Make BT final free to bring back crowds, says Heriot’s coach

Gregor McNeish of Heriot's, left, will lock horns with Bruce Colvine of Melrose in Saturday's BT Cup final. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

Gregor McNeish of Heriot's, left, will lock horns with Bruce Colvine of Melrose in Saturday's BT Cup final. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

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Heriot’s coach Phil Smith has advocated making entry free to the BT Finals day in a bid to boost the crowd.

The Goldenacre side face Melrose at the national stadium on Saturday as the showpiece match on a day of six finals in total.

The Finals Day is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its inaugural hosting when a crowd of over 22,000 watched Hawick become the first national knockout champions after they defeated Watsonians.

Last year attracted a day attendance of less than half that and, at yesterday’s media event to publicise the finals at BT Murrayfield, Smith suggested free tickets could be the answer.

He said: “The benefit that the clubs get from the cup final is they get to keep their gate receipts – so any tickets we sell we keep, because there’s no prize money.

“Make it free and put up prize money would be an option. Basically, you can walk into any place and hand out a bunch of tickets and say ‘It’s free entry on Saturday, come along’ – and maybe put prize money as the reward for the clubs rather than us running around trying to sell tickets to all and sundry.

“And maybe people would just walk up because they know it’s a free entry. I don’t know, that’s just a thought. It would be a different option or a different approach.”

His Melrose counterpart John Dalziel was part of the Gala team, which also included Chris Paterson and Nathan Hines, who lifted the cup in front of another bumper crowd in 1999. He believes club rugby is a product worth publicising and urged people to come along on Saturday.

“I think it’s a huge event,” said the Greenyards coach who is also now in charge of Scotland Under-20s. “I remember my first time here was with Gala in 1999. What an occasion it was: we had about 18 or 20,000 here. In terms of my whole career I look back on that day as probably the biggest in your whole life.

“We’ve got to really publicise it. We’ve got to publicise the club game a bit more – we’ve got some really fantastic players now, a lot of which we’re seeing come through the under-20s. There are some really good players here and we need to showcase it.

“The players have put in a lot of effort through the years to get here, to the national stadium, so why would we not want to get as many people here as we can? Hopefully with the event itself and all the games planned, people will stay around and watch two really good teams going at each 
other.”

Smith added: “I know Heriot’s, and I’m sure Melrose are the same, have tried their hardest.

“There are a couple of things that are nothing to do with the SRU. The school holidays are at the moment, so for us to access the school and try to get all the kids aware of it is difficult. So the timing of it – it’s nobody’s fault, that’s just the way it is.

“We’ve been at our youth sections, we’ve been out to the local schools as best we can. Some Edinburgh schools are back today and some aren’t back until next Monday. We’re trying to just get out there and advertise it.”

Smith, whose side face Ayr in the BT Premiership final, the following weekend, also believes the stop-start nature of the club season going into the new year takes a bit of momentum away from the push towards to the business end of the season.

“I guess the lead-up to it is the key, and the lead-up has been so fragmented from February through March,” explained the coach, who led the Scotland Club XV to a historic double over England and Ireland this year. “I don’t know how much people will have been aware of the club game more recently.

“Because up until Christmas it was kind of in your face and we were playing every week, which was great. Now it’s become a bit disjointed, because the run in to it hasn’t been perfect for either club. You’re playing then stopping, playing then stopping.

“But certainly as a club we’re trying our best to get as many people along as we can. And I’m sure Melrose will be doing the same. I don’t know how we can do more.”

Heriot’s are looking to win the cup for a fourth time and Melrose their third. It will be the third time the two have faced each other in a final, with one win apiece.

BT FINALS DAY

BT Men’s Bowl Final (kick-off 11am): 
Millbrae v Aberdeen University 
(International Pitch)

BT Women’s Bowl Final (kick-off noon): Howe of Fife v Glasgow University 
(Back Pitches)

BT Men’s Shield Final (kick-off 1.15pm): Highland v Carrick 
(International Pitch)

BT Women’s Plate Final (kick-off 1.30pm): Stirling County v Watsonians 
(Back Pitches)

Sarah Beaney Cup Final (kick-off 3.30pm): Murrayfield Wanderers v 
Hillhead/Jordanhill 
(International Pitch)

BT Cup Final (kick-off 1745): 
Melrose v Heriot’s 
(International Pitch)

Tickets £10 adult, £5 concession

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