Premiership: Calum Forrester and GHA ready for Mansfield mission

Destiny is in their own hands but a fearsome challenge awaits against league leaders Hawick

Calum Forrester stepped up from assistant coach to take over from Trevor Carmichael as head coach at GHA in November. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Calum Forrester stepped up from assistant coach to take over from Trevor Carmichael as head coach at GHA in November. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

THE good news for GHA is that their destiny is still very much in their own hands. If they manage a bonus-point in their final game of this Premiership league season tomorrow [Saturday], then they stay in the top-flight.

The bad news is that this last outing of the campaign is at Mansfield Park, home of league-leaders Hawick, who have fielded their strongest available side as they look to carry on their unbeaten run through 16 gams so far this season, as well as break the record for the most consecutive successful defences of the Bill McLaren Shield [17 by Ayr back in 2013]. It doesn’t get much tougher than that!

In truth, the situation is not quite so clear-cut. Even if GHA fail to claim the bonus point or, indeed, lose, then they will still be okay so long as Musselburgh – who are equal on league-points but have a far inferior points differential (-137 versus -269) – don’t  get a result at Glasgow Hawks.


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And even if Musselburgh do manage that, Heriot’s Blues could end up being the fall-guys because they are currently a league point adrift at the bottom of the table with two games left to play – both tricky assignments away to play-off chasing Selkirk tomorrow and at home to third in the table Edinburgh Accies a week later.

Of course, GHA would rather not find themselves relying on results elsewhere, and head coach Calum Forrester insists that while his players recognise the magnitude of the task they face this weekend, they will travel to the Scottish Borders believing they can cause an upset.

“The last few weeks of training have gone really well,” he says. “It is good to have a lot of returning faces who weren’t available for that Currie Chieftains game. In the backline, we’ll have Christian Townsend at stand-off again, Charlie Lonergan alongside him at inside-centre, Chris Hyde at outside-centre and Grant Mollison at full-back, so that gives us a real spine of guys who have been around and can hopefully put us in the right places to hopefully do the job.

“We’ve spoken a lot about there being very few games in your career that are really meaningful in this way, so it is a great opportunity for boys to embrace that. The most important thing is that we don’t disappear into our shells but go out and enjoy that experience.”

GHA have not been bottom of the league at any point during the season so far. They’ve spent most of the campaign in a lower mid-table position, not quite challenging for the play-offs but not looking like relegation candidates either. The Braidholm men have picked up some decent wins along the way and been pretty competitive throughout – but a six-match losing streak since mid-November has left them in this precarious position.

“We’ve obviously not won in a number of weeks now but if you look at this block since Christmas, against Selkirk away we had a number of opportunities and ended up being four points adrift at the end, Jed played the best they have all season and deserved their win down there so there wasn’t much we could do about that, Musselburgh at home was a major blow because we were on top for 80 percent of that game but conceded three tries in the 20 percent when we weren’t, and it was a similar against Currie at home when we gifted them three first half scores and were always chasing our tails,” reasons Forrester.

“But the one thing the boys have shown in those last two games against Musselburgh and Currie was the spirit to come back and put ourselves there or thereabouts. And with everything on the line, I think it will be the same this weekend.

“Yes, we are going down to Hawick this weekend to play a team who are unbeaten in the league this season, but this group of players owe a big result to themselves and the club, so if they are going to do it then why not make it this weekend?”

 

Forrester’s relationship with GHA goes back a long way. He joined the club straight out of Hutcheson’s Grammar School in the mid-2000s, and played there whilst a member of the Scottish Rugby Academy, during which time he represented Scotland at under-19, under-21 and sevens levels before signing his first senior pro contract with Glasgow Warriors in 2006 aged 19.

After 42 appearances in the back-row for Warriors over six seasons and picking up a couple of Scotland A caps at the 2009 Nations Cup, Forrester was released by the Scotstoun outfit in 2012, leaving him frustrated by a lack of time in the saddle (partly down to injury and partly down to the age-old problem of  limited playing opportunities for youngsters with Scotland’s two pro teams).

He had other offers but decided it was time to close that chapter of his life so enrolled in a physiology and sports science degree at Glasgow University, and started enjoying the game again playing for Ayr in the old Premiership, to whom he had become aligned when GHA dropped out the top flight of the Scottish club game a few seasons earlier.

Forrester captained the Millbrae men to a league and cup double in 2013, and that team also set the record of 17 successful Bill McLaren Shield defences that Hawick are trying to beat today.

He then had a spell coaching the club, helping them to another Premiership title in 2017 (they were also beaten finalists in the Cup that year), and during that period he also completed his UKCC Level 4 coaching diploma and worked with Scotland under-19s and under-20s.

After stepping down as Ayr coach at the end of a tricky 2017-18 season, Forrester wasn’t in any hurry to get back involved in the daily grind of club coaching at the top end of the domestic game, but the lure of Braidholm was too much to resist.

“GHA was my club so when I stopped at Ayr I took some time out to concentrate on my professional [chartered accountancy] exams, and then GHA approached me and asked if I would like to be involved,” explained the now 36-year-old. “I was very clear about being an assistant coach the last couple of years and it has worked really well for me with my work commitments.

Trevor Carmichael [who was head coach up until November past] and I worked very closely, and I enjoyed that role, then when the situation at the club changed earlier this season I said I would help out at head coach level again.

Forrester is coy about his rugby plans beyond the end of the current season, but admits that he would find it hard to walk away.

“It’s a much bigger time commitment so I think we just want to get the next couple of weeks done and dusted,” he explained. “But I have had a couple of good chats with Rangi Jericevich [GHA’s director of rugby] and our President about what we’d do if we were to start again, carte blanche, in terms of different set-ups we could have in the club to push forward.”

“No matter what happens this season, the club is in a good place. I think you only need to look at the 2nd XV. You can question the strength of the 2nd XV set-up nationally at the moment, but our boys are great, they lost their East versus West reserve League final to Heriot’s last season but have not lost a regular season match for over two years.

“We’ve got a strong youth section, a really hard-working and switched-on committee, and there are not many clubs with better facilities than GHA.

“So, it is a really good club to be part of, which is really why I got back involved, and if I am going to be involved with rugby at all from now on it is likely to only be with GHA.

“We’re putting out three teams tomorrow. How many other clubs at the moment are able to do that?

“I’ve been involved in rugby for too long not to be involved at all,” he concluded.. “I enjoy the buzz on match day. I live 10 minutes form the club now so it’s good from that respect because I can have a couple of beers on a Saturday then walk home.”


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About David Barnes 3891 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.