There are plenty of people in the Borders who will happily tell you that rugby in the region has continued to thrive despite the efforts of the SRU. The Union’s decision to disband the Border Reivers in 2007 resulted in the Scottish Borders Council taking out a full page newspaper advert that described it as “as one of the most misguided and unpopular decisions in the history of the sport.” But five years later Melrose have won Premier 1, Gala secured the RBS Cup and the region continues to provide a disproportionate number of players for the national side given its small population.
In 1901 a handful of clubs in the Borders banded together to form the world’s first competitive rugby union league. The idea of meaningful competition between teams was frowned upon by the SRU’s predecessor the Scottish Football Union who opposed the creation of the league. Unlike the similar split in England, the league didn’t depart from Union rules and despite various changes in its format continues to be played to this day.
The league is changing again in 2012/13 with Langholm, one of the founding members of the league in 1901, dropping out along with Berwick. Both sides now compete outside the top leagues and have suffered heavy defeats in the league in recent seasons against superior opposition. Melrose, Gala, Selkirk, Peebles, Hawick, Kelso, Jed-Forest and Hawick YM will compete for the League title whilst Berwick and Langholm will enter the newly formed RBS Border Shield. Both teams retain full membership and it has been agreed that they will automatically regain entry into the league when they gain promotion back into the top 40 Scottish club sides.
Berwick and Langholm will play Duns, Hawick Linden, Hawick Harlequins, Earlston and Gala YM for the Shield. Each team will play 3 home games and 3 away games in a league format with the overall winner going on to represent the Borders in the RBS Shield semi-final.
Berwick President, Bryan Speirs, said: “Because of our current situation on the playing side, it makes sense not to be playing the top teams in the Borders. We fully expect to regroup and work our way back into the top divisions of Scottish Rugby.”
Anyone interested in the history of the Border League or why rugby continues to hold sway over the region should pick up Southern Comfort: The Story of Borders Rugby by Neil Drysdale which was nominated for 2012 Sports Book of the Year, losing out to stiff competition in the rugby category.