A TOP of the table clash in West Region Division Three sees Waysiders/Drumpellier host Glasgow University Medics at Langloan in Coatbridge tomorrow [Saturday] afternoon. The two clubs are well clear of third placed Lochaber but amid ongoing nationwide confusion over league reconstruction, it is not clear what the situation is regarding how many teams will be promoted at the end of the campaign.
“It won’t be decided until the West Region AGM in May,” explained club president Chris McGuigan. “The preferred new league structure seems to be 10, 10 and 12 [in West One, Two and Three] which would mean only one team going up, and it also depends on whether any team comes down into the West Leagues from National Three. So, in short, we need to win the league to be assured promotion.”
McGuigan’s team are certainly the better placed of the two sides to achieve that goal. They are four points ahead of the Medics with three games to go, they have home advantage in this encounter and can draw confidence from the 13-34 win they secured at Lochinch the last time the two sides met at the start of this month.
“Hopefully we can replicate our last performance against them,” concurred McGuigan. “We entered the season with a pretty pragmatic approach where we need to win all our games because if we do that then we will go up. We lost a tricky one away to Mull [10-20] on 5th January, which is frustrating, but apart from that we’ve managed to stick to the plan and have been pretty convincing winners in every other match we have played.
“Ideally we’d love to finish top, but the priority is that we have to get out of the league that we are in by any route possible,” added McGuigan. “That’s no disrespect to the teams that we are playing against, there are some cracking clubs there – Lochaber, Moffat and so on are real community and rugby orientated clubs but they have finite catchment areas – in terms of growth potential, I think we are sleeping giants and we really need to start pushing forward.”
Building from the ground up
Waysiders/Drumpellier [or W/D for short] certainly have a lot of things going for them.
“We are a dual sport – cricket and rugby – club, which brings challenges because both sections have their priorities, but it is a big boost to have a sport on site all year in terms of bringing revenue in to be sustainable,” says McGuigan, who is president of both the rugby club (for the last five years) and the joint club (for the last three years). “We own our ground and it is a cracking venue with a cricket outfield at the front which is sacrosanct and a rugby pitch which needs drainage work, plus a big bit of the land to the side which we have approached the council about adopting to see if we can get a 2nd XV pitch out there.
“We think we have the biggest catchment area in Scotland, with something like 24 primary schools within a four-mile radius and 14 secondary schools within a seven-mile radius, so we don’t really have an excuse not to be successful,” he continues. “We don’t currently have the resource to deliver in all those schools but that’s what we are working towards.
“We have linked to two ‘schools of rugby’ programmes. Coatbridge High is two-and-a-half miles from the front door and Jake Wilson – who sits on the rugby committee and the management committee at W/D – heads up school of rugby programme there; and Smithycroft High School in Riddrie have Ian Grant, one of our club stalwarts, running their programme.
“And we’re very fortunate that we now have a really buoyant youth section after a few issues in recent years. We’ve got some fantastic guys and midi-level – Craig Hughes, Mick Haggerty and Willie Kennedy – who are really, really passionate about the game and give above and beyond anything you are entitled to expect from volunteers. So, they are really driving that part of the club. We currently have 35 boys at Under-15 level, 62 playing minis [P1 to P7] and 15 in the micros [18mths to 4yrs].
“We’ve tried to get a women’s team off the ground but it has fallen by the wayside, so we’ve had to park that for the time being. However, the Under-15s girls’ section has gone from four or five players at the start of the season to a squad of 22, and a lot of that is down to the work of Stevie McDonald and Colin Steele. We’ve got two or three Under-18s girls who we have signposted to go to East Kilbride and Cambuslang so they can still get some game time, because we don’t want to lose anyone to the sport. But, right now, our focus is on progressing that Under-15s squad through to Under-18s level and then hopefully into a senior women’s team.
“We recently secured £108,000 worth of funding from SportScotland and the SRU through the club sustainability fund [£58k from SportScotland and £50k from SRU] to build a new set of changing rooms which takes us from two to four, allowing us to have provision for women and girls, and giving us the right set-up to make sure that we are ticking all the boxes from a child-protection perspective.
“We’re on a good financial footing. We’ve just secured a three-year partnership agreement with Cairnhill Structures [who also sponsor London Scottish and Melrose], which will hopefully involve an engineering apprenticeship programme between one of the schools we are connected to, the club and the partner, which makes it a virtuous circle whereby each of the components are giving some sort of value back and everyone is benefitting out of it.”
Progress on the pitch
The chain of events which led to the 1st XV ending up in the bottom rung of the West Regional Leagues was “a bit of a kick in the teeth” at the time according to McGuigan, but he takes the view that you can turn any situation and set-back into a positive with the right attitude.
“It was more to do with restructuring than any major failing by the team on the park, but we did leave ourselves vulnerable to that and it is probably safe to say that the club had been meandering pretty aimlessly for a long while,” he reasons. “It has probably done us good in the long term, by focussing the minds so that we can regroup, consolidate and get a real focus behind our coach.
“Steven Wilson played for the club for years but had to retire fairly young because his knees are gubbed and we’re really fortunate to have him putting back in as a coach. This is the first year he has had full autonomy to go and do what he needs to go and do and he’s pro-actively driving a consistency through the senior club – because people don’t play for the badge, they play for the guy who is out there coaching them.
“We’ve gone down the line of parachuting coaches in from outside in the past, and we’ve found that they come in with an expectation which we can’t deliver, so what’s important in terms of sustainability is getting somebody from within who understands the challenges and dynamics of the club.”
Asked how far he thinks the club can ultimately go, McGuigan flashes a slightly self-conscious smile.
“I have a grand vision in my head and any time I tell somebody what it is they just laugh,” he says. “I’ve said Super 6, but I think that’s a fair way off!
“In the meantime, if we’ve got at least one team at every age-band, and maybe two, a second pitch and provision to have a real conveyer belt of players going through to senior rugby, then we are on our way. We recently got a 2nd XV out at senior level for the first time in a number of years, so that’s encouraging and it would be good to build that up. It’s getting to the stage where the coach is having a tough time picking the 1st XV because he has to leave players who deserve a game out, which is the sort of headache you want to have.
“And if we can, let’s trot out the old boys every once in a while – the ‘WD40s’ is a great name for it – and I’d quite happily take up a position in that side because I’m 41 now and love playing stand-off but am not good enough for the 1st XV!
“Having sustainability, with facilities which are fit for purpose, is key,” he adds. “That will drive the growth. If I’d collected a pound for every time somebody came through the door at Langloan and said: ‘I didn’t know this was here’, we’d have enough to build that second pitch and a brand-new clubhouse already.
“It has been said for years and years and years that we are a sleeping giant, and we are … but we’ve got to grab that and throw it forward. The potential is huge. We have great facilities, a great catchment area and are on the main commuter belt from Glasgow to Edinburgh. We just need keep working hard at finding ways to tap into all that so that we can filter it into the club.
“There is no reason why we should be sitting where we are sitting. We’ll continue to strive and drive to be a bigger contributor to Scottish rugby further up the chain.”