SINCE the beginning of Super6/Series competitions back in 2019, there have been few constants in life, but on the field Iain Wilson has been one of them.
Now 34, the former Howe of Fife and Dundee Rugby back-rower has been a regular in the Heriot’s squad since the part-time professional tier of Scottish rugby came into being four years ago. Before that he had been with Heriot’s 1st XV, now known as the Blues, for a number of seasons, including in 2015-16 when they won the Premiership and Scottish Cup double.
Having finished second in the regular season table after last week’s win over Stirling Wolves, Heriot’s will head cross country to take on Ayrshire Bulls in the Super Series Sprint final tomorrow night, and unlike many players at this level, Millbrae is a venue he has previously tasted success at.
Back in November 2019, Wilson scored a try and was named Man-of-the-Match when Heriot’s won their first ever Super6 match 25-13 at the same ground. They reached the semi-finals of that inaugural Championship event before the season was declared null and void due to the pandemic.
Since then, the Goldenacre outfit have had plenty of ups and downs: in 2021 they finished sixth in the Championship before parting company with head coach Andy Kelly towards the end of the 2022 Sprint following four defeats on the bounce, and then came a distant second to Watsonians at the semi-final stage in the 2022 Championship.
Current head coach Ben Cairns had a good block of pre-season time to work with his remoulded squad before the ongoing Sprint event and it seems to have paid off.
“It has been great at the club over the last few months and it feels really good to be in the mix for the main prize this time around after a tough couple of years,” said Wilson, who away from rugby manages the radiology departments across the Lothians for the NHS.
“We don’t feel like we have fulfilled our potential in terms of Super6/Series rugby up until now, so we have been pleased to be able to get some good performances under our belt and build up some momentum.
“Ben brought a lot of new ideas in when he arrived in pre-season and we have all been receptive to those. We have worked and worked at them and that hard work at training has paid off in the way we have been playing, the play-off final is the reward for that.”
Former Currie Chieftains and Stirling Wolves head coach Cairns works alongside Fin Gillies, Stuart Edwards and fellow ex-internationalist John Hardie in the Goldenacre coaching team, and Wilson believes the different strengths they all bring to the table is a plus.
“They have worked really well together as a group since Ben and John came in,” said the club skipper, who has scored eight tries from openside flanker so far during this Sprint campaign.
“Ben has brought a very professional outlook to things in terms of the way that we train, we are in a bit longer now, we are doing a lot more work on analysis, we are working more on our shape, and it has all helped.
“John has got a lot of professional rugby playing experience and his enthusiasm and love for the game – and defence and contact in particular – has really rubbed off on the guys and they have bought into it.
“Ahead of this Sprint we brought in quite a few youngsters to the squad which has been refreshing and is the whole point of Super Series rugby. It has been great to see the way they have worked together with the more experienced campaigners, which has helped the newer guys grown in confidence week on week.
“They bring that youthful enthusiasm and excitement and pull others along with them which has been great, while we have tried to create a squad culture and a number of team bonding exercises during pre-season such as a trip to the Barracks helped with that.
“We arealso still very big on the ‘One Club’ ethos and we were all delighted to see the 1st XV remain in the Premiership a couple of months ago after a hard fought campaign.”
Up front, experienced heads like Josh Scott, Michael Liness, Ronan Seydak and Wilson have given Heriot’s a good platform with fellow forwards like Callum Anderson benefitting from that as they have settled in at this level.
Behind the scrum, Bruce Houston is still young, but is an assured 10 and a shrewd centre like Grant Hughes has been able to create space for exciting talents like Aidan Boyle, Mikey Gray and Dan King in the wide channels.
Friday evening is set to be a fitting end to what has been an entertaining tournament, especially given the two sides drew 26-26 at the same venue just a fortnight ago.
Wilson scored a try as Heriot’s came back from 21-0 down to share the spoils then and he said: “I have had some great days at Millbrae over the years, but also some really tough ones and any team that goes there knows that they are in for a really competitive match.
“The Bulls have been one of the top sides since Super6 began and credit to them for that.
“I was also happy when Frazier Climo came back in to play for them because it means I am not the oldest player in the Sprint!
“All jokes aside, we know what the Bulls are all about, but we are very focused on our own performance this week and we know that if we get that right then we will give ourselves a chance.
“Winning the Sprint would be a big thing for the club and would give us lots to build on ahead of the Championship later in the year.”