FOR the last few years Watsonians and Hillhead Jordanhill have been the top two clubs in domestic women’s rugby in Scotland and ahead of the 2022-23 campaign they both have new head coaches in place.
Watsonians defeated Hills in January in the Tennent’s Premiership final at Myreside to lift that silverware for 2021-22 and then, in May, the Glasgow side got their revenge by coming out on top in the Sarah Beaney Cup final at BT Murrayfield.
During the summer Freddie Main and Aird Jardine moved on from their respective head coaching roles at both clubs meaning a new era begins when the top flight campaign gets underway at the weekend.
Watsonians open up their title defence in the new-look seven team league away to Cartha Queens Park at Dumbreck (Saturday, 2pm) and in charge of the side will be Bruce Millar.
He may well be known to some readers as one of the commentators on the Super6 coverage, but he has always had a passion for coaching and back in the day the Borderer even played for the Scottish Schools men’s team around the same time as one Gregor Townsend.
As the owner of the Putton Mill Fitness Centre in Duns, strength & conditioning has also always been a passion for Millar and the former Duns and Orkney player used his expertise in that area to good effect at Gala when George Graham was the men’s head coach there.
He then did some coaching at Gala, Kelso and Duns with the men’s sides before this opportunity came up.
“My first, very amateur, attempt at coaching was with RDVC Ladies many years ago when two of my flatmates dragged me along as they didn’t have a coach,” Millar explains.
“Someone I know who coached in the Futures pathway also told me I would enjoy the women’s game and it has always been in the back of my mind to give it another try, so when the opportunity came up at Watsonians I jumped at the chance.
“Just watching on from afar it has been clear that the women’s game in Scotland really is on the rise and that was reaffirmed to me on Silver Saturday in May when I was lucky enough to commentate on two of the matches.
“Those games [Greenock Wanderers versus Cartha Claymores and Ayr versus Biggar] were excellent matches and I was impressed by the standard on show while, having put the microphone down, I then watched the Sarah Beaney Cup final between my new club and Hills and was also impressed.
“I only came into post about a month ago so it has been quite a busy spell getting to know all of the players and get my ideas across while we are missing some experienced players from last season.
“However, we had a good pre-season friendly run out against Broughton last weekend and I have been really impressed by the squad as a whole, there is some real talent there.
“Briar McNamara will captain the team this year with Kaeli King as vice and they are different characters who will compliment each other well. It will take time for me to put my stamp on the way we play, but I am really excited to be working with this group of players and excited for the challenges ahead.”
On Sunday at 2pm Hillhead Jordanhill will get their season underway away to Stirling County at Bridgehaugh.
The man leading them as head coach this term will be 28-year-old Stephen Gillies and he has certainly packed a lot into the early days of his coaching career so far.
As a player Gillies was a stand-off who came through the ranks at Stirling County and played his part in some of their very successful age-grade sides.
He progressed to the first XV with County before spending a couple of years with Glasgow Hawks and then Whitecraigs.
In that time Gillies also spent time playing rugby and travelling in various places with New Zealand, France, Germany and Canada having been stamped on his passport.
“I loved playing, but now injuries have meant that that part of my career is over and coaching seemed like the natural next step,” Gillies, who this week started a Teaching postgraduate degree at Strathclyde University, said.
“When I was in Canada I was doing some coaching with a youth academy helping local boys and girls aged 13 to 19 as they progress in the game and then when I returned home I started to coach the Whitecraigs boy’s under-18s.
“I did that for seven months last season and we did pretty well, getting to the Scottish Shield semi-final. I then went back to Canada between February and May and was assistant coach of the UBC Old Boy Ravens men’s team in Vancouver.
“They are one of the top clubs in British Columbia, so I learnt a lot there, but really since I was in my late teens and was in New Zealand at the IRANZ camp [a rugby academy for player, coach and team development in Palmerston North] coaching has been something I have been interested in and fascinated by.
“I have just tried to pick up things from all of the experienced coaches I have been lucky enough to come across and now I am looking forward to being head coach of the Hillhead Jordanhill women’s club.
“The players have been brilliant with me so far, they made me welcome right away and have been receptive to my ideas at training and in pre-season hit outs.
“Having experienced players throughout the squad alongside my assistant coach Ryan Howie was already at Hills gives us good continuity and I am looking forward to working with all of them and our development coach Ross Newman.
“There are some really good players here and there is an excellent team spirit so I am looking forward to the league campaign getting underway.”