Hawick signings give green light to Heriot's title hopes

HERIOT'S won the summer race to sign one of the hottest prospects in the club game in Rory Hutton, and coach Bob McKillop hopes the move will lead to the young Hawick stand-off landing a professional contract.

McKillop has also signed Graham Hogg, who was in the SRU's academy system, as well as his younger brother, Stuart, which continues an association with the Borders club cultivated by the 'Greens' contingent at Goldenacre, coaches Roddy Deans and John Houston, and going back over decades of friendly matches.

It was inevitable that top Hawick talent would move after the team dropped from the top flight last season, leaving Heriot's as the only Division One club never to have experienced the drop since the national leagues were introduced 35 years ago. McKillop scoffed at a rumour he had signed a plethora of more Hawick teenagers as well, but hopes his club can help the Teri trio into the professional game.

"I know we'll get stick in some areas for recruiting these lads," he said, "and I genuinely do have a concern that we seem to have had more players coming here from Hawick than anyone else in recent years, because Hawick is a great Scottish club. But they were being courted by a few Division One clubs before we spoke to them and were leaving whether we took them or not. Of course I'm delighted they have chosen us because we like to think we can provide a good development base for players who are aspiring to be pros.

"I have no doubt that Rory could be a pro and could play for Scotland in the future, and if we can play a part in helping him get there, and he can help us win Division One in the process, then obviously I'm very happy.

"We have signed a few guys this summer, with Michael Maltman from Musselburgh another excellent young prospect in the back row, but what pleases me as much as anything is that we haven't really lost any players. Dave McCall has turned pro but we still got him in the draft and so we might see a bit of him back here this season, and that follows a trend of boys who like it here.

"That's what you set out to do in the club game: provide an environment and atmosphere where players enjoy their rugby, feel they can improve and kick on and, hopefully, win things."

Heriot's did that at the end of last season when they finished strongly to overcome Melrose and claim the Scottish Hydro Cup at Murrayfield. They also managed to finish second in the league, despite not winning as many games as rivals Melrose and Boroughmuir, and their reward for that is a place in the new British and Irish Cup.

McKillop admits concern the cup could affect his first goal – steering Heriot's back to the top of Division One. "I am concerned that the British and Irish Cup could become the big focus of the players, rather than what is our bread and butter of the Scottish Hydro league. I'm also worried that the amateur versus pro games may have a high attrition rate and that we'll lose some players after these games.

"But participation in it is something I'm very excited about for the players. Getting the chance to run out at some of these famous grounds will be fantastic for them, and it will be an exciting challenge for us and Ayr to try and prove that Scottish clubs can hold their own in that environment.

"I don't agree that we will suddenly attract all the best players in Scotland and be perennial winners, as Division One is too competitive for that to happen, but it's up to us to lead the way and hopefully show Scottish representation in the new cup is viable."

Heriot's have beaten Blaydon, Kirkcaldy and Perthshire in warm-up games so far, with neither Scottish side managing a point against McKillop's men, which particularly pleased him. However, he knows there will be a leap in standards when the leagues begin next weekend, which is one reason why he is still having words in the ear of Tam McVie, his stalwart forward whose wife gave birth to their second child last month.

"He is considering stepping down to have more time with his family this year, which I understand as I had a child last month as well, but at the same time, purely from a club point of view, he was one of our best players towards the end of last season and at 34 he has so much invaluable experience that he would be a massive loss to us.

"But, we'll see. I'm very positive about the new season; there's a great feeling around the club. Around Christmas last year I was getting quite concerned about the way things were going and we had a few heart-to-hearts with the players, and John Houston got more involved, but it worked and we finished the season with a great atmosphere at the club, and the cup of course.

"So, although I think it will be very tough this year again, I am confident we can build on what we achieved by maybe going one better this time in the league."

FACTFILE

HERIOT'S

Formed: 1890

Ground: Goldenacre

Colours: Navy and white hoops

Coaches: Bob McKillop, Roddy Deans and John Houston

Captain: Graham Wilson

Players in: Rory Hutton and Graham Hogg (Hawick), Stuart Hogg (Hawick Wanderers), Michael Maltman (Musselburgh) back row, Jason Hill (Stirling County), Pete Saunders (Perthshire) centre back from broken leg, Sam Johnston (Haddington) scrumhalf, Phil O'Connor (Shannon) back five, Marc Teague (Edinburgh).

Players out: Dave McCall (turned pro).

2008-9 finish: 2nd

Prediction: 3rd