Glasgow Warriors led the way for Scottish rugby last season securing the PRO12 trophy for the first time after a memorable 31-13 victory over Munster in final.
Meanwhile Edinburgh Rugby had a European season to savour making it to the final of the European Rugby Challenge Cup, while Heriot’s won the battle for supremacy in Scottish club rugby beating Melrose in April’s inaugural Grand Final of the BT Premiership.
Expectations are high for the 2015/2016 season and with the added bonus of the Rugby World Cup, now just over three weeks away, Scottish rugby fans are in for a treat over the next 10 months.
We caught up with Colin Gregor – recently retired after a career featuring over a 100 games for the Glasgow Warriors and as a hugely successful player for Scotland 7s scoring over 1000 points during 58 appearances making him Scotland’s most capped player – for his thoughts on the World Cup, not to mention the domestic season ahead …
Sport on Spec: Colin, where to start … how about we get the easy question out of the way first! What’s your prediction for how far Scotland can progress in the Rugby World Cup?
Colin Gregor: Ha ha, a nice easy start. I think reaching the quarter-final stage would represent an achievement for this side. We have a young team that will look to make a statement at the next World Cup in Japan. Having said that, I think they will be too strong for Samoa and will qualify for the quarters behind South Africa.
Q) Who do you expect to be Scotland’s most influential players, and do you have a ‘one/s to watch’ for us among the younger players in the Scottish squad?
Finn Russell is a quality fly-half. He gives the impression of having so much time on the ball, a trait all top fly-halves share. I also really like Henry Pyrgos at scrum-half and it’s great to see him given the captaincy in the warm-up Test matches.
With those two at half-back, Scotland should be able to play a fast tempo game which suits us. There are a number of talented centres who will thrive off quick ball. Whoever is picked out of the Glasgow quartet – Bennett, Dunbar, Horne and Vernon – has the potential to be dangerous with ball in hand.
Q) The tournament is a fantastic showpiece for the greatest players in the world. Putting home loyalties to one side for a moment, which teams/players are you most looking forward to watching?
If Fiji get a couple of dry days for their games I think they could cause an upset or two, even in the Pool A ‘Group of Death’. They are always an exciting team to watch.
On an individual level I think Australian Matt Giteau is a quality rugby player, so it’s great to see how he will go back in the Wallaby jersey. Also as my mum is Welsh I will be excited to see how they go in that notoriously difficult Pool!
Q) Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby took their games and Scottish club rugby to new heights last season. What can we expect from them this season?
It will be tough for Glasgow as they have lost a few big players but they have a great squad and an incredible team spirit and work ethic. I expect them to be in the Guinness PRO12 top four again this season. It then comes down to them making a statement in Europe in the Champions Cup. Not easy in a group that contains the powerhouse of Northampton and a new look Racing Metro Paris with some star signings in their squad. It would be foolish to write off the Scarlets too as they can easily cause a shock if you don’t show them respect.
As for Edinburgh, I hope they show a bit more ambition with their play. Matches they won last year were built around the forward pack. Now that’s competitive it’s a season to give a few younger guys a shot, in particular their exciting backs, and let them express themselves. Glasgow have been good at this and Edinburgh need to trust that the system they have is providing players that are good enough. A focus on young Scots would also help develop the identity of the club and hopefully bring in a few supporters.
Q) Heriot’s, Ayr, Currie and Melrose were the four sides who made it through to the last four of the BT Premiership play-offs last season, with Boroughmuir winning the BT Cup. Do you see those sides as the main contenders for this year’s silverware, and are there any other sides who could be in the mix?
Heriot’s were worthy winners last season and it was good to see them play an open brand of rugby as they became champions. Ayr may well be even more competitive this year now that their young coaches have had a full season under their belts. And it will be interesting to see how newly-promoted Selkirk perform – they had an unbeaten season last year and look to have kept their squad almost entirely intact. Gala would probably be the other team to throw in to that mix as one to watch – and as I’ve started coaching at Glasgow Hawks I would like to see them up there too!!
Q) The women’s team had a tough time in the 2015 Six Nations. How do you see them faring during the 2016 season?
I think it is a long term project for the women. They need to try and get more women playing the game to widen the playing base. However having such an experienced coach in Shade Munro coming in should give them a lift. It may be tricky to win any games again, however a more competitive showing is definitely possible.
Q) The women’s game is growing in popularity in Scotland with the BT Women’s Premier League leading the way. Colin, how do you see the women’s game evolving over the next few years?
Hopefully it will continue to grow. As I just mentioned the main challenge is widening the playing base. However if there is a more attractive competition at the top then that may encourage women to either take up the game or take it a little more seriously. Worldwide it is developing so Scotland need to make strides here. Murrayfield Wanderers
have always been the top women’s team so it would be good to see a couple of other sides really challenging them. However it is positive that there is representation from across Scotland and hopefully this will develop to a couple of sides from each of the regions.
Q) Turning to Rugby Sevens, it was disappointing to hear that Scotstoun will not be hosting the Emirates Airline Glasgow 7s next year as part of the HSBC Sevens World Series. But on a more positive note, great to hear the Scottish Rugby Union will continue to fund the national team so that they can compete. How do you see the next year panning out re both the 2015/2016 World Series as well as the Olympics in Rio next year when Rugby Sevens will be included for the first time?
It will be a fascinating season. It is a real shame that Glasgow has lost its leg as it was beginning to build in to a good event. The one thing that has been missing from the Glasgow 7s is glorious sunshine but that’s outwith anybody’s control!
The HSBC World Series will still be an excellent spectacle. Now there are 10 tournaments in a shorter space of time it will be incredibly demanding. I expect teams will have to use more players’ to make sure player’s peak for the Olympics as that will be the priority. Yet it will be interesting to watch how the World Series unfolds. This is down to two reasons- firstly new locations that will undoubtedly attract big crowds. Although I think Glasgow would attract more than Paris will! Secondly, the potential player’s involved will increase the public awareness of it. Sonny Bill Williams and Quade Cooper being just two of the “A-list” names rumoured to be turning to 7s for a year. But it’s not easy to jump straight in to 7s so they may take a tournament or two to adjust.
Other areas to watch out for:
• the continued improvement of the USA. Will they be genuine medal contenders in Rio?
• How many outstanding new players will Fiji unearth this year?
• Will Samoa sort themselves out and return to being a competitive side?
• The World Repechage tournament- the final place for Rio will be decided in a winner takes all tournament. Date to be confirmed but likely to be June. This will include Canada, Kenya, either Australia or Samoa, Russia. And interestingly Ireland who qualified through the European Repechage. Will they shock everybody and make it to Rio?
Q) With the advent of the Legacy 7s Series to compliment the King of the Sevens, there’s an increasing amount of top-class domestic 7s action to enjoy between April and June. Who are the teams you expect to impress during the season ahead?
Traditionally certain clubs have placed greater emphasis on 7s than others. This may depend on how their 15-a-side season goes and whether they are involved in play-offs, cup finals etc. However I expect Melrose and Gala from the top flight to be competitive. Below that, Watsonians, Howe of Fife and Jed-Forest will compete for tournament wins.
It’s great to see such opportunity for young guys to play 7s. Hopefully in the coming year or two there will become an obvious route from here to the national 7s team. The ‘GB7s’ gives some of these guys an opportunity to perform in ain invitational side. It would be good if the SRU give a little more investment to the 7s programme so that some of the top performers in domestic tournaments, or the GB7s Series, are given the opportunity to train with the national squad.
Q) You’ve recently announced you’ve hung up your boots Colin. Congratulations on a stellar rugby career! When you look back on it, what are your favourite moments? And looking to the future what does the next chapter of your career have in store?
In terms of overall experience, definitely the Commonwealth Games at Ibrox. That atmosphere was like no other, it still gives me goosebumps thinking about it. On the pitch, beating England at the Hong Kong 7s a few years ago was pretty special. And it was nice to beat England at a packed Twickenham this season too. Finally, the first time you run out in the Scotland jersey tends to be pretty special. Doing that at Hong Kong for me was amazing; and a huge honour.
I am now doing some specialist skills coaching, running coaching camps and a little coaching with Glasgow Hawks. Away from rugby I am developing workshops and seminars on leadership, teamwork, resilience and other areas. This will help improve performance, develop leadership and hopefully give individuals, and teams, a wider skill set.
So there you have it … all to play for with Scotland in the World Cup followed by plenty of top-class rugby to savour throughout the 2015/2016 season!
We look forward to previewing this season’s rugby action via our Events! page. And to ensure you don’t miss a moment make sure you subscribe (for free!) to our weekly newsletter direct to your inbox, containing a heads up for rugby not to mention other great spectator sport taking place in your area. And many thanks to Colin for giving us the benefit of his expert insight. You can follow Colin on Twitter @colingregor to hear his thoughts on the season as it unfolds.
Main photo: Scottish Rugby/SNS