GHA triple their efforts to stay in top flight with vibrant mix of new and old

FIRST, they were two separate former pupil clubs from differing traditions in Glasgow, known as Hutchesons’ and Old Aloysians. Then they joined together in 1990 and became Hutchesons’ Aloysians. Last year came a merger with Glasgow Southern, who used to be Clarkston, and now they are all one club, Glasgow Hutchesons’ Aloysians. Hope you followed that.

Thankfully better known as GHA, the club has one of the largest catchment areas in Scotland, with a virtual monopoly on the south side of Glasgow plus several rugby-playing schools across the city feeding into their ranks.

GHA’s rise up the ranks of Scottish rugby was franked at the end of last season when they were promoted to BT Premiership Division One.

The rapid promotion, following the merger of Glasgow Southern and Hutchesons’ Aloysians just a year ago, surprised many people outside the club, but not their committee, led by the indefatigable tub-thumper for the GHA cause, president Bernard Dunn.

"Back when Hutchesons’ Aloysians were in National League One and moved up to Premiership Three, I think people were surprised with what we did there," said Dunn. "When the merger between Hutchesons’ Aloysians and Glasgow Southern took place, I remember saying that we should be in the top flight of Scottish club rugby and I meant it. Now we are there and I don’t expect us to be playing our rugby anywhere but Premiership One for the foreseeable future.

"Of course we have been strengthening our squad each year, but this will be a big step up in class. Nevertheless, I feel we now have the coaching staff, players and management to make our presence felt. We are looking forward to further improvement under new head coach Davy Wilson, who shared the coaching duties with Gavin Walsh last season. Davy will be assisted by Andy Plastow.

"We also have new players such as Ian Smith, who has come across from Glasgow Hawks, as well as Gavin Blackburn from Stirling County.

"We are also bringing in Ross West, who played in the super-12s for Queensland. He’s a tough-tackling centre and we think he’ll make a big impact on Scottish rugby.

"We will be looking to recruit more players from abroad, but we also want the best of Glasgow rugby talent to come and play at a good ground where there is great coaching and a terrific atmosphere."

The new faces will all be made welcome at Braidholm, but Dunn feels that a particular strength of GHA is the number of people who have already given years of service to the two former clubs and the relatively new merged entity.

"We have guys like John Fitzpatrick, Rory Watson, the Hazelton twins, Martin Dunn and Andy Scott, who joined the club straight from school, and they have stuck with us, growing as we have grown

"But if you want an example of outstanding commitment, then look no further than last year’s captain, Trevor Carmichael, who has been an outstanding stalwart.

"With his chronic, long-term injuries, he could have been forgiven if he chucked it last year, but he played on through the pain barrier in every game and has been at pre-season training once again - he is such an influential player.

"And then you get people like Gavin Walsh, who had retired and was coaching the squad, but because the club needed him, he got his boots out of the cupboard, dusted them down and played on. People like him are the sort of club men that young players look up to and learn the right attitude from."

But for all the undoubted camaraderie at GHA, a question must hang over the Glaswegian side as to whether they will be good enough to make the step up from Division Two and survive more than one season in Division One - acknowledged as the most difficult task in Scottish club rugby.

"We would be happy to finish mid-table and would be disappointed if we were near the relegation zone," said Dunn.

"Last year, we were looking at the likes of Gala and Selkirk and saying there were no easy games in Division Two. Now we are stepping up again and it’s the same story - there are no easy games in this league either. But that’s what builds character and you are never going to improve as a club unless you face bigger challenges each season."

Asked who he felt would win the title, Dunn plumped for the side who wrapped up Division Two by January of last season. "Last year, we were only beaten by one side and that was Watsonians," said Dunn, "but we were also one of only two teams to beat them in the season.Without doubt, Watsonians are a very good side and people should beware them back in the top flight.

"I think we will do well, but I think Watsonians will certainly be challenging for the title, as they have a good set-up and are a well-funded organisation."

Elsewhere in the league, Boroughmuir are yet again on the rebuilding trail - the price of success is to sacrifice your best players to the professional game - but they have done it before and the effect of such player losses on the champions will not be as discomfiting as it will be on Heriot’s, who have seen three difficult-to-replace regulars go up to the professional ranks.

Hawks have a superb group of youngsters who will make an impact this season, but it is questionable if they have the strength in depth of Boroughmuir. Both Melrose and Hawick are also rebuilding with new coaching teams in place, and it is hard to see Stirling County, Ayr or Peebles being in the top three or four. Dunn’s prediction that Watsonians will be up there thus begins to looks more sensibl - and GHA themselves may surprise everybody.

Prediction: 1. Boroughmuir; 2. Watsonians; 3. Glasgow Hawks. Relegation: Peebles.