PETER MURCHIE is not a character prone to hyperbole, but the Ayr coach was surprisingly unguarded when asked for his assessment of Kyle Rowe after Saturday’s Tennent’s Premiership play-off Grand Final success over Heriot’s, during which the winger not only scored two tries but was a constant threat with ball in hand and a safe pair of hands in defence.
“He could go the whole way,” stated Murchie. “I’ve not been shy with telling anyone in a high position that he should be playing pro rugby. He’s a serious talent. He was amazing for the Scotland Under-20s last year – he’s a great player and a great guy – works hard off the ball. He’s got everything.”
Rowe’s first half brace against Heriot’s on Saturday thrust Ayr into the driving seat in a compelling encounter. They were his eighth and ninth tries of this Premiership season, with his seven previous touch-down being scored in the opening four rounds of the campaign. Injuries and player welfare protocols for FOSROC Scottish Rugby Academy members have limited his game time in recent months, but with Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie in the crowd on Saturday the 21-year-old certainly picked his moment to remind us all of what he is capable of.
“I just tried to get my hands on the ball and score, and I did that twice, so it was good to help the team to a win,” said Rowe, who previously played for Falkirk and Glasgow Hawks, afterwards. “It was very tense that last 10 to 15 minutes, especially after we were one point down and then managed to score in the corner to get ahead.
“We prepped really well for this game, as we have in every game. We came into the match believing that we can win and having a final on our own turf made it even more special to win it.”
Rematch at Murrayfield on the horizon
There is still the not insignificant matter of a replay between these two teams in the in the Tennent’s Scottish Cup Final at Murrayfield on 27th April, before the season finally goes into shutdown and attention can turn fully to preparation for the launch of Super 6 in November.
The nature of the game at this level means that player turnover is to be welcomed if it means that a club has served its purpose in preparing a talented and ambitious player for the next level. Melrose won the league and cup double last year and five of that squad moved on to full-time contracts with the SRU during the summer. The turnover might nt be quite so dramatic at Millbrae, but some sort of changing of the guard does seem to be inevitable.
Rowe will not be the only Ayr player on the Glasgow Warriors/Scotland 7s squad radar when it comes to handing out professional contracts next season. Paddy Dewhirst (back-three) and Marshall Sykes (second-row) both missed Saturday’s game but have huge potential – although another year getting regular game time at club level after injury-ravaged campaigns might prove the sensible option. Utility-back Ollie Smith and prop Euan McLaren – who are stage three members of the FOSROC academy and impressed for Scotland Under-20s during this season’s Six Nations – were unused substitutes against Heriot’s and will also be looking for more regular game time in Super 6 next year.
Meanwhile, tight-head prop Steven Longwell will trial for Sale Jets (the Sale Sharks academy side) in their Premiership Rugby Shield clash against Leicester Tigers tomorrow [Monday] night with a view to picking up a contract with the English side next season, while hooker Robbie Smith [who scored the game’s decisive try on Saturday] has agreed a deal with English Championship side Bedford Blues for next season having failed to convince Rennie that he should be promoted into the Warriors squad from the academy set-up this summer.
At the other end of the age spectrum, veteran backs Grant Anderson and Frazier Climo are weighing up whether they have another year left in them to see what Super 6 is like. Or, they may decide to ease into retirement with the Ayr ‘club XV’.
It is a different dynamic this year, because nobody really knows how the advent of Super 6 is going to shake up the player market, but Ayr captain Pete McCallum says he is confident that the club are well placed to adapt and then flourish regardless of what happens next.
“Pete Murchie came in at the start of this year and it was a blank canvas – everything changed – there wasn’t a single call that carried on,” explained the dynamic No 8. “He was very clear with how he wanted us to play and that showed with how we went eight in a row to silence any doubters, and he did that with the squad evolving every week.”
Ayr, of course, are not the only current Premiership club with players eyeing the next step up the ladder. Rowe’s opposite number on Saturday was Jack Blain – a stage three academy player and star of the recent Under-20 Six Nations campaign, who has already played a competitive match for the senior Edinburgh side (against Benetton in the PRO14 at the start of March) – and he can’t be far away from a full-time deal.
Charlie Jupp who is also at Heriot’s, Rory Darge at Melrose, Cameron Henderson and Murphy Walker at Stirling County, and Conor Boyle at Watsonians, are some of the other youngsters in the this season’s Premiership with big futures, although the arrival of Super 6 next season presumably means that there is less rush to rescue them from the clutches of the club game and they can have another year or two learning their craft before stepping up.