Super6 Sprint: Ben Cairns urges Stirling County youngsters to grab their chance

Head coach has named 11 players who are under-20 in his squad

Ben Cairns believes that Stirling County are well on the way to developing a winning mentality. Image: Craig Watson
Ben Cairns believes that Stirling County are well on the way to developing a winning mentality. Image: Craig Watson

BEN CAIRNS would be the first to admit that he is a rugby nerd – a committed disciple to the power of stats and video analysis – but during his time as head coach of the Stirling County Super6 franchise he has had to work just as hard, if not harder, on the less quantifiable psychological side of the game.

Having taken over a franchise spawned from a solid mid-table Premiership club – with a mid-table mentality – one of his first priorities at Bridgehaugh was to help engender a more ruthless attitude towards the science of winning.

“The development with this group of players is getting them used to success, and to understand that they can go out there and win games of rugby,” he explains. “It sounds simple but I think there was a period in season one [of Super6] when the attitude was almost ‘oh, this is what happens at County’.


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“So, it is about trying to change that mentality of the group and to understand that we are a very good team, who are very hard to beat when we perform and back ourselves to play the game we want to play.

“We are really proud of some of the performances from last season,” he adds. “There was some games at the start of the season which went against us in the last couple of plays, and I guess the flip side is that we started to win those kinds of matches as the season wore on and we went on a bit of a run. Hopefully we can continue that into this season.”

Cairns’ words should not be confused with hubris from a coach whose side finished in the bottom half of the league. He is quick to highlight that there is plenty work still to be done.

“We played some really good rugby, we thought it was a really good season and the boys really enjoyed it, but we wouldn’t call it successful because we finished fourth,” he reasons.

“If we had finished third, I think we would have been pretty happy with that from a performance point of view considering we finished fifth the year before, but we’re a bit frustrated with how we fell away at the end with a poor performance away to the Knights in our last game of the regular season before leaving the comeback too late against Watsonians in the play-off at Myreside.”

 

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Cairns – and the rest of the Super6 coaches – ahead of this Sprint Series is ensuring continuity from last season despite significant turnover in their squads. Cairns’ approach is to treat it as an opportunity.

“We’re 53 percent retention – so 17 players retained and 15 new – which is definitely higher than we would want to be on a season-to-season basis, but I think it is probably inevitable given the life cycle of Super6,” he says. “When it started, we signed everyone up for season one and two, but then Covid hit at the end of season one and season two didn’t happen, so the majority of the squad stayed for what would have been season three [played last autumn].

“So, that was kind of the end of that cycle and the guys we brought in from further afield have decided that they’ve had their couple of years playing Super6 and are going to move on, while some others in the squad have gone pro like Murphy Walker, Cammy Henderson after season one, Tom Roche with Ireland Sevens, and Tom Hughes with Scotland Sevens.

“So, I felt like it was inevitable that we would have a bigger turnover this year, but hopefully we’ll now start to get a bit more consistency with the seasons which will mean more consistency within the squad moving forward.

“We’re pretty happy with the group of players we’ve put together,” he continues. “A big group of them are under-20s so we are going to give a lot of young boys the opportunity to play during the Sprint, and if they take their chance then they will stay on for the championship, and if they don’t we’ll look to replace them.

“We have 11 under-20s in total, including prop Cameron Macmillan, a prop who has been on the edge of the Scotland under-20s programme, Callum Norrie, who was sub tight-head for the 20s, Gregor Hiddleston, who was their sub hooker, Jonny Rutherford [back-row], who is actually under-19 and has been a stand-out at schoolboy level as captain at Dollar, Finlay Burgess [scrum-half], who is under-19 as well and has shown up well in the pre-season, and Callum Beckett [stand-off/full-back] and Ben Salmon [winger], who have both stepped up after going really well for the Wolves [Stirling Club XV] during their season.

“Then we’ve added some experience with guys like Adam Sinclair [second-row], who has come back to the club. That’s big for us. Sinky is a character, for sure, but he’s definitely matured, and he feels like he owes the club as well after leaving to play for Heriot’s a few years back.

Harry Russell [scrum-half and brother to Finn and Archie] has come back to the club, having come through our youth section then gone to Falkirk for several years, and Liam Brims [stand-off] played for County when he was at Stirling University then went to Falkirk and Glasgow Hawks and has now come back to us as well.

“So, there are some really good stories around boys who are linked to the club coming back after time away, and to give you a picture of that: we’ve got 41 percent of our squad played youth rugby at the club, which I would hazard a guess is the highest percentage in the comp, so we’re pretty proud of that.

“I definitely see the Sprint Series as an opportunity to develop, and that’s across the board – from the way we want to play, to our protocols and structures and how we operate as a squad, to how we operate as an environment to help develop individuals.

“Inevitably, some guys will play more than others, but everyone will get a chance so then it is just about how they take their opportunity, which will decide how much game time they get off the back of that.“


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About David Barnes 2917 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.

1 Comment

  1. Great to see county putting faith in the young
    And building for the future , exactly what super 6 is for
    B/muir and knights , look the same and hats of to them !
    Suspect Watson’s and heriots will have the same old mercenaries and imports. Hope not but time will tell
    Let’s see what ayr do hopefully the right thing

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