MATTY DOUGLAS has packed a fair bit of life experience into his 26 years on this planet – which is just as well because he is going to have to be both shrewd and resilient during the coming Premiership season as Hawick’s head coach.
He took on the job just seven weeks ago, stepping up from an assistant role after the abrupt departure of Stuart Johnson, and admits it was a bolt from the blue – but having seen his promising playing career brought to a sudden and premature end when he was just 22, Douglas wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass him by.
“It has been a bit stop and start with the change of coaches – we basically hard to start pre-season again because there were changes we wanted to make in the way we are going to play – but I think we’re in a good place,” he says. “It is a very young squad, but I like what I see, and it is just about making sure that we’re properly prepared and ready for what’s coming.”
Douglas had his first taste of adult rugby as a 16-year-old in the Hawick YM side which climbed through the leagues about a decade ago, he then spent a year in the Newcastle Falcons academy, followed by a season at Kelso, before finding his way back to Mansfield Park as a player, only to discover a couple of seasons later that he needed a hip replacement and that his playing days were over.
“We reckon it was from doing too heavy weights when I was too young, but we’ll never prove it,” he reflects. “I was in the [Scottish Rugby] academy, played Scotland at Under-16s, 17s and 18s and just struggled after that. I’m now waiting to get the other hip popped out.”
A year getting away from it all in Australia followed that first hip operation, and when Douglas returned to Hawick he was desperate to stay involved with the game. “I can’t really run about anymore so refereeing wasn’t really an option, which meant it had to be coaching,” he shrugs.
After a season working with Hawick Force [the 2nd XV], Douglas was promptly elevated by then head coach George Graham to oversee defence for the main team in 2018. He says it was initially tricky being the same age or younger than a significant of the squad but he has become accustomed to having to be a man apart.
“It used to be awkward after games, but now I am used to watching them go off and do their own thing as players,” he reflects. “I’m only 26 and I’m sitting with all the old boys at the front of the bus, but you have to put that aside and focus on what your job is, and at the end of the day I’m not here to socialise with the players – I’m here to make them into a winning team.
“It took four or five months to really feel confident standing apart and telling them what I wanted, but now it has become second nature. I feel Iike I’ve got their respect now, so they pay attention to what I say and they know that if they aren’t working hard enough I will call them out on it. Having been in that professional environment at Newcastle, I’m pretty strict on keeping high standards.
“As soon as I accepted the job, the pressure hit me straight away,” he adds. “The buck used to stop at George. Now that’s my responsibility. I have to explain myself to the executive committee, and to people on the street, so it is a bit of pressure to take on, but I am pretty confident that I know how we need to play, and that I’ve got them training and hitting the standards which we expect in this town.”
Which brings us neatly to the start of this Premiership season, and a visit to Mansfield Park this weekend by Currie Chieftains – who will start the campaign as joint favourites for the title alongside Marr.
Preparation has been blighted by Covid, with last weekend’s final pre-season hit-out against Kelso and a fortnight of training all being cancelled due to an outbreak in the squad. The team managed to train together last night [Thursday] and tonight but are still missing three players who would almost certainly have been involved tomorrow. It is far from ideal, but these are the times we live in, and making excuses is not part of the culture Douglas is trying to engender at the club.
“We played Darlington Mowden Park two weeks ago and the boys blew me away with their performance,” he says. “We went down there with 18 players – we had 17 unavailable – while they had a squad of 30 and play in National One [the third tier of English rugby], but we held our own before eventually going down 29-0.
“The effort was phenomenal. It showed that what we are trying to work towards is coming through and, apart from our captain Matty Carryer, it is all Hawick boys, which is massive for me.”
The team has lost over a half dozen key men from the last season before Covid, including Daniel Suddon and Andrew Mitchell (trying out Super6 with Southern Knights), the McNeil clan and Ryan Toogood (who have joined Kelso), Wiaan Griebenow (playing in Poland) and Ali Weir (retired).
But Carryer and Shawn Muir – who has been consistently the best loose-head in club rugby over the last five or six years – will make sure the front-row is no pushover, while Douglas points out that this is not a first rodeo for the likes of Shaun Fairbairn, Stuart Graham, Jae Linton and Logan Gordon-Woolley either.
“We’ve gone through this transition of losing basically a full 1st XV in the past three seasons between Super6 and boys retiring, so we’re having to build a team from Hawick players. We haven’t got cash to bring players in, so it is about focussing on what we’ve got and making sure they are good enough because they have to be.
“A lot of them are stepping up for the first time. I know they are ready for it, but it is all about how they react. I’ve got confidence in them.
“I want to be top four – that has to be our goal. People may doubt our squad, they might think we are too young, but you shouldn’t be at Hawick if you think we are a mid-table team.”
Teams for round one of the 2021-22 Premiership season (all games at 3pm on Saturday 4th September) –
Hawick (versus Currie Chieftains at Mansfield Park): K Ford; R McKean, L Gordon-Woolley, A Redpath, J Delaney; B Donaldson, G Welsh; S Muir, M Carryer, T Hope, R Smith, S Fairbairn, S Graham, C Sutherland, S Frizzel. Subs: R McLeod, R Hartdegan, J Linton, D Lighthoot, M Tait.
Currie Chieftains: C Brett; R Daley, A Hall, D Innes, J McCaig; G Hunter, P Boyer; G Carson, R Stewart, A McWilliam, J O’Brien, H Ferguson, W Nelson, F Scott©, R Davies. Subs: S fisher, C Ramsey, A Robertson, G Nelson, R Southern.
Musselburgh (versus GHA at Stoneyhill): R Hindhaugh; J Ferguson, L Brook, R Watt, G Tait; D Owenson©, L Kotze; C Owenson, R Stott, D Hodge, W Fleming, J Haynes, M Maltman, J Lister, L Hutson. Subs: A Forbes, P Brown, M Crawford, M McMillan, V Kacori.
GHA: A Scott; N Kelly, G Little, M Hughes, R O’Keefe; J Mackinnon, G Baird; T Brogan, G Hiddleston, M Fox, A Kerr, J McCarthy©, W Graham, D Ewing, W Alton. Subs: E Cavan, B Boum, L Archer, R MacFarlane, C Hyde.
Marr (versus Glasgow Hawks at Fullarton Park): G Montgomery; I Turaga, S Bickerstaff, C Bickerstaff©, J Scott; C Sturgeon, S Broad; B Sweet, C McMillan, W Farquhar, H Murray, F Grant, M Pearce, R Brown, B Johnston. Subs: S Adair, G Reid, D Andrew, C Inglis, S McDonald.
Glasgow Hawks: H Lee; K Gossman, T Glendinning, B McGroarty, F Gosse; L Brims, C Shields; P Cairncross©, I Carmichael, G Strain, S Halafihi, J McLean, A some, L Stewart, M MacNamara. Subs: A Rodgers, M Ogunlaja, J Porter, J Pinkerton, Y Ala-gilly.