SATURDAY’S clash against Hawick at Myreside is an appointment that Watsonians centre Rory Hutton is not particularly looking forward to. Given that he was a Mansfield Park stalwart for more than a decade, captaining the club during the 2014-15 season (when they finished sixth in the Premiership and reached the Cup final before losing to Boroughmuir), it is fair to say that the 31-year-old is caught between a rock and a hard place.
“Hawick is where I grew up and I spent most of my career there, so it is a tough one for me,” he admits. “Leaving the club was honestly not a rugby decision. I was moving up to Edinburgh for personal reasons, and I had done the travelling down to Hawick when I was younger, so I knew it was a big commitment which I wasn’t sure I was ready to take on again. There was a couple of boys I knew at Watsonians which is why I started speaking to the club and that was, ultimately, the reason for my decision to move.”
Asked if there has been any banter from his old chums down the road during the build-up to this week’s Tennent’s Premiership game, Hutton replies: “There has been a kind of changing of the guard down there so there isn’t that many boys that I played with still involved. If there is any chat then it tends to be fairly friendly because I think anybody who knows me knows that I still want what’s best for Hawick going forward. Their result is always the first I look for after I finish my game on a Saturday.
The fact that he is one of five players in the home team to have come through the Borders town adds even more edge to this weekend’s match.
In the backline, Hutton will have Edinburgh pro Darcy Graham – who was drafted by Watsonians this season – outside him on the left wing.
Meanwhile, in the pack, former Scotland Under-20s hooker Fraser Renwick, who joined Watsonians from Hawick this summer, is likely to go head-to-head against little brother Callum at some point during the encounter; Ross Graham, another hooker, who joined the club midway through last season after moving back north from Yorkshire Carnegie, is being deployed at openside flanker facing brother Stuart at blindside for the visitors; and Finlay Simpson, who was part of the Hawick system before heading off to Strathclyde University, is at blindside flanker.
It could have been six, but winger Scott MacLeod is not involved this week – all of which you can bet will be used to put extra fuel in the visiting team’s tanks as they set about trying to claim a first win of the season with the sort of super-charged performance they have a habit of producing when least expected.
“Yeah, that’ll be part of their team talk, I would imagine,” Hutton chuckles, slightly nervously. “Every single year people write off Hawick, but until you play for the club you don’t know how much it means to them down there – and they can beat anybody on their day.”
It will certainly have to be a big performance from the Borderers to topple a Watsonians collective who, after a patchy start of the season, seemed to find their groove with an impressive away win against Boroughmuir last weekend.
“Without making excuses, there have been a few injuries in key positions, but I think we are now starting to get most of those boys back, so if we can keep as injury-free as possible then we’ll fancy our chances against anyone in this league,” says Hutton.
“It is the same as last year when we had a slow start then got the ball rolling around about Christmas time and made the play-offs. Hopefully, we’ll get firing a bit quicker this year with the aim of getting into the play-offs again, and it is one-off rugby after that, so if you are in it then you’ve got a chance.
“I think last Saturday laid down a marker of what we’re all about, so I’m confident we can kick on from there.”
Hutton was, in fact, one of those key players to miss the defeats to Heriot’s and Melrose through injury, and while his comeback last Saturday was not the only reason for the team’s return to winning ways, it was most certainly a contributing factor.
“The change [of club] definitely helped rejuvenate my game,” he says. “I think anyone watching can see that I enjoyed the brand of rugby that we played last year, it suited my style of game, and with a lot of good young boys coming through it keeps you energised. It’s been good fun.
“I’ve played most of my rugby at ten, so while 13 isn’t new to me it is different to what I’m used to. I might be coming to the end of my career but I’m still learning the game and I am enjoying it – there’s a bit more space and time when you get the ball so that presents opportunities to have a go, which is what I enjoy doing.
A missed opportunity
Way back in January 2010, Hutton was a fresh-faced 22-year-old in the SRU academy set-up when he got his big chance for Edinburgh against Cardiff Blues at Murrayfield, and to the outside world it looked like he had grabbed it with both hands when just after the half hour mark – with the scores tied at 6-6 – he collected scrappy ball on the ten-yard line and opened the whole park up with a jink, outrageous dummy and dart through the gap. Leigh Halfpenny managed to close him down just short of the tryline, but the stand-off got the ball away to Ross Rennie for the game’s decisive score. He repeated the trick, although it didn’t quite lead to a try, later in the match.
Given that Edinburgh had gone the previous 377 minutes – including four full games – without crossing the whitewash, it felt at the time like this precocious talent had been sent by god. But it wasn’t to be. Edinburgh head coach Rob Moffat tried to put a lid on soaring expectations in the post-match press conference with some chat about the player still having a lot to learn and there being a slight defect in his passing style, before sending him back to play for Heriot’s – where he was seconded whilst training full-time in the capital – the following week.
“It is frustrating when you look back and think about things you could have done differently,” reflects Hutton. “But it was probably a case of timing, I played that game against Cardiff and did pretty well, then played the next week for Heriot’s and got a compound fracture in my finger which ruled me out for a couple of weeks, and after that I only sat on the bench for them and never got on. If I hadn’t got that injury then who knows what would have happened?”
One thing we do know is that stand-off has remained a problem position for Edinburgh throughout the last eight and a half years.
“After I came out of pro rugby I went away to Australia to play for a season,” says Hutton. “When you’ve been invested in realising your dream for a while and then you get a knock-back like that you kind of lose your love for the game a bit. So, I played for Palmyra rugby club in Perth – a different style of rugby – and got the buzz back for the game.”
Changing of the guard
Another Hawick youngster with the world at is feet will face Hutton on Saturday in the shape of 17-year-old Andrew Mitchell, who earned selection to The Offside Line’s Dream Team last week with his accomplished performance against Glasgow Hawks. It promises to be a fascinating tussle – and the sort of valuable learning experience for the younger player which the Murrayfield performance department can’t possibly quantify as they look to revolutionise the club game to suit their own agenda.
“I’m 31 now and obviously there is this Super 6 thing coming along where nobody seems to know what’s happening,” concludes the time-served electrician, as he looks to life beyond the end of this season. “Everybody I have spoken to around my age is wondering whether it is worth carrying on, or maybe it is a good time to call it a day. I think maybe they’ve forgotten about my age bracket when it comes to Super 6.
“Realistically, what’s the point in somebody like me being in there? I’m not going to go pro, and if you are needing to do more than I am currently doing on top of my day job then it’s a big ask.”
Food for thought from someone who knows all about the frustrations of being an aspiring talent, who struggled and ultimately failed to make it in the professional game, but still found his way back to the sport.