The family connection

The family connection

When Claudia McLaren scooped up a loose ball and ran 40 metres to dive under the posts against Brython Thunder for her first try in Glasgow colours, you’d have been able to hear a cheer from the other side of the world if you listened closely.

Sitting at home just outside of Sydney, dad James – veteran of 38 appearances for Glasgow Warriors across a two-year stint – would have been proud of his daughter’s finish, watching her take another step on the rugby journey that has seen her follow in her father’s footsteps.

It’s a journey that’s made all the more remarkable when you consider that Claudia remains a relative newcomer to the sport, the 26-year-old having only picked up rugby competitively in her late teens.

“It wasn’t until I was about 18 or 19 that I actually started playing rugby,” she explained.

“We’d moved from Scotland to France with my dad’s playing career, and then moved back to Australia and my mum’s hometown, Bathurst, by which point I was too old to be playing with the boys teams.

“Actually joining a club and playing a regular season was a bit of a moment for me – I’d played about the sum total of three days’ worth of sevens at that point, that was it! I’d always wanted to play, but the opportunity just hadn’t presented itself because Bathurst is quite a small town.

“Nowadays, though, it’s most of what I do outside of work! I love it, I just absolutely love the sport.”

Indeed, McLaren junior’s rugby journey started at the earliest of ages, with rugby playing a key role in her life even before she was able to recognise it.

“I was probably a bit too young to remember his Glasgow days, but my first trip to see him play for Stirling County came when I was three days old – my mum dragged me along to that one!” laughed Claudia.

“We’d all go every weekend to watch him wherever he was playing, although I don’t think I did much watching – I was always way more interested in playing with the other kids around the side of the pitch, or in the stands and so on!”

The pride is equally evident in James’s voice as he discusses his daughter following in his rugby footsteps.

With a McLaren lining up in Glasgow’s midfield once more, it’s become a full circle moment for the family – even if it was one that neither necessarily expected.

“Not at all!” James smiled when asked when he’d ever envisioned his daughter joining him as a Glasgow Warrior.

“I always thought if Claudia was going to take up a sport at the highest level, it would probably have been netball, because that what she grew up playing. She was always an exceptional athlete with a fantastic work ethic, though, and I’ve been so proud to watch her develop.

“It’s been really cool to see her play for Glasgow, especially because she’s basically followed the same path as I did – from Bathurst Bulldogs to Stirling County and then to becoming a Glasgow Warrior.

“I’ve been able to watch most of the matches – a couple of times they’ve been on a bit late over here, so Claudia’s brothers have an agreement with her that it’s ok for them to watch her on delay when they get up the following morning!

“We’ve always had a really strong affinity to Glasgow as a city, it’s a place that means a lot to us as a family and there was certainly only one team in Scotland I wanted Claudia to represent!”

The grin on the face of McLaren senior as he delivers the last line belies the pride in representing Glasgow still felt to this day, even from the other side of the world.

Whilst it may have been a long and winding road to pull on the Glasgow jersey, it was a spell that left a lasting impressing on the former Stirling County midfielder.

“When rugby started to go professional in Scotland, I was lucky enough to come up for a trial with Glasgow,” James explained.

“I didn’t get picked up by them at that point, but I was fortunate enough to go across to the Caley Reds with a couple of other team-mates from Stirling and get stuck in there. I played well enough to get a deal in France, and then the opportunity arose to come back to Scotland and join Glasgow.

“That was the first true professional setup I’d been involved in, I’d say. It was a brilliant setup to be a part of and a really special time to be involved with rugby in the city.”

“I get a stupid grin on my face just thinking about some of the stories and some of the characters, to be honest! I can barely remember the scores of half the games we played but I can certainly remember the people I was lucky enough to get to know and call my friends.

“Guys like the Badger (Gordon Simpson) – he really never looked like an athlete, but he must have had an extra lung or something because he was everywhere. He just didn’t have an off-switch! He was fairly easy to manipulate though, so we did have a few giggles at his expense, but he always took it in good spirit and gave as good as he got!

“Big Alan Watt in the second-row, too, and the McKenzie boys – I’ve been unfortunate enough to have a McKenzie in my team for most of my career, so that’s the albatross hanging around my neck!”

It’s that sense of cohesion and camaraderie that Claudia and her team-mates have also sought to create, as the trailblazing squad conclude their inaugural campaign in the Celtic Challenge.

On and off the field, the Warrior Nation have welcomed the newest cohort of Warriors to the family, with last weekend’s Club of Origin celebrations in front of over 1000 spectators just the latest milestone on the journey of the club’s newest team.

It’s an experience that will live long in the memory, not least that of the players, coaches and backroom team that have helped to form the historic first group.

“It’s been amazing,” smiled Claudia.

“I don’t think it’s fully sunk in to be honest, that we’re the first-ever Glasgow Warriors women’s squad.

“It wasn’t until the first home game we had at Scotstoun [against the Wolfhounds] that it really hit me – a young girl came up and asked for my autograph, and I just had to stop and let that sink in that we were giving these young girls something tangible to aim for and show them that playing rugby as a career is something that is a realistic goal for them. That wasn’t really a thing when I was growing up.

“The whole thing has actually made me pretty sentimental to be honest! It’s given me the opportunity to reconnect with some extended family, follow in my dad’s footsteps and be part of something so new and so exciting alongside some really special people.”

Whilst the Celtic Challenge now draws to a close for 2023/24, it’s only just the beginning for Glasgow’s women’s squad.

With the programme now established, it’s one that will continue to be supported loudly by the Warrior Nation – no matter where they are in the world.

“It’s fabulous to see,” said James.

“The last time I was back in Glasgow was when Gregor [Townsend] was still in charge, and even to see the progress that had been made at that point is absolutely awesome.

“Seeing Claudia and her team-mates continue to grow the Glasgow Warriors brand and grow rugby in Scotland – that’s such an amazing feeling.”

For Claudia, it’s an experience upon which she plans to not only reflect – but to build.

“Being in the first year of the programme, we were going into it knowing that we were setting a foundation for the future to build upon,” she said.

“It’s been a brilliant experience from day one, and the absolute dream would be to stay in Scotland and continue to represent Glasgow Warriors.

“We just want to keep building and keep on developing for those that follow in our footsteps – and here’s hoping I’m back here again next year.”

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