GLASGOW WARRIORS have added some serious gas to their back three options with the signing of former Junior All Blacks cap Josh McKay from the Crusaders Super Rugby franchise, with head coach Danny Wilson hailing his recruitment as a statement of intent as he looks to put his own stamp on the side after a frustrating first half year in the job.
“We’ve always known that we needed to add a 15 to the squad and we wanted a real attacking presence with the surface we play on and the game we are trying to play when we’ve got most of our boys available for us,” said the coach. “Josh plays wing and 15, and he’s a really exciting runner with the ball, so he’ll suit the surface and he’ll suit the speed we want to play.
“We’re really excited to have him on board and we certainly weren’t the only team trying to chase him, put it that way. He’s 23 years old so he’s a young man, coming into the prime of his career physically as an outside back.”
“It’s still to be confirmed but at the moment he’s committed to finishing the Mitre 10 season with Canterbury in New Zealand and then coming to us, so it could be October or November time [before he arrives in Glasgow], but the great thing is once he’s here, he’s here for the longer term.”
McKay was a member of the all-conquering New Zealand Under-20s team which lifted the 2017 Junior World Championship and went on to play three seasons of Super Rugby with the Highlanders. Having established himself as a regular starter for the franchise during the 2020 season, it came as a surprise when his contract was not renewed ahead of the 2021 campaign, leaving him a free-agent until the Crusaders offered him a lifeline last month with a season-long deal as injury-cover for injured All Black Braydon Ennor.
He made an immediate impact with the Crusaders, with assistant coach Simon Thomas describing McKay’s pace and explosiveness as “pretty special” in the New Zealand press soon after his arrival, and indicating that he is in serious contention to beat the franchise’s speed record of 36.1 km/h.
“I think he’s playing for the Crusaders this weekend, he’s certainly been involved recently, and I’m pretty sure he’ll be playing a fair bit of Super Rugby through that period, so I’m just delighted and excited about having him on-board for next season,” continued Wilson.
“He’s the kind of player we want to be signing for the future as we look to build the squad.
“Lately you’ve seen that we’ve recruited a fair few forwards because I want to make sure we have that strength in depth which we’ve not had this season, so that we can take sides on up front when the weather demands it, and you’re now also starting to see some signings in the backs which will be potent for us in the future.”
McKay’s arrival will inevitably prompt questions about the future of Huw Jones, who came to prominence as an outside-centre before switching to full-back with the Warriors this season, which ticked two important boxes in terms of filling the gap which has never been properly filled since the departure of Stuart Hogg in the summer of 2019 as well as providing the player with an opportunity to reignite his career in a new position suited to his particular skillset after a tough couple of season.
Jones is out of contract in the summer and has been linked with a number of clubs south of the border. Wilson was keeping his cards close to his chest. “I can’t confirm anything on Huw Jones at the moment, unfortunately,” he said. “But hopefully we are going to be able to confirm something soon.”
While his name suggests a connection, McKay is not Scottish qualified, which is a good thing as far as Wilson is concerned.
“A fair bit of that early [contract] work we’ve done has been retention, and we’ve got some Scottish qualified players coming to Glasgow [such as Duncan Weir, Jamie Bhatti and Simon Berghan], but we also need those quality squad members – quality foreign players – in positions where we need to be competitive when our internationalists are away,” he explained.
“I know that part of my role is developing Scottish players for Scotland and we take on that responsibility, whether that means re-signing the likes of Scott Cummings, George Horne and those types of players who are going to be away with Scotland, or re-signing potential future Scotland players like Jamie Dobie, Rufus McLean and those boys who are coming through, but you also do need that quality foreign signing who’s here all year round.”
“But if you think about our top [Scottish] players, a lot of them have only played two or three games for us all season. It’s remarkable and I hope to god it never happens again. Some of it has been down to injury. But Ali Price, who has been fit for every single Glasgow game, has been available for five games all season … that’s it.
“Now next year, there won’t be an Autumn Nations Cup, I hope. There will be a normal autumn international period and a normal Six Nations, with players being released back to us. So, it will all look very different in terms of player depth. But I believe it’s very important that we add quality foreign signings as well to give us that balance.”
It is a similar thought process with 14-times capped Wallabies back-row Jack Dempsey, who was unveiled as a Warriors signing on Sunday evening.
“Jack is somebody I have seen and watched for a few years,” said Wilson. “He is an exceptional rugby player who fits the mould in terms of his ability both sides of the ball. Sometimes when you recruit somebody, they are either a monster carrier or a very effective jackler. This is a guy who is very rounded, he can be explosive with the ball, has a good turn of pace, is athletic, but is also very good defensively – he makes a lot of tackles and gets over the ball.
“Again, when we talk about that balance of Scottish internationals against players who are available to you all of the year, then he is part of getting that balance as well.
“Depending on the position and situation, there are Southern Hemisphere players who crave the change of structure and experience of European rugby and everything that comes from playing in Europe,” he added. “There is also the battle with bigger budgets than ours, so that is why we are delighted to secure these two boys.
“Both of them are about the rugby that they want to develop and want to play, so it is important that when we sell Glasgow Warriors, we are not just trying to sell a cheque book and financial rewards because we cannot compete with everybody in those situations.
“With some people that will take a little longer, and I know people have commented that we had not made too many announcements, but it was very much about getting our ducks in a row and making sure we had the right people and I am confident we have done that
“They [McKay and Dempsey] are big signings for us in terms of where they are in their careers, their age profile. They are young men – I am not saying there is anything wrong with signing more experienced professionals to bring experience and leadership, help with the younger boys, and so on – but these guys are coming in at the peak of their careers, and they will still help younger players in terms of their development.
“It is so important to both Edinburgh and Glasgow with all the difficulties we have experienced this season that we hit the ground running next season. A big part of that is making sure we bolster recruitment.
“This is my first full recruitment cycle, my first chance to put my stamp fully on the squad,” he concluded. “We signed Richie Gray at the end of last season, and a couple of players that we could, but this is the first chance to look at it properly and it will take more than one recruitment cycle to get the squad to the finished article.”