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Club scene: GHA look to develop a team fit for the Premiership

The stop-start structure of Scottish club rugby meant there was little league action last weekend but GHA cashed in to register a 34-0 away victory over West of Scotland, which took them to the top of the Scottish Championship League A.

The Giffnock-based club may be a work in progress, according to their coach, Stuart Lang, but there are enough advances being made, on and off the pitch, for them to be positive about the future.

Attitudes have changed at the grassroots, with clubs no longer believing that parachuting in numerous Southern Hemisphere imports constitutes a panacea. Instead – and dwindling finances have helped dictate this development – most Premiership and Championship sides are honing, refining and encouraging their own talent and offering youngsters the chance to step up to the plate.

As director of sport at Hutchesons' Grammar School, Lang appreciates the virtues of unearthing local heroes. His current squad has experience, in the guise of one-time Scotland player, Andy Henderson, and Hefin O'Hare, the former Glasgow Warrior, but the average age of his team is 21 or 22. Level on points with Falkirk, having played one game fewer, GHA aren't simply interested in promotion to the National League.

"There are plenty of ambitious people at the club and our objective, in the longer term, is to get to the Premiership, but, to do that, we know we have to rely on bringing through our own players in big enough numbers," said Lang, who was keen to stress that his labours are being augmented by a past All Black, Gordon MacPherson, and former West of Scotland luminary, John Lonergan. "We have recently set up a junior academy at GHA and the bulk of our lads are teenagers or in their early 20s, so their best days are ahead of them, they are committed to attacking rugby, and we think we have the right ideas.

"You can't downplay the contribution made by Andy and Hefin, though, and they are a testimony to the value of professional rugby. Both have flung themselves into all the club's activities and have helped make the coaches' jobs a wee bit easier.

"They are versatile and flexible guys, who will turn out almost anywhere, and they have been able to pass on their knowledge and experience to our youngsters [these include such promising performers as Grant McDonald, 18, John Brogan, 19, and James Malcolm, the last of whom has gained recognition with Scotland's Under-20s]."

Lang's charges will take a break from league action this weekend when they tackle Ayr in the Scottish Regional Cup and, while that promises to test GHA's callow personnel to the utmost, it is a measure of the Braidholm men's philosophy that they are relishing the chance to lock horns with Kenny Murray's high-flying side.

"We played them down at their place and lost 33-0, but it was a real contest and the only way we can find out whether we are improving is to get involved in these kind of match-ups and keep learning lessons from them," said Lang.

"We have beaten Hillhead/Jordanhill, who are a division above us, in the cup and we have set ourselves targets for where we want to be. The priority is the league, but our aim is to win all our remaining games and pick up bonus points in them. It is achievable, but we also want to go out and show our capabilities against Ayr too."

Glasgow Hawks are pushing for a return to the highest tier, but one suspects that GHA may not be a Lang way behind them.

PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK

Narrow losses would not normally attract plaudits in this column but the fashion in which Stirling County battled with Bedford Blues at Bridgehaugh before losing 24-21 has to be put in context. The English side, second in the second-tier Championship to Newcastle Falcons, had amassed 218 points in their three previous matches in the British & Irish Cup – they scored 87 against County in England – but the Scots were not prepared to be whipping boys again and came close to a famous victory.

TALKING POINT

A number of clubs have complained about the existing domestic structure. They're absolutely right. Time, surely, for the leading teams to take charge of their own affairs and establish a rugby-style SPL competition? Why not?

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