Gregor Townsend’s side has set a new bar for the pro game in Scotland and Ross Miller, the Hawks back row and skipper, admitted there was a desire at Old Anniesland to prove the city has strong foundations below the pro tier and regenerate the excitement that followed the team’s run of three championship titles a decade ago.
Hawks bounced straight back up from the National League last season with a convincing flourish, despite a small army of leading players heading off to help Ayr’s back-to-back top league title success. It is a common occurrence in the game, players departing relegated clubs to maintain their push for pro and national honours.
Once gone they rarely return, but Hawks have recruited from all the airts and, under coaches Jamie Dempsey and Jimmy Sinclair, Miller insists that they are firmly focused not only on staying among the elite but challenging for silverware again, starting with an inter-city battle at Edinburgh Accies tomorrow.
“I wouldn’t say it was an embarrassment as such being relegated, but it was a big knock to our confidence,” said Miller.
“There were a number of reasons for it, including injuries to key players, others leaving, and getting on a bad run of defeats, but we knew there was a good chance of us bouncing straight back if we got the infrastructure in place again.
“We now have to stay up. Scottish club rugby has to have a presence in the biggest city in the country. Edinburgh has a few clubs at the top, the Warriors are doing great things for rugby in the west, and Ayr’s success has been great, but our club has to be in the top division to provide a real focus for rugby in the city.”
The Scotland sevens cap insisted that the door was open to the departed to return, but he is happy with his squad and looking forward to a new era a decade on from the glory days.
He said: “I believe each player should try to play at the highest level you can and guys go to improve their international chances, so there was no animosity when the guys left, and we’re all still friends. Maybe they’ll find the journeys down to Ayr three times a week tough and come back but, as the biggest club in Glasgow, we can always source new players and we’ve done well this summer in bolstering the squad for the new season.”
There has been plenty of excitement generated by new faces, notably Polish openside flanker Mateusz Bartoszek, as impressive on the field as he has been funny off it.
“He is just a brute of a rugby player who always wants the ball,” said Miller, “but he only speaks Polish and French, so the language barrier has been a bit funny. Mateusz has learned a lot of his English from The Simpsons and Family Guy, so ‘eat my shorts’ has been heard quite a bit in pre-season!”
Ally Maclay is also back from Hong Kong Scottish, fresh from winning his first caps for Hong Kong, and Johnnie Beattie’s cousin Robert is one of a handful of promising youngsters. Another is 17-year-old tighthead prop Zander Fagerson, who Miller terms a “monster” in the gym.
“Our under-18s had a good season and many of them are stepping up, and we have a lot of new boys, so it might take a while to bed in, and we know this league is incredibly tight, you can’t just win a few games and be safe mid-table these days. You’ve got to fight all season.
“But we believe we have the firepower to challenge for the league and so we’re confident going into this weekend’s start.”