BT Premiership: Hawks hooker Grant Stewart ready for rugby career to hit top gear

The Offside Line predicted Stewart's meteoric rise in this 2016 article

Glasgow Hawks Hooker Grant Stewart
20/09/16 Carluke - Lanarkshire. Glasgow Hawks Hooker Grant Stewart at his family's Haulage business Photo credit should read: Craig Watson Craig Watson, [email protected] 07479748060 [email protected] www.craigwatson.co.uk

GRANT STEWART spends his weekdays working for the family haulage firm in Lanarkshire dealing with articulated lorries and flatbed trailers, so come Saturday afternoon he has no intention of trucking it up like an archetypal rugby hooker. When the road to the try-line opens up in front of the 21-year-old, he can turn on the afterburners like a high-end sports car.

This was demonstrated in breath-taking style two weeks ago when he charged home from 30 metres to grab the third of six tries scored by Glasgow Hawks in a 38-8 demolition of Stirling County at Bridgehaugh. Stewart had come close to scoring a few moments earlier with a searing break up the left touchline only for Stirling’s desperate cover defence to scrag him in the corner.

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“I was actually disappointed that he didn’t score that first one, that he decided to go outside, because I think he could have put a step on,” says Hawks coach Finlay Gillies. “Everybody else sees a two on his back and says: Wow, that’s amazing, he’s a hooker and he nearly scored. But I know he’ll be disappointed because I know what he’s capable of.”

This is Stewart’s fourth year at Glasgow Hawks, but his breakthrough season in terms of making that number two jersey his own, after Jack Macfarlane left the club during the summer to join Jersey Reds in the English Championship.

There had been some talk of Cammy Fenton moving to Old Anniesland from Stirling as a direct replacement for Macfarlane, only for that plan to come unstuck when he was sent off on loan to London Scottish, meaning that Hawks had to look inwards. Fortunately for them, Stewart was ready to grab the opportunity with both hands.

“He’s absolutely electric. Only Hawks as a club could lose players like Jack Macfarlane and Cammy Fenton and then have a guy like Grant Stewart ready and waiting in the wings to potentially be one of the best hookers in the league this year,” says Gillies. “For him to step up the way he has done is unbelievable, he’s been the most influential player for us.”

Grant Fraser Hawks.jpgStewart started his rugby life at Strathaven, then moved to Dalziel, before joining Hawks. He was involved in the old SRU academy structure, played for Scotland at under-17s, under-18s and under-19s level, and was on the call-up list for the under-20s during their 2015 Junior World Cup campaign in Italy – but there was always something holding him back from realising his full potential.

“He’s a complete anomaly. He’s an absolute freak in the gym. He can throw you a 20 metre pass off his left or right hand, kicks probably better than anyone else in the squad, but the only skill he struggled with was above his head at the line-out,” explains Gillies.  “It wasn’t that he couldn’t do it, he just needed to be more confident with it. So I think that’s what we’ve managed to do, and we’ve tailored our line-out to suit him.”

As a former professional hooker, who had the ability and attitude to go all the way but struggled to get game time ahead of bulkier rivals during his four years in and around the Glasgow Warriors squad, Gillies is well placed to assess the potential of his young protégé.

“Obviously I wasn’t as good as him, but like him I was relying on being more than just a hooker, and I’ve worked a lot with him on his throwing in. We’ve got him in training with the BT Sport Academy on Wednesdays and we think he could potentially push on to be a professional rugby player – it just takes a bit of nurturing, really,” says the coach.

“I’d be pushing him towards a stage three sort of deal (full-time Academy contract) with Glasgow. They’d be crazy not to take him with his capabilities. There is honestly nothing he can’t handle. The sky is the limit for him and he’s just now finding out how good he is. He was a sort of bench guy before so I think now the penny is dropping with him that he is really very good at rugby, and he’s only going to get better.”

“He regularly gets up to over 28 or 29 kilometres per hour [Hawks use a GPS system to monitor players’ performance] which is outside centre or fast winger speed.”

From Stewart’s point of view, the opportunity to get regular game time at 1st XV level has been absolutely crucial to getting over those line-out yips.

“It’s a bit like golf because you have to stand there and think about what you need to do and if you are not entirely confident then the pressure can build, but this year I feel like I’ve started to get past that,” he says. “It’s about getting that repetition going – doing it all the time and getting used to it – and I suppose because I am starting hooker I do a bit more of it with the team at training, which helps.”

His rugby hero is Dane Coles, which is no great surprise. The All Black has taken the position to a whole new level in terms of combining the key functions of securing line-out and scrum possession with popping up just about anywhere on the pitch to deliver an injection of pace or a devastating offload.

Traditionalists might doubt that it is possible to properly fulfil both roles at the same time, but there is no danger of Stewart being held back by such conservative thinking at Hawks.

“Fin is very supportive in that sense. He tells me to get my hands on the ball and have a go. I don’t want to be just your average hooker, going from scrum, to line-out, and hitting it up any time I get my hands on the ball. I want to be a wee bit different and be able to pass or kick if I need to, too,” says the player.

“Hawks is a really enjoyable place to play rugby. There’s a good atmosphere around the club and everybody is on the same wavelength in terms of the way we want to play, and what we want to achieve,” he adds.

“I was quite frustrated in my first year when I was stuck on the bench most of the time for the 2nd XV, and I did think about going somewhere else, but if you just move every time you are not good enough to get in the team then you are not going to get any better. So, I decided to stick in and keep pushing to prove the coaches wrong, and I’m definitely a better player now because I worked through that situation.”Grant Stewart Hawks 2.jpg

Stewart makes no bones about his desire to play professionally.

“That’s what I want to do. That’s always been my ambition. I just need to keep playing and take my chances when they come. The club international team is an aim for this season. But I’ll just keep playing what is in front of me and try to keep enjoying it – hopefully the rest will follow,” he states.

And he was at it again last Saturday, with several irrepressible surges, including a break up the left touchline which led directly to Kerr Gossman’s second try. He also scared the life out of one hapless Watsonians defender who thought he had plenty of time to clear the ball only to be closed down with indecent haste by the flying hooker.

He was up against Edinburgh pro Neil Cochrane but had no issues at scrum-time, while the line-out functioned pretty effectively on the whole, as it has done all season.

Next up is Heriot’s away on Saturday, in another match which is likely to have a huge bearing on which teams make the play-offs this season. Corey Flynn, a veteran of 15 Test matches for New Zealand between 2003 and 2011, has been released by the Warriors and starts at hooker for Hawks, but such is Stewart’s importance that he has been moved to open-side flanker so as to be accommodated in the starting team.

Images: Craig Watson (www.craigwatson.co.uk)


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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1428 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.