AYR have strengthened their team for the new Premier One season by signing promising Glasgow youngsters Stuart Hogg and Murray McConnell.
Hogg joined the Warriors last summer on an elite development contract, but continued to make the four-hour-plus round trip to his native Hawick to train and play in league matches. However, the 19-year-old has decided this season that he wants to play closer to his Glasgow home and with Ayr also offering British and Irish Cup matches, on the occasions when he might be released by the Warriors, he has plumped for Millbrae.
Ayr coach Kenny Murray admitted he was surprised when told Hogg was looking for a west coast club, but is delighted that he and scrum-half McConnell, who is also an elite development player and back in training after a long-term back injury, have signed. "We lost quite a few players this summer with retirals and guys going elsewhere," he said, "so we needed to strengthen the backs and forwards. We heard that Stuart was looking for a club closer to Glasgow and I'm delighted that he's chosen to come to us. Young Murray is also a quality young player we're delighted to have.
"I don't know how much we'll see of them because I know they both want to push into the Glasgow team and stay there, but it's good for us to have boys of that quality interested in playing for us and we'll be delighted to accommodate them."
The club draft system, where all the professional players are assigned to Premier One sides, was conducted on Wednesday, but clubs have until tonight to firm up potential swaps before it is confirmed early next week. Clubs have agreed that Glasgow players will only join Premier One clubs in Glasgow and Caledonia districts and Edinburgh players link up with the capital and Borders clubs in a new effort to bring together club and pro rugby. That does not apply to elite development (academy] players such as Hogg, so his move was through choice.
He said: "Last year I travelled down to Hawick every week and it wasn't great. I found myself tired before training and before playing. Now it will be just 40 minutes or so along the road and a few of the guys go there, so it will be easier.
"The first thing I want to be doing is playing for Glasgow, but if I'm not playing for Glasgow Ayr are a great club and the chance to play in the British and Irish cup is great. Obviously, it will be really tough not playing for Hawick, but this decision is nothing against Hawick. I owe the club an awful lot.They were great to me last season and I played every week I could, and I'd like to thank them and wish them all the best for the season."
Damien Kelly, Glen Tippett, Paul Burke and Scott Nimmo have all departed Millbrae, but coming in are back rows Ross Doneghan from Rotherham, but originally from Stew/Mel, Graham Fisken from West of Scotland and ex-Warrior Colin White back from Italy; former Canada U21 lock Josh Dunning and young hooker Hadyn Wcewski from Waikato, with a Kiwi prop also in Murray's sights.
In the backs Castres academy player Sylvan Diez has signed from Dumfries, alongside North Harbour stand-off Nick Elrick, Richard Dalgleish from West and Hogg and McConnell.
Asked what kind of money had attracted that welter of talent, Murray said: "Boys have come because they've moved back to the area, have friends at the club, want to stay in or try Premier One or like the fact we're in the British and Irish Cup, not for money.
"All clubs are doing the same. We have good club sponsors that want to see rugby in Ayrshire do well and they have offered some work to some boys, and some might help them financially as well, but Ayr don't pay wages or match fees, just travelling expenses, the same as most clubs. Everyone thinks Ayr are loaded, but we're not. Just the same as everyone else trying to put a competitive team out and stay in Premier One, for what's going to be a tough couple of seasons."
Meanwhile, Scotland sevens cap and fly-half Mike Adamson has left Glasgow Hawks for new Championship side London Scottish while Peter Jericevich is in talks with Barking. Hawks will also be without injured centre David Milne and Grant Strang for the early part of the season.
Hawks, who won the David Williams Trophy at Old Anniesland last Friday night, have two Italian brothers on trial from Viadana, sent their way by former Allan Glens development officer Greg Sinclair, who is the Viadana academy coach, and have signed highly-rated young props Stephen Finlay and Craig Williamson from Dalziel and GHA respectively, and Welsh hooker Gareth Davies, a marine now based at Faslane, who has played for Plymouth Albion and Bedwas in the Welsh Premiership.