationals.
He almost single-handedly kept Scotland in contention in a match they lost 24-28 to Japan in Tokyo, landing five penalties and a conversion as the form of others deserted them.
He was sharp as a tack on the field and blessed with the most cheerful disposition off it.
Educated at Hawick High School and at Napier College in Edinburgh and on the staff as a sports sub-editor of one of Scotland’s great local newspapers, the Southern Reporter, in the Borders, Oliver was just 18 when he first played for Hawick against Royal High in October 1982.
He won honours for the South at junior, Under-21 and senior levels and won two other caps, firstly as a replacement for Armstrong in Scotland’s agonising 18-21 loss to New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland in 1990; then, the following year in a 51-12 Rugby World Cup win against, guess who, Zimbabwe at Murrayfield.
His fellow Hawick and Scotland cap, Tony Stanger, who was among Scotland’s try scorers in that home World Cup clash with Zimbabwe, tonight paid tribute to Oliver.
“When I first came into the Hawick team, I was a very quiet, shy lad. A lot of the players were a lot older than me, but Greig was a bit closer to my age and I always made that connection with him.
“We spent a lot of time together through rugby of course, where he was the fiercest of competitors, who always had the attitude that he had to squeeze as much out of his potential as he possibly could.
“I have nothing but great memories of him as a rugby player but also as a person. He was a top bloke. It’s just such desperately sad news.”
On retirement as a player, Oliver joined Scottish Rugby’s team of development officers and soon began making the same long-lasting impression on the next generation of players.
Oliver was an Academy Manager with Scottish Rugby for 13 years from June 1994, during which time he was assistant coach with Scotland under-21 and head coach with Scotland under-20.
Greig was successful in the domestic game, and was head coach for hometown club Hawick as they won back-to-back BT Premiership crowns in season 2000/01 and 2001/02, landing the league and cup double in the latter. He would also enjoy a stint with Border Reivers as assistant coach as part of a varied post-rugby journey.
Eventually, he moved to Ireland and held a number of coaching roles with the Garryowen club, Munster A and, since 2011, Munster’s Elite Performance Officer.
Oliver was assistant coach of the Ireland U20 side between 2011 and 2014 and was the father of the current Ireland U20 scrum-half Jack, whom he was supporting in Cape Town, South Africa alongside his family, where Ireland are competing in the Junior World Championship.
Scottish Rugby sends its sincere condolences to Greig’s wife Fiona, children Jack and Ciara and all who knew him.
Greig’s funeral will take place on Friday 21 July. Arriving at Our Lady Help of Christian’s Church, Milford, for Mass at 12 noon, the funeral service will be held at Shannon Crematorium.