HERIOT’S have confirmed that Fin Gillies has joined the Super 6 backroom team as assistant/forwards coach to Ciaran Beattie, with Phil Smith taking charge of the ‘Club XV’ alongside long-time assistant Jamie Parker and former stand-off/2nd XV coach OJ Brown. Smith led the Goldenacre side for the last seven seasons, picking up two Premiership titles and two Scottish Cups along the way, and Beattie is confident that the club now has the coaching line-up in place to build on those achievements.
Former hooker Gillies spent four seasons with Heriot’s as a player between 2007 and 2011, before moving into the professional game with Glasgow Warriors and the Scotland 7s squad. After hanging up his [professional] boots at the age of 25 in 2014, following two neck operations and a series of knee injuries, he moved into coaching, spending the last three seasons in charge of Glasgow Hawks, helping guide the club through a highly volatile period.
Recently married, with a new house and a permanent job teaching at The High School of Glasgow, Gillies was never really in the frame to be a head coach during the launch season of Super 6, but he jumped at the chance to return to his old stomping ground to work alongside a kindred spirit in Beattie.
“I am hugely excited to come back to Heriot’s,” he said. “I can’t wait to work with Ciaran, Phil and the rest of the team to help build on the recent successes at Goldenacre. The ‘Heriot’s Way’ is something we will look to build on and continue to challenge for trophies.”
Beattie reckons that he first met Gillies during Struan performance rugby camps in Perthshire – a traditional rite of passage for young club players in Scotland of a certain vintage – when they were teenagers, and their paths have continued to cross in the years that have followed.
“Scottish rugby is a small world, so we’ve known each other for a long time,” the former scrum-half said. “When he was in the Scotland 7s squad, I was part of the management team, and we’ve always got on. I think we have similar values, he’s a rugby geek like me. During the last few years we’ve really got know each other whilst working towards our [UKCC] Level 4 Coaching qualification.
“It’s early days but I think we will complement each other. We’re not cut from the same cloth in terms of how we think and how we approach certain situations, but we have the same vision and values. We’re not the same style, but we have the same mind-set.”
The mystery man
Beattie is currently the more mysterious character of the dynamic duo. He came through the ranks in his native Selkirk and was the first player recruited to the Borders Academy set-up, graduating to the Border Reivers squad, before having a spell playing Scotland 7s. He moved to Edinburgh for a season when the Reivers were disbanded but a chronic pelvis injury which had plagued him for years meant he did not play a game for the capital outfit. “I was about 15 when I started getting signs of it and by the time I was 21 I was finished,” he explained.
“I went into analysis with the SRU and did my apprenticeship there and it was just fantastic. I did six years, working mostly with the national team under Gav Scott, but also doing a bit of 7s, helping out with the two pro teams and getting involved in some age-group stuff. That exposure to lots of different environments, and lots of different coaches who had different ways of doing things, was brilliant.
“But I always knew that I was doing it to be in the environment rather than to be an analyst for the rest of my life, and I remember sitting there one day thinking to myself: ‘I could do this coaching thing. Instead of being the sorcerer’s apprentice how about being the coach?’
“Strangely, not long after that I was having a coffee with John Dalziel and he asked if I had ever thought about coaching, and I said that’s exactly what I want to do. So, he got me involved at Melrose the next week.”
The following season [2014-15], he linked up with Loughborough University, initially as defence and backs coach and finishing up as head coach. He returned north in the summer of 2017 as assistant coach to the Scotland Women’s team and ‘Technical Blueprint Development Manager’, before being unveiled as the new Heriot’s supremo at the tail-end of 2018.
“It has been a different route into coaching but I look back at it and think: ‘Jeez-o, I’m only 33 and I’ve had this lifetime of experience coming into this’ – so, I know I’m very fortunate,” he reflected.
“I’m a proud Scot and it was always on the cards that I would come back at some stage – although I didn’t know when or in what capacity. I feel really privileged to be in this position. I think it is a great opportunity personally, and for Scottish rugby it is going to be outstanding. There will inevitably be some ups and downs, but it makes sense looking at the big picture.
The ‘Heriot’s Way’
“From a Heriot’s point of view, things are looking really positive. There are still a few moving parts, but we’ll be up and running fairly soon. We’re pretty lucky that Heriot’s had a great season last year and the guys are pretty enthused off the back of that. Phil and his coaching team have done a great job in terms of both the rugby and the culture. Everybody is buzzing and everybody wants to be there, so my job is pretty easy coming into that environment.
“From very early on in this process, we have talked a lot about one of our main priorities being to get the Heriot’s Blues side into a really strong position. To have Phil, Jim and OJ in there, with that consistency and the quality of coaching they bring, is a testament to that commitment.
“Because Super 6 is the great adventure into the unknown, people could easily get the blinkers on, but there are some clever people at Goldenacre who see the big picture.
“We’ll all be aligned with what we are coaching and how we are trying to coach, and that’s going to flow right through from the Super 6 team, to the Blues, to Ferry Road Wanderers [3rd XV with Stew-Mel RFC], the Vikings’ [youth section with Stew-Mel], to the school side, hopefully, and into the minis. So, there will be a ‘Heriot’s Way’, which hopefully makes it easier for the likes of Phil to shift up and help with the Super 6 team when required and Fin and I to step in and help with the Blues.”