LAST season, GHK won six matches during the whole National League Division Two season and ended up finishing ninth in the table. This year they have won five of their first seven games which puts them second in the league ladder heading into Saturday’s top two contest away at leaders Dumfries Saints.
Key to the team’s wins over Falkirk, Stewart’s Melville, Kirkcaldy, Newton Stewart and Preston Lodge to date in 2019-20 have been the new-look centre pairing of Cammy Hughes and Jack Cuthbert. Both men are quality operators and have forged a strong partnership having taken different rugby journeys to end up at Old Anniesland.
Having grown up in the north of Scotland, Hughes, 24, played for his local club Moray until Under-18 level. He then headed south to play for RGC (Rygbi Gogledd Cymru), the regional representative team for the North Wales Rugby Development region.
“It was a really good standard and a great opportunity for me,” he says. “My family are Welsh so I had always wanted to play there given a chance and it was Welsh Championship level at the time.
“As an 18-year-old, when I first went down there I had to quickly get used to senior rugby, it was pretty physical, but I enjoyed it and stayed there for a couple of years.
“I then moved to play for Stirling County and it was really good being there at the same time as Nick Grigg and Sam Johnson, who were getting game time as they made their way in the Glasgow Warriors ranks. I learnt a lot training with them and although their availability kept me in the 2nd XV at times, they were unbelievable players and in general the playing group there at the time was very talented.”
David Mitchell, then GHK’s head coach and Hughes’ lecturer at New College Lanarkshire, then managed to persuade the player to make the move to Old Anniesland. That was in the summer of 2016 and he has not looked back since.
“Before I arrived the club had a couple of promotions and there were some really good players here, that was evident from my early training sessions,” he recounts. “I fitted in nicely quite early on and that first season we finished fourth in National Two, but then a lot of the older, more experienced players stepped back from playing and we had to blood a number of youngsters.
“Playing senior rugby was quite a shock for some of them, but now they have a couple of years at this level under their belts and we are starting to reap the rewards.
“Being made captain this season was a big honour for me and has kept me busy on and off the pitch. Having experienced guys like Kevin Bryce and Jack in the team, with Peter Wright and Chris Fusaro coaching, has helped me a lot.”
Certainly having former Scotland caps Bryce and Cuthbert at hooker and in the backline, respectively, would help any team at National Two level, but it has been the way the duo have mucked in and got on with the job that has impressed Hughes the most.
“Obviously they have played at a high level before, but they certainly don’t expect to be treated as special cases by us and they are down at the club every training session putting in the hard yards,” says Hughes, who is now studying sport development at the University of the West of Scotland.
“Their communication on the pitch is excellent and Kev has helped the younger front-rows a lot while, for me, it is really good to have someone like Jack outside of me in the midfield because he can see space well and helps lead the backline in attack and defence.”
Cuthbert, the former Bath and Edinburgh Rugby man, who earned his sole international cap in 2011 against Ireland off the bench, arrived at the club following two years within the Scotland Sevens set-up.
His 2018-19 campaign was injury plagued – with a twice fractured hand at the top of the list of a number of niggling issues – and Cuthbert was not sure what was next for his rugby career.
He mentioned to Neil Watson from Cairnhill Structures, one of the GHK sponsors, that he was keen to keep playing at a social level whilst exploring options to put his natural sciences degree which he recently completed through the Open University to good use.
“The next thing I know I was down at pre-season training with the boys and I loved it straight away,” the man who is now a player/coach at the club explains. “I had previously worked with Peter Wright when I was playing with Scotland Under-19s so it was good to have him here and the last few months have been enjoyable.
“Seeing the guys enjoy their rugby is great, if we don’t enjoy it on the pitch and then socialise with each other afterwards the team spirit would not be as strong as it is. We have good numbers down to training regularly and that helps us work on lots of things, look back on the previous game and build towards the next game together as a unit.
“Peter is obviously the main coach, but others like myself, Kevin and Chris will have an input and we will often work with particular players or groups of players on specific things.”
Life in the real world
Cuthbert’s work with the backs has clearly gone well as they have scored 215 points in their seven league games, but they are wary they need to improve their defence having conceded 143.
And he is enjoying building up a centre pairing with Hughes. “It has been good working with Cammy, he is a talented player,” says Cuthbert. “He is a good captain and having him playing alongside me has made my life a lot easier whilst coming into a new environment and playing XVs again after a while away.
“If I can help him along as we go during a game I’ll just have a word in his ear sometimes, but in general I encourage all of the guys to keep communication high and we are now looking forward to this big game with Dumfries.”
So, things on the pitch are going well for Cuthbert, but what does the future hold off it?
“I started the degree that I recently finished in 2012 and I knew I wanted to try and use my spare time whilst being a pro player as wisely as I could,” he explained. “Chemistry, biology and maths were my background from an A-Level point of view and I was interested in all topics relating to the environment.
“I really enjoyed the degree and now I am doing some work [as an auditor] with Cairnhill Structures which has been fascinating. I am trying to get as much work experience under my belt out-with rugby as possible and see where it takes me going forward.”
- Dumfries Saints v GHK takes place in Tennent’s National League Division Two at Park Farm at 2pm on Saturday