AFTER seven weeks of anxious waiting, everything is happening at once for Glasgow Hawks.
On Tuesday they discovered that their bid to take on a Super 6 franchise had been unsuccessful meaning that Scotland’s biggest city won’t be represented in the new league at the top of the club game when it kicks off in the autumn of 2019, on Wednesday they requested an appeal into that decision on the basis that selecting three teams in Edinburgh was contrary to the criteria set out by the SRU at the start of the process, and now, on Saturday, they must play Jed-Forest in a do-or-die play-off to decide who will get to compete in the last ever season of the BT Premiership.
At least with the play-off, Hawks’ destiny is in their own hands.
MATCH DETAILS –
Who? Jed-Forest v Glasgow Hawks
What? BT Premiership / National League 1 Play-off
Where? Hawthornden, Lasswade RFC
When? Saturday 5 May @ 3pm
Why? Because Jed-Forest were runners-up in National One and Glasgow Hawks were second-bottom in the Premiership
The lead-up hasn’t been ideal, with their last competitive match being 0-27 defeat to Boroughmuir on 17th March, but in this instance the lay-off may have been a blessing in disguise as it has given the beleaguered team an opportunity to regroup after a wretched run of form saw them lose nine league games on the trot stretching back to mid-October of last year.
The Anniesland outfit are also bolstered by the return of their under-20s contingent in stand-off Ross Thompson, centre Mark New, wingers Kyle Rowe and Sam Yawayawa, and reserve hooker Paul Cairncross. First choice hooker Grant Stewart, who was drafted up to the Glasgow Warriors squad during the final weeks of the club season, is also back in the fold.
“We managed a couple of run-outs and training games against the likes of Stirling County to keep things ticking over but there is no real substitute for the intensity of playing games. Having said that, the boys are really excited about getting back out there and putting a few things right after a pretty disappointing end to the season,” said head coach Fin Gillies.
“We’ve treated it like a pre-season block, with three weeks fitness and then three weeks of rugby, so the boys are raring to go. It is good to have the Under-20s players back, but there is also a few Glasgow Hawks stalwarts like Steven Findlay, Gary Strain, Andy Linton and Paddy Boyer in the side as well, and it means a lot to them that we stay up. Nobody is in any doubt as to how big a game this is.
“It is going to be a huge challenge. Jed will be confident because they have won a lot of games this year, they are a good side – I played with a few of them like the Young brothers for Scotland Sevens, so I know that they are very good players – and they have that Border town mentality which means they will fight for every scrap of turf.
“One of our aims at the start of the season was to have a big day out and we’ve got it. Maybe it is not quite what we had in mind but they don’t come much bigger than this. Everything is on the line, and if you can’t get excited and motivated by that then you are probably in wrong sport. It’s the club dinner back in Glasgow afterwards and I’ve said to the boys that it is up to them to decide whether that is a celebration or a wake.”
The end of an era?
There is a very real possibility that this week’s Super 6 ruling could signal the end of the road for Hawks, who were set up 21 years ago with the expressed purpose of providing a focal point for club players in Glasgow looking to step-up into the professional game. As president Kenny Hamilton has said: “I’m not really sure that it makes sense for us to now revert to being purely an amateur club competing against our founder clubs.”
As an ambitious young coach, Gillies is in an invidious position, but where his future lies is a question for another day.
“All I can do at the moment is concentrate on the rugby. As long as Glasgow Hawks exist we are determined to play at the highest possible level, so that means winning this weekend and then working out how to make sure we are battling at the right end of the Premiership next year.”
The timing of this match has not been particularly helpful to Jed-Forest either. Their head coach Kevin Barrie is on holiday visiting his old team-mate Neil McIlroy in Clermont, while vice-captain and tight-head prop Paulo Ferriera is at a wedding in South Africa, but momentum is on their side and, as assistant coach Ross Goodfellow points out, the pressure is on the opposition.
“Hawks are used to being a Premiership team and they don’t seem to be very happy about Super 6 so they’ve got a lot on their plate, but that means they are going to come out firing so we need to be ready for that,” he said.
It has been a remarkable season for Jed. They have won 21 out of 22 games in National One, collecting 104 out of a possible 110 league points. The only reason they didn’t secure automatic promotion is that they happened to be stuck in the same league as equally rampant Edinburgh Accies – who edged top spot on points difference.
“The only game we lost was in round two at the start of September when we had five or six boys off on a stag-do for our away game against Accies, but the one that really grates with me is not getting a bonus point against Dundee in October when we scored three tries in the first half hour then didn’t finish the job off,” reflects Goodfellow.
“You come off at the time thinking that it is a bit annoying that you didn’t get the bonus point but as the season wears on it becomes more and more obvious how important that slip-up is going to be. To have a record like we have had this season and not go up would be really tough to take.”
Jed are an interesting case study because they seem to be a team ideally suited to thriving in the all-amateur Championship being proposed by the SRU for the start of the Super 6 era. They have a proud history as a conveyer-belt for talent but don’t have the population base or the financial backing to really break the hegemony of the current big-hitters in club rugby.
With the likes of Melrose, Ayr and Heriot’s focussing their resources on Super 6, the logic is that a more even playing field will be created for the rest to compete using homegrown players, but Goodfellow makes a good point about the value a few well-chosen overseas recruits have had in plugging gaps and driving the culture within the team.
“This squad has been building for the last couple of years and the core of it is Jed boys who have come through youth set-up, so Kevin [Barrie] as our development officer needs to take a lot of credit for that. But we’re a town of about only 4,000 people and we can’t just rely on what’s here. We’ve made no bones about bringing in a couple of players from New Zealand and South Africa to keep the team competitive.
“The guys who have come in have really bought into the town and the club. Our inside-centre, Monty Mitchell, has been with us for five or six years now, and when we were looking a bit short in the back-row he suggested Blake Roff, his old clubmate in New Zealand. It makes a difference getting a recommendation like that because then both parties know exactly what they are signing up to.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 3)
“Paulo [Ferriera] has been another great recruit at tight-head prop. He’s Portuguese originally, I think, grew up in South Africa, and is now engaged to Jed girl. So, these guys aren’t just coming in to make a quick buck, they’ve been really crucial to helping the team achieve their potential, and if we didn’t have them then we’d either have to struggle through or be prowling round the Borders trying to tempt players away from other clubs.”
Jed have two supporters’ buses laid on for the match. It would almost certainly have been more if it wasn’t also Jed Thistle’s [Under-18] annual Sevens tournament.
“That’s a shame because a few people are going to have had to choose between one or the other, but we’ll just get on with it, and hopefully we can all get together and have a great night back at the clubhouse if we win,” concluded Goodfellow.
Glasgow Hawks: Scott Peffers; Sam Yawayawa, Robert Beattie, Mark New, Kyle Rowe; Ross Thompson, Patrick Boyer; Steven Findlay, Grant Stewart, Gary Strain, Fraser Hastie, Andrew Linton, Stephen Leckey©, Callum Kerr, Gary Adams. Subs: Paul Cairncross, Lewis Skinner, Robert Houliston, Erland Oag, Liam Brims, Callum Harrison, Brendan McGroarty.
Jed-Forest: Lewis Young; Gregor Young©, Robbie Yourston, Monty Mitchell, Rory Marshall; Ewan Scott, Sean Goodfellow; Ryan Gibson, Cameron Mackay, Jamie Oliver, Clark Skeldon, Gregor Law, Blake Roff, Joe Northwood, Darren Gillespie. Subs: Connor Hogg, Finlay Scott, Grant Paxton, Daniel Wardrop, Jamie Hynd, Elliot Stewart, Callum Young.