Sorry for the belated piece, guys; I’m currently playing rugby in Canada and have been enjoying, *ahem*, what North America has to offer. That is a report for another day, though…
So the Premier 1 season is done! Over! Finito! And what a surprising and refreshing season it has been for Scottish Club Rugby. With all the grumblings about the proposed changes to structure and format for the top divisions and whether it is what ‘amateur’ rugby needs, and a rumoured step away from an allegedly ailing cup competition perhaps it is a good time to reflect on the positives of this season.
Firstly, Currie are back on top. After a tough season last time out, and predictions at the start of this campaign that they would really struggle, Currie certainly proved their critics wrong. Coach Ally Donaldson has kept the core of a team since they last won the title, and although they have receive some flak about foreign influence in their team- their runaway top try scorer, top points scorer and second row all learned their rugby skills in New Zealand- but this is quickly countered with the fact that for most of the season Currie’s stand out players came in the form of Scottish Youngsters Dougie Fife, Alun Walker and Mathew Scott. When this is twinned with the knowledge that Currie U-18s and U-15s were both victorious in Youth Cup finals at Murrayfield, things are looking up for Currie.
We have new Cup champions. For the first time in their history, Ayr have lifted the Cup at Murrayfield. In this instance it is a lot harder to temper the ‘money brings success argument’, but I will, perhaps to no avail, attempt to explain why I think it is a good thing.
There are only 2 professional teams in Scotland. Whilst I have previously called for the return of the district championship or even a bigger role for the Scottish Club International, neither appear likely to happen. What, then, can be used to bridge the gap between professional and ‘amateur’ rugby? The SRU, it seems, have already decided the British & Irish Cup can be used to bridge that gap.
Heriot’s and the ill-conceived ‘Gael Force’ team failed to win a game. However believe me when I say that Heriot’s gave a good account of themselves. The ridiculous rag-tag nature of ‘Gael Force’ meant that they were never going to do well, but Heriot’s ran Nottingham and Neath close, and performed admirably against Munster ‘A’ and Bristol. Ayr did one better.
In winning a couple of games, Ayr proved that they could, especially at home, mix it with the big boys. There are, and probably always will be, rumours floating around club rugby that Ayr have an astronomical playing budget, and it is true that for their ‘decider’ against Currie in the league, they started with no less than 6 players born out with the UK. This being said, Ayr are a model of how an ‘amateur’ club can generate revenue, and if it can be self-sustaining, and most importantly successful, for a few more seasons then the rest of Scottish rugby should applaud this. There is no wealthy benefactor; no dead billionaire’s last investment; they just get big crowds and enough sponsors to line the ground twice over. No doubt it is the SRU biggest wish for more club sides to be a bit more like this. We will have to wait and see if it is a flash in the pan.
Besides this, last season’s Premier 2 champions, Dundee, showed that they can be competitive and finished in their highest ever league place, 4th. The last time, however, Dundee finished in the top half fresh from promotion, they ran out of steam by the next season and were duly relegated. No doubt Rankin and co. have a plan in place to ensure this doesn’t happen next season. Melrose also finished well, and look towards the B & I cup as well as taking some heart from a 3rd consecutive appearance at Murrayfield on finals day.
Away from the league, the Club International beat France for the first time ever, and the game against Ireland away was close enough to cause some controversy. Also there were numerous new 7s caps for club players, and even seasoned campaigner John Dalziel (33) from Melrose, and Club International Captain, got a recall to the 7s squad. In keeping with this reliance on club players at that level, Glasgow and Edinburgh have taken on no fewer than 6 youngsters out of the club game for next season, between them. In fact an entire club side will have the chance to take on international players as Currie have earned the right to play a Japan Select XV on the 1st of June…
So things may be privy to change, next season, but it can be argued that progress has been made, the level of rugby in Premier 1 has improved, and the SRU are, in part, recognising this.
Here are the alternative end of season awards from SRB (that’s right, I’m hiding behind SRB so that if you guys don’t agree, I’m not to blame…)
Team of the season; Ayr achieved a lot this season, but Currie have to take it for their outstanding ‘Points For’ total, and some of the rugby they played on the way to the title.
Player of the season; it’s hard to look past Damian Kelly. The giant lock scored in almost every important game, skippered his Ayr side to an historic Cup victory, and won Man of the Match in both Club International matches.
Finisher of the season; Willie Moala. Some try scoring record!
Coach of the season; Ally Donaldson just pips the much lauded Kenny Murray.
Best support of the season; Selkirk continue to prove that you don’t need to be at the top of the table to get 2,000 supporters through the gate.
The ‘Rory Baldwin Award’ for most gingers in a team; sorry, Boroughmuir!
Best aftermatch pie of the season; does your team still do a pie? Bring back the pie!
Anything I’ve missed out? What do you guy reckon?