Jason Hill is aiming to cap a memorable breakthrough season by helping Heriot’s clinch the Scottish rugby cup for the third time, against Glasgow Hawks, at Cumbernauld tomorrow.
The hard-hitting back row forward finally – and deservedly – made it into the Scottish clubs’ international team against France last month after previous selections were thwarted by injury.
And he knows, too, how an appearance in club rugby’s showpiece occasion can open doors. “I first experienced finals day in the (fourth tier) Plate Final for my local Crieff club in 2006,” says Hill. “We lost out to GHK but my performance seemed to catch the eye of Bob McKillop who was then Stirling County’s coach.
“After a spell at Stirling a move to Edinburgh, where I was studying, meant it was a no-brainer to join up with Bob after he had been recruited by Heriot’s.
“I’ve loved being part of the club and look forward to giving us an edge over Hawks tomorrow after the league provided us with a win apiece.”
The first of these encounters saw Heriot’s scrape through 16-13 at Anniesland. “We were on a roll with six straight wins behind us and got a wee bit complacent,” reflected Hill. “It wasn’t our best display.”
However, when Hawks headed along the M8 for the return in March one of the Premiership’s more bizarre contests unfolded.
“We scored five tries – and lost 31-38,” said Hill. “At half-time we were 7-31 down and looking out of it. However, we rallied to close the gap to five points before conceding an intercept try. Even then we had the last word with a fifth try.”
By all accounts that match was a stunning advert for club rugby and for Heriot’s there was the consolation of cementing their place in next season’s British and Irish Cup as a top-four qualifier.
That competition will offer further experience for the likes of Hill whose rugby interest was fuelled by his dad, a former player with Hereford before moving the family north.
“I couldn’t see myself going anywhere until I had a growth spurt in my mid-teens.
“That contributed to gaining caps for Scotland at under-18 and under-19 level alongside the likes of Matt Scott, Rob Harley and Tom Brown, all subsequent internationalists.
“Unfortunately for me by the time it came to selecting the under-20s a lad by the name of David Denton had appeared on the scene (from Zimbabwe) in my position.
“If an opportunity came up to enter the pro ranks myself I’d grab it but I don’t see any opportunities arising in Scotland.” In fact, a door has been left open for another yeoman forward at Heriot’s, Murray Douglas, in his quest for a contract.
Earlier this week second row Douglas told the Evening News he was considering relocating to Australia in search of a higher level of rugby.
A day later Edinburgh forwards coach Stevie Scott said: “Murray Douglas is a guy we have been watching partly because we have a good conection through Steve Lawrie (ex-Edinburgh hooker now assistant Heriot’s coach). We invited Murray into train. We have made contact and I have personally spoken with him. We wanted to bring him into training and quite rightly his studies were more important at that stage.”
Douglas is due to finish a law apprenticeship in August, and Scott added: “I told Murray to get back in touch when his situation changes and we will have a look at him.”
Meanwhile, if Heriot’s are to succeed against Hawks then much will depend on Hill’s back-row unit which has Edinburgh elite development hooker turning out at flanker while another pro, Mike Maltman, provides cover from the bench.
Says Hill: “Having Mike available on occasions from Scotland sevens really raises the bar. Mike is so good with his linking and tackling that he lifts everybody around him.”
Turner got the nod ahead of Chris Mulligan who is among the stand-by’s and Heriot’s coach Phil Smith says: “A number of tough calls. Chris Mulligan who is probably the hardest done by.
“Hawks start as favourites. They beat us in the league recently and it should feel like a home fixture as they have been able to train on the facility over the last few months as (coach) Jamie Dempsey works there, very handy indeed.”