There are a busy eight days looming just over the horizon for Heriot’s rugby club, who will challenge for the cup at BT Murrayfield in next weekend’s final against Melrose before finishing up one week later with a punishing attempt at back-to-back victories in the league final, this one against Ayr and on their rivals’ Millbrae turf.
However much we worry about burn-out, the team that play big games week in and week out usually beat the side who have rested up and the Heriot’s coach Phil Smith is happy to be busy at the business end of the season.
“It’s a difficult one,” he says. “I don’t know if the cup-league double has been done before [it has] but if so I doubt it’s been done in back-to-back weekends. We will try and win the cup final and then take that energy into the league final the following Saturday.”
The Heriot’s team will have a slew of familiar faces with scrum-half Graham Wilson and centre Liam Steele back to full fitness and challenging for a spot, and breakaway Jason Hill, who is said to be signing professional papers with an English club. But at least one name on the team sheet will be more familiar to the residents of Cupar than the denizens of Goldenacre in Edinburgh.
Flanker Iain Wilson only made the move to Heriot’s this season after spending all his rugby life at the highly successful Howe of Fife club who are just one league behind the capital club. He has already helped Heriot’s lift the Charity Shield against local rivals Boroughmuir at the start of the season and now he has two finals to contemplate in eight days, which is presumably the sort of challenge that saw him swap horses in the first place.
“Actually my job moved from Kirkcaldy to Edinburgh, I am now a manager at the Royal Infirmary,” Wilson replies. “So I had to find a club in town and I knew [stand-off] Stuart Edwards who said that the Heriot’s boys were a great bunch.”
It could have proved a shock to the system since Wilson had been a one-club man all his life, with just one blot on his copybook. A product of the same Bell Baxter school – Peter Horne and Chris Fusaro were one year younger – he has been with Howe throughout his rugby career with the exception of one season at Dundee HSFP… in the year they were relegated. He returned to Howe the following season and, if his former mates held a grudge, at least they let him back through the front door.
His recent job change meant Wilson had to step up to Premier League rugby and the workaholic flanker has settled in pretty quickly, coming off the bench for the Charity Shield in the opening match, when he scored a crucial try, but elbowing his way into the Heriot’s starting team pretty quickly thereafter.
“I had set myself the goal of getting on to the first XV but I was a little surprised by how quickly I got a start at the club,” he admits. “Heriot’s had some stand-out backrow forwards like Jason Hill, Jack Turley and Struan Dewar but the guys accepted me and Jack and Phil Smith especially brought me on pretty quickly.
“The biggest difference is the physicality and the speed at which premier rugby is played. The contacts are a lot bigger and there is a lot more knowledge about the opposition and the tactics needed to beat them.”
Heriot’s are only in the cup final thanks to the “away goals” rule, which in Scottish club rugby is simply the “away club” rule, after drawing their semi-final 10-10 with Glasgow Hawks at Old Anniesland. Wilson concedes that it must have been a miserable end to Hawks’ cup run but, with one eye on the congested upcoming calendar, he insists that he would rather be playing than not.
“We hadn’t played for a while before that Hawks semi-final,” he argues, “and I think it showed because we were off the pace in that first half but dominated them in the final stages of the match. I would much rather be involved in two finals than just one.”