BMF BLOG - Six Nations Special
By Gary Heatly
The Bill McLaren Foundation Correspondent
Gary has had a love for both rugby and writing for as far back as he can remember.
Having cut his teeth in the ‘real world’ of journalism at the Midlothian Advertiser local newspaper for a couple of years between 2005 and 2007, he has since been kept busy covering sport, mainly rugby.
He was a member of the editorial team at SCRUM Magazine for 11 years until recently and now provides regular rugby content to various national and local newspapers, magazines and websites via his company GH Media as well as hosting a podcast.
BMF BLOG - February 2019
Blair’s up for the French challenge
By Gary Heatly
Scotland back three man Blair Kinghorn is ready to step in at full-back in Paris this weekend if required as the Six Nations resumes.
With Stuart Hogg’s recovery from that shoulder problem still ongoing, Kinghorn may well have to fill the 15 jersey in the Stade de France.
And he feels he has bounced back well after being dropped for the Ireland clash in round two despite a hat-trick from the wing against Italy in rond one.
“You can’t really beat yourself up, that’s just the way it is sometimes,” he admitted.
“If you sit in a slump for too long it’s not really going to help your development in any way. Obviously you can be frustrated with some selections, but you’ve just got to pick yourself up, carry on and prepare the best way you can.
“If I’d been in a slump sitting on the bench thinking I should have been on the park then when Hoggy went down after 15 minutes I wouldn’t have been in the zone. You’ve just got to be switched on the whole time. If you just do your job then when it comes to it you’ll be fine.”
Meanwhile, the 22-year-old Edinburgh Rugby man admits the team’s defence has simply not been up to the mark so far during the tournament - and they know it needs to improve rapidly ahead of travelling the French test.
For the first 70 minutes of this year’s championship Gregor Townsend’s men had shipped just three points, but in the last 90 minutes of play they have conceded six tries.
The three by Italy in round one came in a 10 minute spell when Scotland just switched off while the ease with which Jacob Stockdale burst through the middle to score Ireland’s first try in round two was a real concern for everyone north of the border.
When Stockdale scored his try at BT Murrayfield for Ireland in the 16th minute of the 22-13 victory, Kinghorn had just replaced the injured Hogg.
“The boys were really frustrated after the Ireland game, the three tries we let in were all preventable,” Kinghorn said.
“I think my positioning was fine [for Stockdale’s try], that’s the way we set up, the defence coach [Matt Taylor] hasn’t pulled me up on it yet. It was a well-planned set move from them, a double cut inside and then he had enough pace to run straight down the middle.
“We know we have it in us though [to defend well] and to win in France would be massive. Our away record isn’t the best and we know that, so if we really want to put ourselves up there and be in contention for winning the Six Nations and moving ourselves up in the world rankings then we need to go to tough places like Paris and put in a performance that gets a result.
“France will be disappointed themselves with the way they’ve performed since that first half against Wales when they were excellent - and they definitely won’t be happy with the way they played against England.
“They’ll have a tough week in training and will come out firing so it’ll be a really physical Test match.”
Photo credit: David Gibson @ PHOTOSPORT
BMF BLOG - Six Nations Special
By Gary Heatly
Last year Finn Russell threw the pass of the Six Nations when his pinpoint effort set Scotland up for a try against England - and on the eve of the 2019 tournament the stand-off is feeling confident that he can help unlock stiffening defences with such tricks again.
Few will forget the looping, precision pass within his own half that just evaded the jumping Jonathan Joseph and went straight into centre Huw Jones’ bread basket.
Jones was eventually hauled down, but - with the visiting defence stretched in Edinburgh - Scotland recycled the ball and scored through winger Sean Maitland.
It was the Saracens’ man’s try, but it was made by Russell and it helped Scotland to a famous 25-13 triumph.
The 26-year-old former Glasgow Warriors man has never lacked self confidence, but he believes the move to France with Racing 92 that he made last summer has left him feeling “freshened up” ahead of a 2019 competition that just looks too tight to call.
On Saturday afternoon, Scotland host Italy in their opener at BT Murrayfield - and although the stand-off knows the visitors will be a tough nut to crack he wants his side to play with tempo and get their campaign off to a solid start.
There are definitely things I can bring across from France [that can help the Scotland team],” Russell said at Scotland’s training base on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
“One thing I’m driving for is for the boys to have more confidence in going outside [defenders] when we go wide.
“It is hard against blitz defences but, playing in the Top 14, you get that every week - and [at Racing] we’ve managed to get [on the] outside quite a lot.
“I’m trying get the boys to do that, to back themselves to get on the outside instead of playing a one out direct style.
“There are boys in every [club] team who can bring something into the Scotland side.
“For me, it might be having a chat with the 13, saying ‘we might do this’. Or talking to the wingers, explaining to them ‘that [at Racing] Simon Zebo hangs in this position, so these are the spaces I’m looking for’.
“Tommy [Seymour] has been asking me questions about what gaps I’m looking for with the wingers. Zebo runs it well, so Tommy is looking at that. They’re just small conversations.
“It may not be anything big you bring in, just small things that may be working for me in France and I am bringing back [to the Scotland set-up].
“I guess, when I first came into Glasgow, it was all fresh, all new.
“So it’s not so much learning anything new [in France], just going back to where I was a few years ago when I was coming into the team at Glasgow and Scotland. I’m so happy.
“I’m loving life over in Paris, and that’s one of the things that breeds confidence. I know I’m playing good rugby over there and that means I can back myself. When I come back, it feels different, but I feel fresher mentally.
“The move has freshened everything up and I am excited ahead of the Six Nations.”
The Scotland and Italy squads are both set to be named on Thursday afternoon for the Six Nations opener.
Photo credit: Rugby People
BMF BLOG - January 2019
Opportunity knocks for trio
By Gary Heatly
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has challenged the three uncapped hookers named in his Guinness Six Nations squad to show him why they deserve to be the one who earns a place in the matchday 23 for the opener against Italy on February 2.
Barring injury, Edinburgh Rugby’s Stuart McInally will start the match against Conor O’Shea’s men at BT Murrayfield, but with Fraser Brown and George Turner both injured and Ross Ford not recalled the number 16 jersey is set to be worn by a newcomer.
The three new faces named by Townsend in a 39 man squad are Glasgow Warriors’ Grant Stewart, 23, Leicester Tigers’ Jake Kerr, 22, and 28-year-old Edinburgh man David Cherry.
Warriors’ duo Brown and Turner may yet make it back for the second part of the showpiece tournament - but for now a new boy will be given a chance against Italy and Ireland the following week.
“It's an opportunity for them,” Townsend said.
“We are involving players that are playing well for their clubs and it will be exciting to work with them and see which one makes that squad for Italy.
“Grant came on tour [last summer] and did come into the squad during November but he has not been involved in a matchday squad as yet.
“So all three are coming in having had no experience. Grant and David maybe have an advantage is that they play alongside players that are playing international rugby for Scotland at their clubs.
“So whether that's the second-row they are throwing to on a daily basis or the props they are working with at scrum time it is helpful while the way Glasgow and Edinburgh play has a lot of similarities to what we'll be doing.
“With Jake, the pleasing thing is that he's earned the right to start with a big club with strong competition for the jersey.
“He works very hard, he's a fast learner. We've been impressed with what we've seen on the field, but also the feedback we've had from players and coaches at Leicester.
“We’ll get to know much more about all three once we get to work with them in the coming weeks.
“They are three athletes. Grant is one of the quickest forwards at Glasgow, Dave is one of the quickest forwards at Edinburgh while Jake Kerr’s dad was a winger and his brother is a really good athlete, so he has a fantastic engine. That’s a big positive.”
“One of them is going to be involved against Italy.”
Photo credit: David Gibson FOTOSPORT
Scotland squad for the 2019 Guinness Six Nations:
Forwards: Alex Allan, Adam Ashe, Simon Berghan, Jamie Bhatti, David Cherry, Allan Dell, Grant Gilchrist, Gary Graham, Jonny Gray, John Hardie, Jake Kerr, Stuart McInally, Willem Nel, D’Arcy Rae, Jamie Ritchie, Sam Skinner, Grant Stewart, Josh Strauss, Tim Swinson, Ben Toolis, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson.
Backs: Chris Dean, Darcy Graham, Nick Grigg, Sam Johnson, Chris Harris, Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg, George Horne, Pete Horne, Huw Jones, Lee Jones, Blair Kinghorn, Greig Laidlaw (C), Sean Maitland, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour.
Going the extra mile: school rugby players give everything to make it to BT Murrayfield
By Gary Heatly
Photo credit: Allan Wright
Oban High Schools -under 16s
Bill McLaren was passionate about getting youngsters playing rugby in schools - and this latest story would have seen him smiling from ear to ear.
On Wednesday the Scottish Schools boys’ finals day takes place at BT Murrayfield - and there is no doubt that the under-16 teams from South Argyll Schools and Oban High School have gone the extra mile - literally - to make it to the big day.
Both teams will play on the back pitches at the famous national stadium in Edinburgh at 2pm when they take on The Royal High School and Galashiels Academy in the Bowl and Plate finals respectively.
In all seven finals will be played on the day - four at the younger age group and three at the older age group - with the Cup finals being played on the main pitch within the stadium at 6pm and then 7.45pm.
It is great to see a spread of teams from all across the country making it to the showpiece occasion, but it is especially heart-warming to hear the lengths that some of the South Argyll Schools team have gone to make it to this day.
“The South Argyll Schools under-16 team is made up of players from Lochgilphead High, Islay High, Campbeltown Grammar and Tarbert Academy,” local rugby development officer Allan Wright told TRU.
“The bulk of the team come from, Cambeltown and Tarbet, but four boys from Islay have stayed overnight, spent hours travelling and taken early morning ferries to make sure they have been available for every tie to get to this point.
“Their families have probably also spent hundreds of pounds to make it happen and on Sunday just there we had a training session in Lochgilphead which meant they left Islay early in the morning and did not get home until about 8pm.
“Due to the lay out of things here, even if we have a home game in Cambeltown the lads from Lochgilphead have to travel an hour, the Islay contingent travel half an hour after a two and a half hour ferry and I need to get there from Oban so we are all making sacrifices to make the team work.
“For the final everyone will be travelling down in force and with the Oban High School team - which includes some players Tobermory High who also clock up some miles - also there for this showpiece occasion for schools rugby it gives us a great platform to showcase the sport and its growth in Argyll & Bute.
“Shinty is the big sport up with us, but I think these knock-out runs have given rugby a boost and I have been very impressed.
“Also on Wednesday we will see Scottish Rugby president Dee Bradbury who is from Oban and while we are hoping that Scotland international Magnus Bradbury [Dee’s son who came through the ranks at Oban] will also be there and that will give the boys some inspiration.
“Both teams will face tough finals, but they are hard workers who will give everything and it should be a great day for the South Argyll Schools and Oban High School.”
After battling hard, but losing out in the Cup and the Plate, South Argyll Schools earned a bye in round one of the Bowl against Granton Grammar School.
In the last eight they defeated St Thomas Aquinas from Glasgow 47-7.
After a stuffy start, South Argyll got on the scoreboard late in the first half with a Jamie Blair try followed by another quick score from Jake Gillespie.
The home side played outstandingly well in the second half with Gillespie securing a hat-trick of tries in what ended up as a comfortable win.
In the semis, they travelled to Eastwood Academy in Glasgow and just edged them out 24-22.
Euan MacArthur, Kyle Colville (2) and Aaron McAlister scored their tries in a 24-22 victory.
Meanwhile, Oban High School beat St Thomas Aquinas in round one of the Cup before losing out 43-26 to Earlston High School in round two.
After some byes, Oban then faced Ardrossan Schools at home in the Plate semi.
With 50-60mph winds and torrential rain forecast it was never going to be a straightforward plan for two sides involving both players from the Isle of Mull and the Isle of Arran.
Despite the weather conditions the underfoot playing conditions at Gencruitten were suitable for the game. Even with the rain and wind both sides worked hard against the elements to produce an an entertaining game of rugby.
Kenni Gray and Naithan McCulloch both scored two tries apiece for Oban in a 24-5 victory.
And that sealed their second consecutive finals day appearance after last year’s narrow loss in the Bowl final to Auchinleck Academy.
Photo credit: Allan Wright
South Argyll Schools -under 16s
BMF BLOG - October 2018
Mind over matter:
Diminutive Darcy is determined to make it to the very top
By Gary Heatly
We all remember just how much delight Bill McLaren took in watching players who could light up a game of rugby and do something out of the ordinary with the ball in hand like David Campese.
Well Bill, who would have turned 95 on Tuesday if he was still with us, will now be watching on from above and taking delight in seeing a youngster from his beloved Hawick starting to get Scottish fans’ out of their seats with excitement.
Darcy Graham was invited along to next week’s Scotland training camp on Wednesday by Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, clearing seeing him as a very good talent.
When winger Darcy signed for pro side Edinburgh Rugby from the Greens back in the summer of 2017 then acting head coach Duncan Hodge said he was “one of the most exciting prospects in Scottish rugby”.
He burst onto the Scotland under-20 scene during the 2016 Nations campaign and played his part as the age-grade outfit defeated England in their opening match.
As a result of that solid display he kept his place for the rest of the tournament and then was named in the squad for the World Championships in England that summer.
He started the opening pool match against Australia and helped the side to another victory with an absolute cracker of a try, taking the ball on a great angle and running in for the score from 50 metres out.
The former Hawick High School pupil was unfortunately injured later in the same game and missed the rest of the tournament.
However, he bounced back and is now showing a wider audience what he can do for Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh team.
For years Wales and British & Irish Lions winger Shane Williams was constantly asked about his size - or lack of it - and used to reply: “just remember, it's the size of the smile that counts”.
The five foot seven inch tall flyer also answered his critics by scoring tries by the barrowload at all levels.
Darcy, the latest talent to come out of the Hawick factory and who is of similar stature to Shane, is now in his second season as a full-time pro.
And having had a taste of top level action and played brilliantly for the Scotland Sevens team last term he is now keen to push on.
A quad injury - he tore it twice - during pre-season held him back a few weeks, but he has started the last two Edinburgh matches against the Cheetahs and then Montpellier on the wing.
Ahead of Saturday’s crucial second pool five Heineken’s Champions Cup match against Toulon at BT Murrayfield the 21-year-old said: “I want to prove a point that there is still room for these small boys in the game.
“You have to go out and play each game as it comes and just enjoy the experience. It is kind of difficult [going up against bigger players], technique comes into it a lot as these big boys run flat out and it is very hard to stop them, so you just get there and get your body in front of them.
“Sometimes I have heard people saying ‘oh he will be too small’ and ‘his defence will be weak’, but I just go out and try and do well. Defending has been the main thing I have been working on of late, trying to get more dominant in tackles, trying to get off the line quickly.
“I came into Edinburgh in my first year and I was 77 kilos and I am now 84 so it is fair bit of weight to put on in just over a year.
“When I did my quad it was good because I could get into the gym for two sessions a day and build up my strength, it was brutal for four or five weeks, but really worth it.
“It has helped me with carrying, getting over the gain line and breaking tackles. It has not slowed me down, I am feeling really sharp now.
“You can do as many ups and downs as you want on the back pitches, but real fitness only comes right back with games.
“I have made no secret about it, my dream is to play for Scotland and that is what I am always striving for.”
Photo credit: Scottish Rugby/SNS