HERIOT’S coach Phil Smith believes the Goldenacre men will benefit from an infusion of new blood as they bid to improve on last year’s seventh-place finish in the RBS Premiership.
His side will kick off the new campaign with a trip to face Melrose, a reprise of the fixture that kick-started the Heriot’s campaign last season after defeats on the opening two weekends. And there are grounds for optimism, according to Smith, who will again be assisted by international hooker Steve Lawrie, with the promotion of two key men to the professional rank adding to the upbeat mood at Goldenacre.
“The club are pretty happy with the way last season went,” he said. “It was a bit of a struggle the year before and we didn’t really recruit last summer. There was a feeling that there was no avenue to improve at this club, but we’ve now had Fraser Brown win a cap and both him and Kevin Bryce earn professional contracts.”
While the loss of that duo will be keenly felt over the coming months – albeit Bryce is among the players linked to the Goldenacre outfit as a result of the pro team draft – Smith believes their elevation underlines the credibility of the club as a route into the higher echelons of the game.
“I am delighted for them,” he continued. “I see bringing these guys on as part of our role within the game. If we can help Scottish players to come through, we can enable Scottish Rugby to avoid throwing money down the river for ordinary players who are brought in and are paid a lot.”
Among those he expects to make a mark are back rower Alex Henderson, who has moved across the city from relegated Boroughmuir in a bid to advance his career, and former Aberdeen Grammar lock Murray Douglas, who is now working in the Capital.
“They bring a different edge and different abilities,” said Smith. “They are both steely characters.”
In addition, Jack Turley returns from an injury that forced him to miss all but three games last season. A try in each of those encounters spoke eloquently of the Kiwi’s potential value and Smith has entrusted the 24-year-old with the captaincy. Turley takes over from Graham Wilson, who has led the side for four seasons but will be focusing on a permanent move to stand-off – a position in which he looked comfortable when deployed there last season.
Smith has high expectations of Turley. “Having him back is almost like having a new player,” said the coach. Asked about the decision to switch the leadership, he added: “Jack brings a different focus, a different way of being in charge and a change of voice.”
Smith is hopeful that a physical test in Saturday’s win over Tynedale will ensure his men travel to the Borders in fine fettle. And although the promoted sides, Hawick and Glasgow Hawks, are unknown quantities, and the impact of recruitment at other clubs may also take time to unfold, he expects another competitive title race.
That, he believes, should produce a product that lures spectators, and he is confident that the open style he is seeking to play will make Goldenacre a Saturday afternoon venue of choice for neutrals in the city. A series of initiatives driven by club legend Iain Milne should also help attract supporters in greater numbers.
Milne was the catalyst for last season’s “Fill the Stand” day, and the former international prop is again bringing his enthusiasm to support efforts aimed at promoting club rugby.
“We had 2500 people at that game,” said Smith. “We beat Boroughmuir and the boys got a real buzz from it. They definitely noticed the effect of such a big crowd. There are loads of things like that going on this season.”
However, his focus is on the playing side, where he has no doubt about the quality. “The brand of rugby that all the teams played last season made it great to watch and I’m sure that encouraged more people to come and watch,” he added. “Hopefully that will continue and as long as we are winning, I will be happy.”