After almost a decade of service to Edinburgh, making 125 appearances and playing under four head coaches, Dougie Fife is ready to leave his boyhood club, content with what he’s achieved and thirsting for a new stimulus.
The rangy back-three rapier turns 30 on Saturday, and as he nears the milestone birthday, has seized the perfect gift. Fife has signed a two-year contract with New England Free Jacks, one of last season’s new entrants to the North American Major League Rugby. It will be his first chance to play overseas and the realisation of a deep-rooted goal.
“I’ve always liked the idea of playing abroad but I’ve never had the opportunity,” Fife told RugbyPass. “I’m so glad, because it’s given me this opportunity that might not have come around before.
“Playing at Edinburgh for nine, ten seasons, it’s definitely time to move on. I’ve done everything I can at Edinburgh now. I don’t think I can push myself much further than I have at Edinburgh.”
For much of Fife’s time at the club, Edinburgh seemed mired in a state of constant transition. The turnover of players has been vast. Alan Solomons inherited what Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson later called a “basket case” in 2013, blooded young Scots, but implemented a conservative blueprint that left Fife disillusioned. Edinburgh were outshone by a swashbuckling Glasgow side that thundered its way to a title.
Only since Richard Cockerill took the helm three years ago has there been huge and telling progress. When the Pro14 resumes later this month, Edinburgh are within touching distance of a home semi-final for the first time.
“We always thought that we had a really good squad, you were just kind of getting used to that squad, and then all of a sudden the whole place changes again,” Fife said. “Every pre-season we it felt like we were rebuilding rather than pushing on from what we’d learned the previous year. Different game plans, different ways coaches like to plan their weeks, so we always had to change.
“It always felt like we were trying to catch up with Glasgow, who were doing very well and still are. Their game was very similar to the way Scotland played, so whenever we Edinburgh players went to Scotland camps, we felt like we were playing catch-up in terms of the way we played.
“We did not play the most exciting style at times at Edinburgh, a lot of kicking, the crowd were getting a bit annoyed. As a winger and a back-three we were getting pretty annoyed as well. It wasn’t bringing the best out of us in those years but it looks like things are settling at the club and hopefully they’ll get to a semi-final in the league, so it’s brilliant.”
For all of the angst, Fife still broke into the Scotland squad, winning six caps under Scott Johnson and Vern Cotter and two more when Gregor Townsend took the team to North America in 2018.
But his greatest days and most cherished moments came in sevens, the glorious conquering of Twickenham in 2017 and 2018 when Scotland won their first World Series title and defended it a year later. Fife scored the winning try in the 2017 final and helped Scotland beat New Zealand en route to the 2018 crown – the first time any Scottish team had scalped rugby’s juggernaut.
“When I go to sevens, although it’s probably the hardest game in the world, it’s so enjoyable,” Fife said. “It’s a mixture of travel, awesome places, big games – I always get a huge buzz from it. When I came back to XVs, I felt like a new player.
“The 2017 final is, in terms of enjoyment, one of my proudest rugby moments; even the weekend before we could feel something building towards it. That group was really special. We enjoyed each other’s company so much that we felt something was going to happen. We stuck together for the next year and won it again, and a lot of people forget we beat New Zealand for the first time.”
These have been brutal months to enter the free agent market. Fife has known for some time that he would not be kept on at Edinburgh, but with the Covid-19 pandemic obliterating budgets and recruitment plans, there are so many talented players toiling without a club.
The Free Jacks have given Fife the chance he longed for, an exhilarating new chapter in Boston where sport and history are pillars of life.
“It was quite worrying, I was looking in France for a bit, but I really wanted to go to America, I was pushing my agency to try and get out there,” Fife revealed. “[Former Edinburgh centre] Sam Beard played for the Free Jacks last year, so he got in contact with me and one of the coaches months ago, they weren’t in the position to be able to do contracts then, so I just had to stay patient and just wait for my phone call. I’m delighted that it’s come round and it looks like an awesome opportunity.
“Ever since the MLR was announced, it was something that really excited me. I’ve played XVs and sevens in America, and rugby’s pretty fresh out there but the progress they’re making is rapid. The way you see the players playing, you’ve got internationals at the Free Jacks from Japan, Fiji, Americans, Canadians. It’s an awesome group of lads.
“The teams they’re adding to it, LA and Houston, chat about Hawaii, it’s only getting bigger and bigger. I honestly can’t see why it couldn’t be one of the major leagues in the world at some point. To get in early doors and hopefully make a good name for myself, it opens so many more opportunities than me going to France.”
The Free Jacks’ debut campaign in the ever-expanding league was cut short when the competition was cancelled after five rounds. While America flails amid the ongoing scourge of coronavirus, Fife will begin scaling up his training at home. He is due to fly out to Boston and begin pre-season in late November.
These club-less and rugby-free months, stressful though they have been, have also brought an unprecedented break from the rigors of the game. The scarcity has given his body a break and his mind the lust to play again.
“I don’t want to kill myself with fitness and all that yet,” Fife continued. “It’s the best I’ve felt in years with this rest. We always get four weeks off but in that, you’ve got your own programme to do, so you might only get two weeks of doing nothing.
“This is the longest I’ve ever been from school until now that I’ve not had a coach on my back and shouting at me, so it’s been quite nice. The bit I miss the most is being around all the boys, the changing-room banter after training and games, and that’s the same for most of us.
“The refreshing side of not having to put your body through that kind of training every day has been nice. But it’s getting to that time where I’m keen to get into it again, which is a good feeling to have, because I know I’m still hungry for it all.”
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