HAMILTON BURR arrived at Stirling County just over a year ago as an almost complete unknown to the wider rugby community outside his native north east.
A product of the thriving Aberdeen Wanderers youth section, he played for Gordonstoun school, then spent a year in Australia, before returning home for a season with Aberdeen Grammar in National League One.
That year [2015-16] he played a few games for the Caledonia Academy in a four-way regional competition against Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Borders & East Lothian Academies, and made it into the Scotland Under-20s extended training squad ahead of their 2016 Six Nations campaign – but the lack of top flight options in his home town meant that he needed to head south in order to take the next step on his rugby journey.
“It was purely a rugby decision,” confirms the 21-year-old. “Stirling approached me and I was more than happy to come down and give it a shot. It seems to have paid off.”
“As a northern boy moving down, it was a big step, but Stirling helped me settle in quickly and I had quite a successful season. It was certainly a bit of a step up.”
Consistency was an issue for County last term but Burr was a beacon of reliability in the engine-room, and ended up being named the club’s player of the year at the end of the campaign. He was involved in every one of the team’s league matches, starting 16 out of 18, and threw himself head first into a life at Bridgehaugh.
“I studied for an HND in coaching at New College Lanarkshire, and in my spare time I coached quite a bit with the Stirling County Academy, which is up and coming at the moment,” he explains.
“Stirling are like a blueprint for other clubs in Scotland in terms of their academy and youth set-up. The youth section at Aberdeen Wanderers where I started out is brilliant at getting people involved in rugby, but the scale of what is going on at Stirling in attracting more and more players every year is on a different level – which has a lot to do with the work they are doing in local schools,” he continues.
“Then, when they get to S2, the club is identifying the players who really want to push on and by the time they are 18 they will have been in our academy for six years. I was watching the 15-year-olds the other day and they are really fit and strong, and their skill sets are so high.”
“The likes of Logan Trotter have taken to Premiership rugby like a duck to water, and he got his Scotland Under-20 cap when he was still only 18, which is a testament to the great work Stirling are doing to prepare young players for taking the step into the senior game.
“It’s a fantastic family environment to be introduced into and straight away I was made to feel a part of the club.”
While Burr was busy making friends in Stirling, his performances on the pitch were also being noted and admired from further afield.
“It was kind of out the blue. I wasn’t in the academy set-up in Caledonia but because I was on their radar Glasgow Warriors decided to have a look. So they took me in for training last November because they were short of players and it went from there,” he says.
No sooner had he taken up the opportunity to train full-time in the Scottish Rugby Academy the season than he was being given some game time for the Warriors during their pre-season friendlies. He then missed County’s season-opener against Heriot’s last weekend because he was 24th man for the pro side against Connacht.
“I’m a bit off the wall. They signed me straight in as a Stage Three player along with Grant Stewart at Glasgow Hawks. It is good for players to know that they [the SRU Performance department] do watch the Premiership, so if you play well there then you will get noticed at some point,” he says.
“I’m not the flashiest player you will ever see but what my academy manager and coaches have said to me is that I’m quite a quick learner. When I was with Glasgow last season during the November Tests and Six Nations windows, I was picking up new things all the time, and able to apply that to my club performances.”
“I played for Glasgow [last month] against Northampton Saints and the Dragons, and it was great to get that exposure to the bigger stage, but I know there is a lot of very good back-rowers to compete against so it’s just about working hard and learning everything I can from these experiences.”
Burr came to prominence as a second-row, but at 6ft 4inches is probably not quite tall enough to excel in the professional environment in that position, and he reckons his all round game is better suited to blindside flanker.
“I look at players like Rob Harley, who can play both positions. I think around the park I play a lot like a six, but the difference is the specialist skills like scrummaging and line-out, so that’s what I want to work on,” he reasons
The professional exposure has been great, but Burr is also excited about getting back in amongst it with his club, and helping Stirling push for a top-four play-off place finish this season.
“As a group of players last season we were frustrated in ourselves. We had a lot of potential in the side, but we were a very young squad, I think our average age was 23 or 24, so we are a year more experienced now and are ready to kick on,” he says.
“We had a strong pre-season and its looking good. We’ve made key signings in key positions. People like Ross Curle from Ayr and Kerr Gossman from Hawks add a bit of experience.”
“Peter Jericevich has also come in as a player-coach and has been really influential at nine – he’s great at picking up the tempo of a game when that is required. Matt Donaldson, who was a key player for us at scrum-half last year, is injured at the moment, but when he’s back it will be great for him competing for the jersey against PJ and learning from a player who has a lot of experience.”
“We’ve also made a few signings in the forwards and we’ve got young lads coming through like Harry Henderson. Ruairidh Leishman has signed on for another year and Shaun MacDonald is always really consistent – so we’ve got a really strong pack, and especially in the back-row.”
Stirling also picked up Lewis Wynne, Chris Fusaro and Adam Ashe in the pro draft. This, of course, means that there is going to be an awful lot of competition for places when everyone is fit and available.
“It will be good for me in the long term because it is forcing me to really train hard and focus and getting my specialist skills right,” is Burr’s optimistic assessment.
Stirling certainly got their season off to a flying start with a win away to Heriot’s last weekend. A long campaign stretches out ahead, but they seem to be in pretty good shape for the challenge, with Mr Reliable right in the thick of it.
- STIRLING COUNTY CHARITY APPEAL: ‘Strathcarron Hospice is a very special place that looks after patients and their families at a very difficult stage in our lives. Many of us know this from personal experience from family members who have spent a number of weeks there being looked after with incredible care and dignity This really hit home for many at the club last year when our good friend Al Munn – ex club captain and groundsman – spent a few weeks there. The people at Strathcarron Hospice really looked after Al very well and we know it meant a lot to him and his family. Therefore, the senior team were keen to play their part in raising money for this tremendous cause. With the usual rugby humour someone had the bright idea of designing our own Budgey Smugglers and, of course, organising a team photo. Along with individual photos these are going to be turned into a poster for sale in the clubhouse – so that will be Christmas sorted!!!’
- If you would like to help us support this great cause then please click on the Just Giving Page link below –