Sadly, what should have been a fantastic end to the RBS Club league season on Saturday was somewhat spoiled by the vagaries of the March winds. The final handful of games will now be spread over the next couple of weekends alongside cup semi-finals, and the start of the 7’s season and therefore the climax to a very competitive season may just be lost under an unseasonal snowdrift.
I was at Drumbeck on Saturday where one of the largest and most vociferous club crowds of the season roared both sides through a biting wind in a game that had a winner-takes-all promotion place at stake. It was GHA who took the spoils from Cartha QP 23-0 and earned themselves a place back in the top 20 Clubs of Scottish Rugby along with Peebles from the East. The single promotion spot into the premiership was left undecided when Hawks game was postponed for a week, and the make up of B&I teams and the relegation play off side in Premier 1 also remains unresolved.
Just before the XV’s pack up for this season here’s my pick of those who’ve made the biggest impact on Premier 1 this season. As always, it’s subjective and I hope it will stimulate a few heated debates that might save us from frostbite.
Jamie Forbes can change a game with one run, and when he has been absent Currie have missed him. Craig Gossman has started every game for Ayr & his twinkle toes excite the crowd like no one else. Colin Goudie of Heriots is always eager for work, and runs some great diagonal lines.
Honourable Mentions: Jamie Urquhart (Dundee HSFP), solid under high ball, big boot. Damien Hoyland (Boroughmuir), fast, exciting, unpredictable youngster.
I’m going for a little and large combination. Danny Gilmour brings bulk, straight running & defensive solidness to the Stirling County backs, while young Robbie Fergusson at Ayr has been consistently creative whether partnered by Kelbrick or Curle.
Worth a Shout: Max Learmonth (Heriots) and James Johnstone (Currie) have shown the benefit of injury free runs.
Lee Millar and George Graham have provided a steady, cohesive and consistent hinge around which Gala have played, and through which they have controlled many games.
Heading for the top: When Sean Kennedy has turned out for Stirling Co he has looked a class apart, while Finn Russell has brought authority at 10 for Ayr unknown since Frazier Climo returned to New Zealand. Finn Russell will be heading to NZ himself on the Macphail Scholarship this year.
On the loose head Luke Pettie has been an ever-present in the Gala side, and has hugely benefited from George Graham’s coaching. Nick Cox at Ayr has suffered a couple of frustrating injuries, but when the big fellow is on the hoof, like a rhinoceros he clears everything in his path.
Keep an eye on: Robin Hislop and Alex Allan (Allan is also off on the Macphail Scholarship) have announced themselves on the pro-stage, Duncan Morrison (Edinburgh Accies) has started to live up to his promise, and Struan Cessford has been ever present in the Heriots front row
Michael Liness has given a strong & mobile lead to the Edinburgh Accies pack which has consistently performed above expectations.
Not far behind: Kevin Bryce (Heriots) and Alex Moffat (Stirling Co) have led from the front as always.
Scott Sutherland has added some try scoring mobility to his experience & bulk at the heart of the Ayr pack and would play well beside the mobile and athletic Murray Douglas of Aberdeen GSFP.
Looking Strong: Opata Palepoi (Gala) defies the years by dominating many games, while Greg Campbell (Ed A) and Craig Deacons (Stirling Co) are similarly experienced workhorses
Callum Forrester (Ayr) has stepped down from the pro ranks, but not left his professionalism behind. By personal example and consistency he has stepped up the standards again at Ayr and proved an outstanding successor to previous leaders of the Ayr XV. Dan Teague (Edinburgh Accies) loves a good arm wrestle, and does lots of the dirty work around the tackle area while Iain Wilson has been a splendid recruit for Dundee HSFP and brought real athleticism to the open side role.
Keep your Eye on: Callum Reid (Edinburgh Accies) Euan Dods (Gala) and Andrew Nagle (Melrose) are all dynamic No 8’s who can create a lot of attacking scrums, while Jason Hill (Heriots) has an omnipresence at Goldenacre.
Graham Wilson (Heriots) has seamlessly moved between 9 & 10 all season, and shows class in every game, with his passing, running, reading & kicking. Alongside him on the bench I would pick Joe Helps (Melrose) for his versatility across the three quarters.
Fraser Brown (Heriots) is back to his best after long injury struggles and can play hooker or flanker; Gary Graham (Gala) brings good versatility between the 2nd and 3rd rows and a tremendous work rate. Steve Longwell (Dundee HSFP) has made a great impression in his first season in Premier 1 and could be a late developer worth keeping an eye on.
Bolter: Every time I’ve seen Chris Mulligan (Heriots) he has caught my eye and one day his consistent creativity will bring him to the attention of many others.
There are many fine coaches in Premier 1, and quite a few are moving on at the end of this year. Kenny Murray has led Ayr to the title and continues to impress, George Graham has continued to build solid success at Gala, but for enabling a young team to perform above expectations Simon Cross (Edinburgh Accies) gets my vote. With some pro-experience now helping the A team, one to watch for taking the next step.