Super Six or Bust for...Hawks?

Boroughmuir head coach Peter Wright. SNS/Gary Hutchison
Boroughmuir head coach Peter Wright. SNS/Gary Hutchison
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The Super Six franchises will be announced on Tuesday and if Glasgow Hawks don’t get the nod there is a very real prospect of the club ceasing to exist according to long-serving member and current president Kenny Hamilton.

“We have a strong bid including partnerships with Glasgow University, Strathclyde University and the Royal Navy (Scotland),” said Hamilton. “But if our bid was unsuccessful for any reason I think we would have to have the debate about whether there was a place for Hawks to remain a going concern as a community club. It isn’t my decision to take but my personal answer to that question is no, there isn’t.

“We were originally set up to provide a pathway to play elite rugby so if that route is closed to us it would be up to clubs like GHK, West of Scotland, Glasgow Accies and Cartha to fly the flag for Glasgow rugby.”

Hamilton may be making a point to Mark Dodson, or whoever has the final say on the Super Six franchises, but there is no reason to think it an empty threat. Hawks were formed in 1997, out of GHK and Glasgow Accies with West declining to join the party, only as a response to rugby turning professional. As a result Hawks have no roots in the community, a role that is filled by their founder clubs, and no real raison d’etre without Super Six status.

If Hawks don’t get the Glasgow franchise then Scotland’s biggest city probably won’t have a Super Six side because it doesn’t appear that anyone else in Glasgow has applied.

It is possible that Hamilton is overly pessimistic because there are rumours of a Super Eight competition. Several club members were canvassed on that very issue while making their pitches. An extended league may look a lot like Premier One, with the talent spread a bit thin, but it would allow most deserving clubs a franchise; Melrose and Ayr in the south, two Edinburgh franchises plus Currie, Hawks in Glasgow and then two franchises in Caledonia, one based in Stirling, the other in Dundee.

Even if Hawks are awarded a franchise the new entity won’t play matches at Anniesland. Hawks’ contract at the ground, owned by the High School of Glasgow, won’t be extended beyond next season (2018-19) given the inherent problems of a school hosting a professional sports team.

Instead Hawks have come to an agreement with West of Scotland to play at Burnbrae where there is a plastic pitch albeit not the one that is parked in front of the small stand.

Hamilton also insisted that Murrayfield had rowed back from their initial demand to appoint the head coach of every franchise. Under the latest agreement the franchise will put forward its preferred coach and, while Murrayfield has a veto, they will only employ it in extremis… at least in theory.

The coaching side of Super Six is sometimes overlooked in the whole brouhaha but providing a domestic pathway for young coaches into the professional environment is every bit as important as doing the same for the players. Given the choice of an inspirational player or an inspirational coach most clubs would go with the latter.

The Super Six coaching candidates can be effectively bracketed into two groups… “grey beards” and “young bucks”.

There is a lot of talent in both the above sectors and while Murrayfield may favour the younger men, especially if they are already on the payroll, if the franchises do have a say in the matter, that may help one or two of the old guard enjoy an Indian summer. You have to hope so given the vast wealth of experience and expertise within that pool.

Some of the chosen ones have a tough decision to make. Steve Lawrie has given Watsonians a winning edge but he is a full-time teacher at George Watsons. Rob Chrystie has taken Melrose to yet another title but he organises rugby on behalf of the combined Edinburgh Colleges. Hawks’ coach Fin Gillies is a PE teacher at the prestigious High School of Glasgow.

However ambitious, any of them could be forgiven for hesitating before chucking in the day job and signing a two-year contract in a brand new venture whose finances look a little questionable from the off.

Phil Smith has taken Heriot’s to two Premier One titles, he has professional experience with Edinburgh Rugby under Frank Hadden and he coached the club international team to success both home and away.

“The ideal scenario for me would be a two-year sabbatical from the school so I can give it a go, presuming Heriot’s got the franchise, but I haven’t broached the subject with them yet!” said Smith who is head of rugby at Glasgow Academy. “It is a difficult decision because I have two young girls but my wife works so it shouldn’t be a financial disaster.”

Peter Wright is more phlegmatic about his own chances of a Super Six spot while insisting that Boroughmuir’s facilities make their application hard to ignore.

“I could do a good job with a Super Six franchise,” says the former Scotland and British & Irish Lions prop, “but I am probably too outspoken and too controversial for Murrayfield’s liking.”

Can Murrayfield really afford to snub one of the most respected club coaches in Scotland?

We will find out early in January 2019 when the Super Six/Eight coaches will be announced ahead of the September start.