WHEN he returns to university in the coming weeks and his class mates ask him what he got up to in the summer, Richie Simpson will be able to say that he got his first taste of playing rugby at a professional level when he was part of the Ayrshire Bulls team which took on Glasgow Warriors two weekends ago.
The 19-year-old knew that he would get to play against some good sides when he made the step-up to part-time professional level with the Bulls a few months ago ahead of the FOSROC Super6 Championship. What the stand-off did not expect was that he would be lining up against one of Scotland’s two full-time pro sides, littered with internationalists, just a handful of games into his Super6 career.
“It all happened pretty quickly,” Simpson, who is about to start his third year studying for a finance degree at Glasgow Caledonian University, said. “We were getting ready for a league match one minute and then we were told that we were going to be playing against Glasgow Warriors and the guys were all really excited, that kind of opportunity does not come along every day.
“Being part of the junior academy set-up in Glasgow, I have been lucky enough to train with the first team players on occasion before, but to represent the Bulls in a match against them was something else.
“I just tried to take in the experience, enjoy it all and learn from it. The physicality was up a level, but as a squad I think we really showed what we are all about and what Super6 is all about, and we pushed Glasgow pretty close in the end. If there had been another few minutes on the clock who knows what might have happened.”
In the end, Glasgow won 22-17, but it was the Bulls who took most of the plaudits and Simpson kicked a penalty and looked assured for the hour or so that he was on the pitch at the Caledonian Stadium.
And the experience was particularly special for him given that he has been involved with the Ayr club at Millbrae since he was a youngster, having joined the minis section when he was in primary four, with the other great passions of his youth were football and cricket.
A talented central midfielder, as he moved into senior school he fond that football was taking up quite a bit of his time and the balance with rugby commitments was becoming tricky. He chose the latter sport to take forward – and many who have seen him play in recent weeks will be delighted that he did.
“I had been at Ayr Grammar Primary School, then in primary seven I went to Wellington School in the town and within a couple of years rugby really started to take off,” he explains. “At Wellington the rugby was really structured and I was learning a lot from coaches there and at Ayr. Then, in my second or third year of senior school, the school and the club joined together [the Ayr/Wellington teams are now in the Inspiresport boy’s National Club Conference].
“That made things a bit easier and I played for the Ayr/Wellington teams and started to get involved with Glasgow district rugby as I moved through the years. That pushed me on and I played for Glasgow Warriors under-18s down south against Saracens when I was in S6 in late 2019. I was quite young for my year so at the time I was still eligible for the under-17s and didn’t expect to get selected, but it was a great experience.”
Simpson left school in the summer of 2020 – just after the pandemic hit – and began his university studies. With rugby fully back up and running in 2021-22, he played regularly as stand-off for the Ayr first team in National League Division One.
“After a gap it was great to get regular game time again and to start making my way in senior rugby,” Simpson, who has played for Glasgow under-20s and who has been a part of the Warriors junior Academy since late 2021, said.
“There were a lot of young players in the team most weeks, but also some experienced guys while [club/Bulls coach and a stand-off himself] Frazier Climo helped me out a lot. I have a good relationship with him as I have known him since my youth days.
“During last season I was able to train with the Bulls at times and that allowed me to get used to their speed of play and the physicality of things.
“I then joined the Super6 squad in the summer and wasn’t sure how much game time I’d be getting, but to have been involved off the bench early on in the Championship and then start matches against Watsonians and Boroughmuir at home, and then start against the Warriors has exceeded my expectations.
“I am learning all of the time from the coaches and the older players around me and everyone helps me out. As a local guy I am proud to represent the Bulls.
“The squad has taken a lot of confidence from the Warriors game and we feel ready to take on the rest of the season.
“I just want to keep getting minutes under my belt, do my bit for the team and see where things take me in the coming months.”
After last weekend’s away appointment against the Southern Knights was postponed due to the death of Queen Elizabeth, Ayrshire Bulls are back in action this Saturday, taking on struggling Stirling Wolves at Bridgehaugh with a 5pm kick-off.