Glasgow Warriors recruit New Zealand flyer Josh McKay

Head coach Danny Wilson believes the signing is a statement about the club's ambitions

Josh McKay in action for the Highlanders. Image courtesy: Glasgow Warriors
Josh McKay in action for the Highlanders. Image courtesy: Glasgow Warriors

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.”


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“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.”


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David Barnes
About David Barnes 2221 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.

20 Comments

  1. Problem with our short term fix is we have been trying it for thirty odd years to no effect other than reducing playing numbers. Ireland and Wales have spent far than we have on long term youth development than we have and have grand slams, European Cups, pro12/14 title wins to show for it. The amount we have spent on utter journey men even in last five years for pro sides and even super 6 (never mind vanity projects in other countries) could have seen a massive increase in the number of youth players being included in youth development. We could even have spent it on developing club rugby and propelling itto a much higher standard which could have opened even more pathways for talented young players. Fairly sure we could be spending that £20 million of tax payers money in a far more sustainable manner.

  2. Interesting piece of business.

    My quick count suggests three Non Q players signed since Jan 1st with another 12 SQ players confirmed

    Of the 12, I don’t expect Weir, Bhakti or Kennedy to be in consideration for caps.

    Horne and Berghan will be in the mix. The rest are on the growth track and hopefully rise to international level.

    Bringing in what seem to be first pick players (if the hype is to be believed) doesn’t seem to fit the purpose of Scottish Rugby which is about growing the game here. I get that Warriors fans want to put out strong teams but there is something missing between these two competing objectives.

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    • There is a balance Dom, it is not one or the other.

      Look at Glasgows 2014/2015 team for an example of both professional success and player development for future Scotland caps.

  3. Exciting signing in a position clearly requiring additional depth – hope it doesn’t mean Jones is moving away, would love to see him given a consistent chance in the centre.

  4. More than happy to see Glasgow or Edinburgh sign foreign guys when they are of this calibre. The Warriors desperately need a full-back and this looks like a great signing.

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  5. Despite our need for homegrown talent I have seen this lad play and he was a big hit with the fans at The Highlanders. Not sure why Highlanders let his contract expire as he is super fast and has good hands.

    He was given a berth at the Crusaders for injury cover…I hope we are not inheriting somebody else’s problems.

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  6. But will he help reduce the financial burden the pro teams are putting on our game in Scotland (£11.6m deficit banked last year for Glasgow & Edinburgh)?

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    • I am with you here Pegj.
      I can see that Dempsey a proven internationalist could make sense as a mentor to young players and an experienced player when players are away with Scotland but why are we signing someone who only last month grabbed this headline:
      “Ex-Highlanders speedster Josh McKay and a former All Black win Super Rugby lifelines from Crusaders”
      Ie a player who was not in any of the five NZ Super Rugby Franchises as a first pick?
      There must be a reason.

      As you point out an £11.6m deficit last year and can I add a £20m SG bailout to support jobs (overseas ones?) whilst it appears there is a recruitment freeze in rugby development, including it appears the DOs jointly funded by Clubs.

      We remain firmly stuck with a top down, short term fix, strategy, which has been getting us nowhere.

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      • Keith – as a part time Highlanders fan I was following that story at the time. There were some question marks raised over his defence, but otherwise the decision was met with widespread surprise. Worth noting that no one wanted DVDM and he turned out to be alright.

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      • Jeez Keith give it a rest. Those two players are both class, will be in their prime and every team needs high-quality players that will not get called up during international window if you want to compete in the league.

        We have got a good bunch of academy players coming through now (admittedly more should be done here, but things don’t happen overnight)

        I would suspect these players are not ridiculously high on the wage bill either considering their circumstances.

        How about you actually review footage in some detail of the player (McKay) playing before commenting next time.

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      • They have a conveyer belt and produce significant numbers of good players with only the very best making the franchises. Another tragic indictment on our development system if you can call it that.

      • Why are we signing him you ask Keith?

        1. Because he is a very good player
        2. He is going to be hitting his prime over the next few years
        3. Available throughout the entire season
        4. His wage bill won’t be to high seeing as he was on the outskirts of two extremely competitive teams.

        You need talent like this which won’t get called up during the international windows if you want to be competing towards the top of the league each season. If we have International qualified players that are at Dempsey and McKays’ level they get called up.

        These are the realities of running a pro team.

        You give me a pro team which is not doing the same thing and i will throw 5 back at you who are.

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      • David, John, Neil
        Good to have some debate.
        A combined response.

        David
        For every DVDM we have had lots who have crashed, burned and returned home, thus ending our return on investment (ROI). Latest would be Hickey and Thomson. They prevent young Scottish guys from getting game time. At least if a Scottish player crashes, he is usually retained in the game in Scotland somewhere, thus extending our ROI.

        John
        Our pathways could be improved but we are producing a lot of talent, however lack of game time at E&G, lack of release to S6, lack of an A team, or an ITM Cup type tournament, stunts their development. Too many see far too few meaningful games in their formative years. Non SQ Overseas players are a part of this problem. So too is the lack of squad rotation at E&G which for example the Irish Provinces seem to do better.

        Neil
        This gets to the nub: what is the purpose of E&G? If it is to develop Scottish Qualified players, which I think it is, then the more game time Scottish qualified players get the better.
        Of course lots of pro teams follow the current Scottish model, but they are largely privately owned. Private owners are free to spend their money as they see fit. Comparing with them would get your answer.
        However I think we should compare with those wholly or part owned by their Unions, such as Ireland, NZ, Australia, SA, Wales. You would get a different answer. None of these routinely ship in overseas players, who are not marquee, at the rate we do. Why should a governing body have a loss of £11.6m on its teams if it is not developing its own players in an optimum manner?
        Finally not sure where you think he may be cheap. I heard from several sources that the above mentioned Hickey for example was very expensive.

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      • Thanks for the reply Keith. Having watched both Hickey and McKay in Super Rugby I didn’t particularly expect the former to be a big hit over here. I could be wrong about McKay but for me he falls within the category of marquee signing. If I’m wrong I’m wrong – time will tell.

        Good point about the ITM (now Mitre 10) Cup. It really is the best thing about Kiwi rugby, covering the whole country from Cape Reinga to Bluff, and hugely popular with fans and players alike. I’d love to see a Scottish equivalent one day.

      • As ever Keith you have a good analytical head on your responses. I follow antipodean rugby to one degree or another, and this lad stands out. That’s why I am curious as to why he was not getting a game in any of the big franchises.

        In terms of his recruitment, my stance is pretty clear. If you are bringing in players to cover test rugby absences then our development path is definitely not a consideration as they are blocking that path. If its to build an assault on Pro14 & European rugby then that’s a different matter. But on both counts our development pathway suffers.

        I think we have to decide what Glasgow and Edinburgh’s purpose really is. Commercial success or as a breeding ground for international and homegrown talent. Leinster have managed both in the last 10 years. Munster did it before them, and both are union run teams.

        The big question for me is does the union really want to put the effort into build both? I really don’t know what the strategy is for SRU. I’ve read documents, looked at position papers, and seen presentations, but its all management speak rubbish that bears no correlation to the results on field.

        Its a bit like the policy on contract length. Its game of show & tell. Show you everything and tell you nothing.

      • David

        I sincerely hope you are right about him.

        There is as you say much to admire about the ITM cup. For me it produces a very flexible player pathway up and down, with All Blacks, Journeyman pros, semi-pros and amateurs all able to mix when required and get game time. It also has teams with a strong local identity. I would imagine all those in the performance end of our game who are not regulars in the E&G starting 23s would relish such an opportunity.

        Lack of game time is a huge issue for us.

  7. I’ve watched this guy play a few times for the Highlanders and Canterbury – think it’s a fantastic signing and real coup. Warriors fans will enjoy the way he plays.

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