Rugby Union: Hawks heighten a city's profile

charts the remarkable development of a new name in club rugby
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The Independent Online
THERE is a neat symmetry in Glasgow Hawks checking into those famous dressing rooms deep in the bowels of Murrayfield just seven days after the Scottish Claymores.

If Scottish rugby's synthetic side can match their gridiron counterparts in achieving fast- track success, by defeating Kelso in Saturday's Tennents Velvet Scottish Cup final, then a new era could be on the cards in club rugby north of the border.

The Claymores may be struggling in the NFL Europe this season, but in 1996 - only their second after being "created" by NFL merchandisers - more than 40,000 local fans crammed Murrayfield to see Edinburgh's team win the World Bowl. The Hawks' aspirations have soared as high.

A year ago, the club did not exist. Now, following the amalgamation of several struggling Glasgow clubs, the team have barnstormed their way to promotion from the Second Division and believe they may even have the calibre of players to challenge for the First Division title itself next term.

While Kelso represent the traditional in Scottish rugby, the Hawks represent a whole new ball game. Glasgow rugby has been something of a joke for several decades, largely because it has been attached to, and weighed down by, its association with public school roots. Only suburban West of Scotland, who saw their title hopes evaporate last weekend, have upheld the honour of Scotland's largest city by producing international players from the current side right back to Peter Brown in the 1960s.

The rest just pottered along. Then, last summer, Glasgow Academicals and GHK - itself the offspring of a 1980s marriage - merged and have been busy making converts in the leafy west end of Glasgow all season long.

It is not just that Iain Russell's players have romped into the First Division, nor that they chalked up prestigious successes over the French club Toulouse in February, or knocked out the Scottish champions-elect Watsonians in the quarter-final of their cup adventure. It is that they are breathing life into a moribund game weighed down by the past.

Russell, who had spells at Northampton and London Scottish, knows that the Hawks' forebears and many of the present clubs are hampered by an outdated and amateurish attitude. "I know that some football people are having a quiet snigger at the plight of the Scotland national rugby side just now," said the 51-year-old coach. "That is why we require unity rather than the incessant strife. Every club needs to look to the future and preach to the kids and form closer ties with schools so that state schoolchildren can find a route into rugby."

Too often the ties have been of the old-school variety in a city where playground chatter revolves around Rangers and Celtic. Ironically, one of those public schools that gave birth to the Hawks, Kelvinside Academy (the K in GHK), underlined the decline by selling off pitches to Rangers, who are turning the playing fields into a training ground. Such historical significance will scarcely trouble Glenn Metcalfe, the New Zealander who is the jewel in the Hawks' crown. The 25-year-old full-back, along with his fellow countryman Tommy Hayes, has invested pace in attack that could bring the Glasgow team reward against Kelso.

Metcalfe, who played for Scotland A this season and has been watched by Newcastle recently, is one of those 60 or so players expected to be plucked away by the SRU and incorporated, on full-time contracts, into the two new super-districts. If so, he would like to leave the fledgling Hawks with a legacy.

"My short-term aim is to help the Hawks win the cup," he said. "But even without me, I think that within a year, one or two Scottish clubs will have drawn up plans to be self-financing and be capable of mounting a realistic challenge in Europe."