West of Scotland's 'grow your own' rugby approach yields a rich harvest

It’s looking good in the garden of Burnbrae as West of Scotland RFC harvests the rewards of its ‘grow your own’ policy.

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West of Scotland's U18 squad with the West Region Youth silverware (picture by John Cameron)

The club’s U18 squad celebrated victory recently in the West Region Youth Cup final – just four weeks after their last-gasp loss in the National Final at Murrayfield.And, with solid structures in place, a flourishing interest in the game at different age levels and a comprehensive programme, inspired by ex-head of rugby development Millan Browne, the Milngavie club is once more establishing itself as a top sporting asset to the community.

Back in March, the U18s narrowly lost to Boroughmuir on the national stage and, around a month later, found themselves in another final – the West Region Youth Cup, where they had home advantage against Ayr.

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The despair of Murrayfield was to turn to delight, however, as the Burnbrae lads won 45-8.

West prop Callum Godber rounds off the scoring against Ayr (picture by John Cameron)

“They were obviously disappointed to come so close (at Murrayfield) but they are a fairly resilient bunch and they carried on training thought the period between the national final and now,” said club president Donald Malone. “They were in good fettle, really up for it, to actually get on the right side of the win this time. So, while disappointed, they parked that and good on them – they focused on this particular final which they did with some aplomb.”

He added: “We had played Ayr in league matches at the beginning of the season and they were fairly tight affairs. So you adjust and don’t take anything for granted – and we didn’t. We obviously went in with confidence, although we weren’t over-confident. We knew If we performed on the day, we would have a fair chance of winning and that's how it worked out.”

Malone said Millan Browne had put “many building blocks in place” after his appointment in 2015 in the playing and coaching aspects. “We run a programme for the kids as well as coaching, strength and conditioning, psychology and nutrition worksops – only at a very small, low level but to introduce them to different facets of rugby. Not just about throwing the ball around but to give them the best chance and make them better people. As a club, we are starting to reap the benefits of that – we have this ‘grow your own’ route.”

Other clubs adopted other ways of putting their team together, which invariably involved a lot of money, said Malone.

“We have gone down this ‘grow your own’ route and our investment is in the youth – that is bearing fruit now.”

West could put two male adults teams out every week and were building numbers towards a third, he added. A number of youth players would remain at U18 level for a while, with a new season beckoning in the National Boys Conference, and they had already done remarkably well to reach two finals.

Some would make the step up to senior rugby and the development programme at Burnbrae was a good vehicle to help them make the transition, said Malone.

“Our adult teams, male and female, have done pretty well this year, the U15s won the West Shield against Ardrossan and we have huge numbers in mini rugby so, as a club, we are at the centre of the community,” he added.

“There are plenty of other great sports clubs in the area but we are doing our bit to provide a vehicle for kids and adults who want to play a bit of sport.”

In the West Region final, West’s U18s opened the scoring after 13 minutes with a try from Pat Spence, while Charlie Greaves posted the first of five conversions.Further scores before half time from Harris Mitchell and Finn Carden ensured West led 19-5 at the break.Ayr converted a penalty straight after the interval to make it 19-8 but tries from Brodie Buchanan, Carden and Callum Godber eased the nerves. With virtually the final play of the game, Godber again touched down in the corner after a superb passage of play involving half the team.