Head coach: Fin Gillies
Current league position: 6th
The story so far:
With a turnover of 24 players during the summer, which included the loss of key men such as captain Tommy Spinks to Ayr and top try-scorer Kerr Gossman to Stirling County, this was always going to be a season of discovery for Glasgow Hawks – and so it has proven with excellent results such as an 18-28 win at Ayr in round two being offset by moments of calamity such as throwing away a 0-27 lead to lose 29-27 at Currie Chieftains in round five.
The unavailability of Old Anniesland due to a sink-hole appearing on the periphery of the main pitch has left the club scrabbling around their city looking for suitable alternative venues for home games, which can hardly have helped in the challenge of building continuity.
With 19 pro player releases, they are second only to Stirling County in terms of being bolstered by centrally contracted full-timers, but that has been spread between six players, and they have only had George Horne five times whereas last season he was hugely influential as a virtual ever-present in the team during the first half of the campaign.
After a demoralising defeat away to Marr at the weekend, you get the feeling that Hawks more than any other side in this league are poised at a pivotal moment in their campaign.
Coach’s comments –
Rate your season so far:
One word: inconsistent.
We’ve had some good moments and we’ve had some pretty poor moments.
We turned over seven pros last year, so we had to work really hard to replace them and that’s not an easy quality to replace.
We’re not the sort of club who can go to other Premiership clubs and entice their players with an attractive financial deal, but what we try to offer is good club environment with an ambitious young coaching team – and an opportunity to move forward into the pro game, so perhaps we were victims of our own success.
You look at the guys who have come in, and on the face of it you wouldn’t say many of them are world-beaters at this stage in their careers – a lot of them you wouldn’t necessarily have expected to be playing week-in and week-out in the Premiership as quickly – so the likes Kyle Rowe, Jake Eaglesham and Ross Thompson have all over-achieved in that sense. But once they stop over-achieving, that’s when we start finding things difficult. Getting the experience they need is hard, because you have to learn some painful lessons to get there.
Rate your coaching so far:
I will always be a hands-on coach. I love being out there working with players and being involved in everything the team is trying to do on the pitch. That’s my passion, so this year is no different to last year in that sense.
The stuff I find more challenging is the constant organisation, the constant speaking to players, the constant planning of sessions and watching videos – my work schedule for the week is pretty heavy.
I’ve probably learned quite a bit. I was very fortunate last year that I headed a very good squad, whereas there is not that same level of experience now, but the players have reacted really well.
Most important player:
In the backs, Ross Thompson came in as an 18-year-old kid, I think at his first session he was still only 17, so for him to over-achieve, and be able to guide us to a win at Ayr, was massive. So, he’s done really, really well.
Then there is Grant Stewart. We really missed him against Marr at the weekend – he’s been pure x-factor for us.
But everyone is contributing and I would hate to single out a few guys without acknowledging that point. Last year we were heavily reliant on Glasgow Warriors release and our academy guys, whereas this year it is more of a holistic squad approach with everyone pulling in the same direction.
Most improved player:
When you lose Tommy Spinks and you replace him with Callum Kerr, that doesn’t sound like a very good deal on paper. But Callum’s worked extremely hard, and really carved out an important role for himself in the team.
His job is in Edinburgh and he busts his balls every Tuesday and Thursday to make sure he gets to training. He watches videos and he does everything asked of him. He’ll be the first to admit that he is probably not the most talented rugby player in the world, but his dedication and commitment is second to none.
He was at Hawks last year and he wasn’t getting a look-in for the 1st XV, so he went and had a year at GHK, and now he’s back. In my eyes he’s a hooker who has work-ons in that department, so at the moment his strength for us is as a flanker. We lose a line-out option, we lose a bit of size, we lose a bit of open field running and link play, but what we get is a pick-and-go specialist who will tackle his heart out and give his damndest for 80 minutes.
Then there is Callum Harrison, who has been outstanding when called upon. He is a Greenock boy and played in the 2nd XV all last year – he maybe got one game in the cup for the 1st XV – so it was brave of him to stay on when he was being offered a pretty attractive package to go back to his old club. And he’s got his just rewards because he’s been involved a lot and done really well.
Best performance by your team:
That would have to be Ayr away, of course. It was pretty impressive, especially the way we played without the ball. Kiran McDonald was exceptional for us that day, but we’ve not really seen him again. Callum Harrison came on and made a huge impact. And Ross Thompson showed excellent maturity at stand-off for a guy playing only his second senior competitive match.
It was great to get that monkey off the back because it was December 2005 since we had last won down there.
Going from 27-0 up to getting beat by Currie Chieftains was extremely hard to take, but once again that was probably an experience thing. Having George Horne move to full-back that day really didn’t help us, it felt like we were just picking up injuries and shuffling our back-line every five minutes – but we need to be able to cope with that. Not scoring a point in the second half was not good.
As far as Premiership rugby goes, Melrose are almost the finished article.
Realistic aim for the second half of the season:
Last year we were excellent for the first seven or eight games, then we just trailed off. The good thing this year is that I would say we are in third gear so we’ve got plenty gears still to shift up into – in the same way as Currie and Heriot’s did last year.
We just need to make sure that everything is on an upward curve from now on – that we keep getting better and better rather than settling for where we are.
There is no hiding place now. We’re really going to find out what this team is made of.
It would be easy for us to dwell on the turnover in players and say that this is a transition year, but that’s not the way we operate. We still hold ambitions of making the top four – and that is within our grasp.