Former Edinburgh and Scotland centre Ben Cairns has overseen an impressive upturn in fortunes since taking over as head coach at Heriot’s ahead of the 2023 Super Series Sprint.

So much so that the Goldenacre outfit now have a chance to pick up their first piece of silverware at this level when they take on Ayrshire Bulls in the competition’s play-off final at Millbrae tonight.

“We’re pretty happy with how things have gone over the last few months, but we also recognise that we haven’t won anything yet,” cautioned Cairns, before acknowledging the progress which has been made.

“We had a tough start to this Sprint campaign, being 24-0 down at half time against Edinburgh A, but we’ve gone unbeaten essentially since then – so it has got better, for sure.

“I think there has been some really good development of the squad generally. We’ve used a lot of different players, brought new players in as well which has been great, and there has consistently been five under-20s in our match-day 23 each week as well, so lots to be positive about.

“In saying all of that, this time last year, I was coach at Stirling when we got to the final of the Sprint, then it fell off a cliff, so I am mindful of that.

“So, we want to go to Millbrae and put our best foot forward tomorrow night, but at the same time it is about building blocks – and I need the guys to remember that we are going to get better from here and push levels further than where we’re at currently.”

According to Cairns, the key to the improvements his team have made lies in a better understanding and buy-in into what is expected of teams in this tier of the Scottish rugby ladder – which was created in 2019 with the aim of providing a rung between the traditional club game and the full-time pro tier consisting of Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors.

“There’s definitely been a big shift from an environmental-cultural point of view,” he explains. “When I came in, the team were really still working with a Tuesday and Thursday night training week, so we’ve now bolstered that with a Monday session, and made sure strength and conditioning is part of our programme rather than on the side.

“So, we’ve asked the guys to commit a lot more, and to be fair to them they’ve all bought into that. I think everyone knew there needed to be a change, and anything we have achieved so far has developed from it being a bit more like a semi-professional environment than it was before.”

With a salary cap of not much more than £125,000 per annum to cover 29-men squads, nobody is going to get rich playing Super6 – so Cairns and his fellow coaches have to be reasonable about what they demand of players.

“I actually think these guys have to be more committed than a full-time rugby player, which sounds daft, but they’ve also got full-time jobs or full-time education, and if they are missing a family event because they are playing rugby on a Friday night, they can’t just shrug and say ‘well, that’s how we pay the mortgage’,” Cairns says.

“So, it’s a real challenge for these guys, and as coaches we can’t be set in stone because guys will just walk. We’ve got to work with each player on a case-by-case basis, and if they’ve got a good reason not to be available then we have to accept that and move on.”

Four years after its controversial inception, the Super Series remains a divisive topic amongst rugby supporters, with its critics arguing that the existence of this protected league made up of teams appointed by Murrayfield sitting just above the traditional club pyramid has a stifling effect on those left on the outside.

It is not his job to wade into that debate, but from a coaching perspective, Cairns can see progress and cause for optimism about the future of Super Series rugby.

“I think, generally speaking, the big positive of this Sprint campaign is how competitive it has been across the board,” he says.

“Apart from the Southern Knights at the bottom of the table, everyone else has been able to beat everyone else, with Boroughmuir Bears beating Ayrshire Bulls demonstrating that.

“And the inclusion of Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors back-up teams added an extra dimension which has been really positive.

“But I also think that there is still a lot of room to grow. There is much more we can do off field to make it more commercial, to bring more money into it, to make it a bit easier for guys to make the commitment we are looking for in order to drive standards.

“But, as a starting point – and I still think it is at a starting point – I would say it has been pretty positive overall.”