After what seems like months of watching International and 7s news flash past, hearing about League restructuring and ignoring the notion that clubs will be offered one more crack at forming bonds with the Pro teams we can all relax. It’s back.
Premier 1 rugby is starting again this weekend.
Of course with P1 you can always rely on there being some interesting developments during the off season. This is particularly obvious when you take into account that 3 teams have been promoted (with Gala, Edinburgh Accies and Aberdeen Grammar coming up) but there is still a mid-season split and the League being reduced to 10 teams for next season.
For these reasons there has been a massive recruitment drive from teams.
There is pressure on those involved in the B&I Cup. Melrose won the title last season and hope to retain their place at P1’s summit whilst also attempting to remain the top dogs in the Borders. Ayr have lost many players, but with rumours of a big budget and a goal of B&I Cup glory alongside their stature and Scottish Cup pedigree they have made some interesting moves. Currie have pressured themselves to keep in touch with these two.
For everyone else it is a case of yearning for the top but getting to the split first. Last season was fairly open and this year seems to be no different. There could be some interesting, upsetting and ludicrous results as we head into the RBS Premier One season 2011/12.
Here is a guide to each team in the league:
Club Colours: Navy, Red and White
Coaches: Alex Duncan and assistant Kevin Wyness
Club Captain: Rob Lawson
Players lost: Former captain Colin Philips has left to become a Regional Academy Coach with the SRU whilst stalwart hooker Billy Russell and Marty Faville return home to NZ.
Players brought in: This is where Aberdeen have decided to try and compete with those they will be facing. Hooker Sean O’Conner has been brought in from the Manawatu Turbos, three-quarter Warwick Percival joins from Australia’s Eastern Suburbs, Cambridge Blue and lock Ed Nimmons has arrived and scrum-half Morgan Ward appears after 2 season with ProD2 side Stade Aurillacois.
They have also been fortunate that prolific Melrose winger Callum Anderson has recently moved to the area, as has young back-rower Lawrie Seydak, formerly of Heriot’s.
The rest of their recruits have been lured in from surrounding areas and combative flanker Greig Ryan has been persuaded to stop travelling down to Dundee and join his uncle, Wyness, at Grammar.
Season expectations: Duncan claims “we must aim to be in that top 10!” This seems a realistic goal with their recruitment and they will have a real onus on their games at home. Rubislaw is a strength for them because it is so far away from most other teams in the division, but they may struggle away from home.
Club Colours: Cerise and black
Coaches: Kenny Murray and Peter Laverie (forwards)
Club Captain: TBC
Players lost: Talisman Damien ‘Skippy’ Kelly has gone back to Australia, leaving a huge hole in the squad. It is well known that young centre Mark Bennett has gone to Clermont and Gordon Reid is a Warrior (although he should play for Ayr a fair bit) but on top of this the experienced Glen Tippett has retired and something else is afoot at Millbrae…
5 first team squad players from the area have abandoned Ayr as Jonny McLung has attached himself to Kilmarnock RFC and Scott Nimmo lines up for Ardrossan. Even more staggering, though, Stephen Adair and Dougie Steele have chosen to meet up with Marr RFC’s new player/coach Paul Burke.
Players brought in: Losses like that would frighten most clubs as the local element seems to be dissipating, but Ayr look to have replaced their local squad players with starters from further afield.
Australian stand-off Nick Ellrick joins Sydney 1st Grade lock Joshua Dunning, former Rotherham Titan back-rower Ross Doneghan and back-five unit Colin White (formerly of Ayr, the Warriors and recently Venezia) as imports for this year.
Former Castres Youth scrum-half Sylvain Diez joins from Dumfries, as do West of Scotland’s Richard Dalgleish (centre/wing) and Graham Fisken (back-row/7s specialist). Young lock and prop Calum Templeton and Craig Davidson join from Dumfries and Kilmarnock, respectively. They may also see a fair bit off Warrior Stuart Hogg.
Season expectations: “We hope to have another successful season and will once again be trying to win the league and cup double,” Murray says. “The season will probably be the most difficult for some years, with most teams recruiting well over the summer.
“In this year’s B & I Cup we will also hope to emulate our quarter final position of last season.”
Lofty goals, but they must gel quickly.
Club Colours: Green and Blue quarters.
Coaches: Fergus Pringle and
Club Captain: Malcolm Claperton
Players lost: N/A (we will hope to amend this ASAP)
Players brought in: Their website states:
“ Sep Visser
Sep is a Full Back / Winger who arrives from Tynedale Rugby Club in the North East of England. He was a leading light at the Northumberland club having scored 23 tries in 29 games last season. Sep has been capped by Holland and yes – he is Tim’s younger brother.
Iain has played consistently well for Kelso over the past few seasons, primarily at No.8. The 6′ 5″ player spent the summer in New Zealand so should be fit and ready for action.
Andy joins from Dunfermline where he was the regular scrum-half. The ex Dollar Academy pupil has represented Caledonian Region at U15 – U18 levels.
Matt is a flanker joining from Kirkcaldy. The Scotland Under 19 cap spent 18 months in New Zealand improving his rugby and had a fine season for the Blues last term.
Chris is a goal kicking stand-off from Garnock rugby club. He represented Glasgow at Under 18 level.
Mike is a 19 year old centre from Stewart’s Melville who Represented Edinburgh at U17 level and Scotland at both U17 and U18.
The ex-Muir South African returns to the fold after a year playing for Lismore. Normally a flanker Lynton did turn out in the centre for Lismore on at least one occasion.”
Season expectations: N/A Hopefully Boroughmuir will be in touch shortly!
Club Colours: Black and gold
Ground: Malleny Park
Coaches: Ally Donaldson
Club Captain: TBC
Players lost: “We’ve lost Alun Walker (Melrose), Ryan Wilson (Perigeux, France), Hayden Abercrombie (North Harbour) and Tom Brown (Edinburgh).”
Players brought in: “Jamie Forbes and Grant Sommerville (Watsonians), Colin Phillips (Stew Mel), Simon Marcel (Counties), Ross Neill (Boroughmuir), Barry Mansefield (Gordon), Michale Vernel (St. Alysious College) Plus Fergus Scott & Malcolm Peacock (who are returning from Australia, both having played for U18 team which won Scottish Cup 2 seasons ago) will be at Malleny”
Season expectations: According to Donaldson; “We had a slow start last year and spent large parts of the season playing catch up. Ultimately we gave ourselves too much to do and are keen to avoid that this season. We have increased our strength in depth and once we have everyone available we should have a strong group.
“Playing in the British & Irish Cup again is a real bonus and we hope to use the lessons we learned last season.”
It’s as plain as the nose on my face that Currie are targetting the League, and have recruited accordingly. Despite their modesty I reckon they will be a dangerous proposition this season.
Dundee High School
Club Colours: Navy and red
Coaches: Ian Rankin and backs-coach Alan Clark
Club Captain: Neil Dymock
Players lost: Breakaway Rob Cessford joins Heriot’s as Greig Ryan moves back to Aberdeen. Rick McKenna (10) is trying his hand in England’s National 1 and Rob Gray is taking some time out from playing in the back-row.
Players brought in: Prop Gavin Robertson is studying in the city so is opting not to travel down to Melrose to play.
Jack Steel from Perthshire and Andy McLean from Howe boost Dundee’s backline options alongside winger Ross Lemon who returns from Morgan.
Outwith the city, though, Dundee have brought in Scots Qualified 10 Cam Brown from Loughborough University (and, previously, Bath’s Academy). Also Scots Qualified, fullback Cam Wyper and his mate in the centre, Robbie Lavery, sign up from South Sydney.
Josh Harvey, back row, also join from Biggar.
Season expectations: Ian Rankin didn’t want to make a prediction, or set any public goals but he did say “It’s a massive season ahead for all teams involved in the league.
“Currie, Ayr and Melrose are the bench mark as they reap all the obvious benefits of a second season in the B&I Cup but I’m pleased with how recruitment has gone over the close season with a good mix of new faces joining an established group who are all looking forward to the challenges ahead.”
Dundee will pray their scrum is as strong as it was last season but miss an out and out 7. When James Fleming is missing, too, they may struggle to find the support for their obviously talented backline leaders.
Club Colours: Sky blue and white hoops
Ground: Raeburn Place
Coaches: Simon Cross and Jonny Else
Club Captain: Dan Teague
Players lost: They have lost scrum-half Johnny Letham, who has moved to London for work reasons and will play for The Honourable Artillery Co Rugby Club.
Both of Accies’ Scotland U20 players from the last World Championship in Italy – Michael Liness and Sam Atkin – will be available to the Club, though at the end of September. Sam will leave the Club for Worcester’s Academy.
Players brought in: According to Accies “Lock Angus Graham, who played a season for us as an 18 year old after leaving school in South Africa, has returned after three years at Loughborough University.
Duncan Morrison, a Scotland U17 and U18 prop, educated in England and at Wasps Academy, has come to us after a season at Stirling.
Ruairidh Young, ex Loretto School and Musselburgh RFC player, has joined the Club. Ruairidh was fullback in last season’s very successful Scotland U17 team.
Alex Black, Scotland U17, U18 and U20 scrum half, has moved from Leeds Carnegie, where he played a few games for Leeds top team and was on loan to Upper Wharfedale. Alex has moved to Scotland as an apprentice at Edinburgh and will be available for Accies when not needed by Edinburgh.
Hamish Watson, ex Oakham School (Lewis Moody’s alma-mater), Scotland U19 and U20, has moved from Leicester Tigers Academy – where he played for their A team and their sevens team. Hamish has been awarded a Scotland Sevens Contract. Like Alex, open side Hamish will be available for the club when not needed by Edinburgh or Scotland Sevens.”
Season expectations: “Our challenges are to continue the style of rugby we played last year against bigger and stronger teams who have recruited well over the summer months. Our players are up for that challenge.”
Accies will not blow any teams away, but they may scrap to some necessary victories. They have opted for a young set of imports and Cross has a battle to get them outscoring P1’s more physical sides.
Club Colours: Maroon
Coaches: George Graham and Scott Nichol
Club Captain: Opeta Palepoi
Players lost: According to BordersRugby.net “ Bruce Dick, Ghino Huarau, Mitch Walton, Alan Johnston, Mike Christie, Greg Marks, Mark Kibble,” are all out.
Players brought in: Again according to BordersRugby.net “IN: Craig Robertson, Craig Borthwick, Gregor Hunter, Gary Lowrie, Russell Anderson, Chris Auld, Bryce Turner.”
Season expectations: As with above we will give you more on this when we get official word, but survival is the buzz word in Gala (as well as beating Melrose!) and they will look to amass as many bonus points as possible.
They play fairly direct with their forwards so they may scare a few of the lighter packs.
Club Colours: Red and black
Ground: Old Anniesland
Coaches: Peter Wright as Director of Rugby and Jamie Dempsey, Mike Blackie Cammy Little, Jimmy Sinclair and Chris Reid will all support as coaches.
Club Captain: Rory McKay
Players Lost: Most will be aware that 10 Mike Adamson has signed for London Scottish. People would also assume that with P1’s turnover of Antipodeans some would go home- like Prop Adrian Smith.
Did you know, though, that a few youngsters from Hawks have also gone to France?
Gary Strain and Ian Boyer are off to Massy Essone while Paddy Boyer is away to Tarbes.
Back on these shores Callum Harvey joins Watsonians and Nico Nyemba is away to play at Harrogate.
Players brought in: Hawks have looked locally as Steven Findlay (Dalziel), Danny Campbell (GHK), Craig Williamson and Rory Hughes (both GHA), Jonny Payton (Cartha) and Dumfries’ Kenny Brown all head for OA.
However, like their recruitment drive last season they have looked out with Scotland as Viadana’s Davide Barberi and Gareth Davies, formerly of Welsh Premiership side Bedwas, will look to turn out on Saturday alongside Peter Jericevich who has been convinced to stay.
Season expectations: Hawks aren’t beating around the bush. They may be struggling to find a first choice 10 with P1 experience, but this hasn’t stopped them from telling everyone else what they want: “We want to qualify for the B&I Cup”.
Club Colours: Green
Ground: Mansfield Park
Coaches: Derek Armstrong and ‘Rocky’ Johnstone
Club Captain: Bruce McNeill
Players lost: Despite there being rumours that they have lost more, their official statement is that “David Lowrie, Alistair Marsh and Lewis Mallin to Kelso, Gary Lowrie to Gala.” We also know that Rory Hutton suffered a serious knee injury playing for Palmyra in Perth, Australia.
Players brought in: Again the official line, “Prop Nicky Little from Melrose, centre Ross Armstrong from Selkirk and Lee Armstrong from Hawick YM.”
Season expectations: “A top 8 finish, initially, but the aim is for top 3-as long as we steer clear of injuries.” Ambitious, sure. They may, however, face a strong, strong challenge from newly promoted sides to make that top 8 for the split.
Club Colours: Royal blue and white hoops
Coaches: Graham Marshall (forwards) and Mark Appleson (backs)
Club Captain: Graham Wilson
Players lost: They have lost Glen Bryce to Jersey, Richard Mill to Esher, Jack-of-all-trades Nick Alston to university in Ayr and Scott Burnett to full-time employment.
Players brought in: Robin Cessford and brother Struan (prop) from Dundee, Lock Michael Roy from Musselbrugh and 7s and underage 10, Sam Hidalgo Clyne. There are also rumours that more enforcements may come in after the first few games.
Season expectations: “We want to win the Cup and be in the top 8 come November. After that we would love to be challenging for a B&I Cup place.”
You never know what you are going to get from Heriot’s. They’ve not brought in much, but they’ve not lost much either. We will have to wait and see if this notoriously inconsistent team has grown up together.
Club Colours: Yellow and black
Ground: The Greenyards
Coaches: the same as last season, Craig Chalmers and John Dalziel
Club Captain: Graeme Dodds
Players lost: Director of rugby Mike Dalgetty told me “Robert Chrystie has retired but will continue to work with the Club in a coaching capacity with our young players. Ben Allan and Hayden Mitchell, last year’s overseas players, have moved on as has Callum Anderson who has joined Aberdeen. Scott Wight, our Captain of last season, is now with Glasgow.”
Players brought in: Back to Mike. “Andrew Skeen from Watsonians is a big signing.
“It’s Andrews second stint at the club, having been with us earlier in his career, and Bruce Dick has also rejoined us from Gala. Peter Eccles has joined the club from Heriot’s and Alun Walker from Currie.
“Dallas Pawley, a lock from Australia, has been added to strengthten the squad and Chris Keen, a young Prop from Kelso, will be looking to be an important member of the side.”
Season expectations: “It has taken us fourteen years to win another Championship so defending it will be extremely difficult. We have lost two extremely important players in Scott Wight and Callum Anderson. Between them they were worth over 200 points per season.
“The new season brings with it a challenge not only on the domestic scene but also the British & Irish Cup where we face a very strong Bedford side, the famous Welsh Club Aberavon, Leinster and – perhaps the most interesting one – London Scottish.
“Our objective is to be competing for the title over the final part of the season and to perform well in the British and Irish Cup. It will be very difficult and will certainly require a huge effort. However, it is something we are looking forward to!”
Club Colours: Black, red and white hoops
Coaches: Eddie Pollock (Head), Milan Browne (forwards) and Graeme Young (Backs)
Club Captain: Alex Moffat
Players lost:John Hope and Graeme Gilliland are off to join the swell of players in Falkirk. Colin Eadie is away to Dunfermline and Gordon McRorie is heading to Canada for a year.
Players brought in: The close knit County squad is joined by Steve Swindall, ex Scotland A/Glasgow Warriors back rower who is back from Italy. He is also tied with Scotland U20 lock Robert McAlpine, from West of Scotland, and Craig Bolan from Livingston.
Season expectations: County felt they were hard done by in a few games last season and have set themselves the target of a top 6 finish. To do this they need to win more home games than they did last term.
SRB’s season prediction: I honestly feel I’m in no position to call this one. The B&I Cup teams have an obvious advantage, but like Currie last year, we didn’t see this until after the B&I Cup started after most Round One games had been played. With the split, this could be too late (although all 3 should comfortably make the split).
Melrose will look to consolidate, as will Currie but Ayr are almost starting again. A few teams have recruited heavily, like Aberdeen, Boroughmuir and Currie, and others want to foster more of a tight, familiar club atmosphere.
This will be a more fiercely competitive league than previous seasons. I only hope some of the new teams don’t get blown away because P1 will be better for close games every week, rather than lop-sided results tables.
Here are the first fixtures of the Season!
Aberdeen Grammar v Melrose
KO:15:00 @ Rubislaw
Ayr v Edinburgh Accies
KO: 15:00 @ Millbrae
Boroughmuir v Dundee High
KO: 15:00 @ Meggetland
Currie v Gala
KO:15:00 @ Malleny Park
Glasgow Hawks v Stirling County
KO:15:00 @ Old Anniesland
Heriot’s v Hawick
KO:15:00 @ Goldenacre
COME DOWN AND SUPPORT CLUB RUGBY!