IT has become common place in modern rugby for teams to pick-up, or lose, a few players over the hectic off-season; but even by the itinerant standards of the BT Premiership, Glasgow Hawks have had a busy summer.
The loss of key players in key positions has been a running theme for the Anniesland outfit, with club captain and number eight Tommy Spinks [Ayr], winger Kerr Gossman [Stirling County], and Scotland Under-20 stars Josh Henderson and Bruce Flockhart [Nice], all heading off to pastures new. However, head coach Fin Gilles is not the type of character to stand back and sing the blues. The former Glasgow Warriors hooker, now in his second season with Hawks, has added 24 recruits (yes, 24) to his squad, as he sets out to emulate last year’s top-four finish.
“I looked at our team-sheet from our last pre-season friendly on Saturday and compared it to the side which played Ayr at the end of last year – there were not too many names that have survived,” he says. “Players moving is inevitable in the Premiership and it’s certainly inevitable with a club like Glasgow Hawks, so you kind of accept it at the start of the year, although some of the moves you take a bit more personally than others.”
“I think we’ve brought in around 24 new recruits, believe it or not, and come the first game of the season a few people might be shocked to see just how many new lads have come in. But, we have to keep moving with the times and it’s important that the profile of the player we bring in sits with the profile of the rest of our club. We want to bring in ambitious guys who want to learn and that’s exactly what we’ve done. The new boys have been brilliant the entirety of pre-season.”
Number eight Jake Eaglesham has joined from Falkirk and will effectively replace Spinks; while fly-half Liam Brims (who was last season’s second top points accumulator in National One) has also made the move from Stirlingshire to fill the scoring void left by Glasgow Warriors recruit George Horne.
Andrew Dymock, the ex-Scotland 7s and club internationalist, will provide experience at scrum-half after moving from Dundee; and George Blackwell, a 19-year-old back-row who has represented Scotland at under-19 level, joins from Kirkham Grammar School.
“We absolutely plan on playing the same style of rugby [as last year] and that comes from the guys I surround myself with in the coaching team. I’ve got Andy Douglas, Peter Horne and Andy Hill, and we’re all of the same attacking mindset,” stated Gillies, when asked if he plans to persist with the free-wheeling style which brought 80 tries at an average of more than four per game last season.
“I was never a player who wanted to go from scrum to maul to lineout. That’s not what I enjoyed about rugby, so I’m not going to force that on my players. I want them to play and I want them to be ambitious. This is an amateur game – well, at the moment it is – so we try to implement an amateur ethos of enjoyment. For me, attacking was the fun part of rugby, so that’s just a huge part of my coaching philosophy.”
Hawks weren’t always quite so clever at the other end of the park. They conceded 456 points in that same campaign, a statistic which Gillies is keen to improve upon, alongside his own temperament. The 28-year-old admits that “he couldn’t have been fun to live with last year” and that he needs to “learn to relax.”
“Last year was a huge learning curve for me and I’m still picking up things as I go. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m not always going to have all the answers and that players are often the best coaches. So, it’s about having open conversations with your guys and just asking them: What’s working here? I’ve got a teaching background so I often try and develop a deeper thought process in terms of my coaching. I’ve never been a dictator – I like to have an open relationship between players and coaches.”
“We did fantastically well last season, but by the end of it we were hanging on the coat tails of both Melrose and Ayr. I think the teams around us have gotten a lot stronger, such as Currie and Watsonians, and I think every side is going to be incredibly competitive. The thing about the Premiership is that everyone is good, there isn’t an easy game in sight, unfortunately.”
After a tumultuous summer in the player market, there seems to be a bit of certainty within the club as to what the Hawks team is going to look like this season. The big question is where they are going to play after a sink-hole appeared on the north side of Old Anniesland’s playing fields prompting a frantic search for alternative accommodation.
“Nobody knows how big it is. You hear rumours that it could be about 50 metres deep, but essentially the pitch is unplayable and it looks like it is going to be unplayable for the foreseeable future. We can’t announce yet where we will be playing but it’s going to be a really exciting opportunity for the club,” vowed their irrepressible coach.
Wherever Hawks hang their hat this season, they are determined to put on a show.