After four games of the BT Premiership 2014/15 season a fascinating picture is emerging. So far things are incredibly open and results would suggest that, on their day, virtually any side can beat the other, home or away. Look at Boroughmuir’s fabulous victory at the Greenyards or Hawick’s stunning win at Millbrae as evidence . Some point to the inclusion (or not)of drafted professional players as the overriding factor that skews results. There is also a more optimistic school of thought that veers towards an overall increase in quality in the top division, an influx of new young coaches and a more professional attitude for the clubs as the key factors. Either way, one thing is for sure, it’s been exciting so far. Here’s a club-by-club review of the season so far (in order of their current league places):
Following an opening day loss to Ayr (albeit at Millbrae and by only 4 points) the Maroons have since hit their stride impressively. Convincing wins over Currie and Hawks showed a team full of tries and blending a heady mix of youth, experience and devastatingly good form. Last weekend’s very close win over Hawick at Mansfield Park was perhaps the best indication of their title chops though. As admitted by head coach George Graham, they played very badly and came through by the skin of their teeth to take away a win. Grinding out a result despite not playing well? As the cliché goes, that is the mark of a true championship winning side…
Despite sitting second in the table it has been a somewhat unconvincing start to the season from the normally dominant men from Millbrae. Yes, they have won three from four but so far their winning margins have been no greater than 5 points. Further evidence of this apparent new found vulnerability was the shock home defeat to Hawick in round three which took everyone (Nikki Walker included) a bit by surprise. Nevertheless as long as the wins keep coming, however close, Ayr will remain on course for a top-four finish.
An early slip to Hawks seems to be well in the review mirror of the Nails bandwagon. A particularly impressive win over Stirling County at home, fuelled by a half-time switch of tactics, was then followed by a gutsy four point win at Mansfield Park. Last weekend only saw an eked out, two point derby win over struggling Accies at Raeburn Place but largely, a positive round of opening exchanges. Time will tell whether their flowing brand of rugby will serve them well through the muddy winter and much will depend on the tactical acumen of their coaching team of Phil Smith and Steve Lawrie.
Proving something of an anomaly, Currie have had the measure of city rivals Edinburgh Accies and Boroughmuir, beaten Hawick at home early doors but have also been absolutely thumped by Gala too. Points are everything though, and their position of fourth is fair reward for the hard work they have put in so far. Coach Ben Cairns and his players should be commended. However, their next three games against Melrose (A), Heriot’s (H) and Ayr (A) will prove a real test of their collective mettle. Come mid-October we will have better indication as to the ability of Currie to last the pace at the top end of the table.
When the fixtures came out Big John and his team would have liked the look of their opening salvos. The champions then, through injury and inconsistency, only just won their opening game against Accies, dramatically lost their next two against Boroughmuir and Stirling before rallying, rather unconvincingly, against an equally depleted Hawks at the weekend. They need to set a marker against Currie on Saturday because, coming up, they have a home game against Heriot’s sandwiched by two tough Border League/BT Premiership, ‘double-header-derbies’ against Hawick and Gala respectively.
There is a slightly schizophrenic vibe at Meggatland so far this term. The fact they have won two, lost two is not unusual in itself. However, look closer and you will see two outright home defeats to teams lower in the table than them and two surprising away wins (particularly the coupon busting win at the Greenyards) leaving them mid-table but no doubt frustrated. Some point to the inclusion of pro-players as the difference in results, others simply to bad luck and inconsistency. Either way, we have seen both the best and the worst of this Muir team in their first four games. The jury is still very much out as to which will prevail.
7. Stirling County
A bright start but, as yet, not a new dawn. An opening day win over Boroughmuir at Meggatland and an impressive win over Melrose at home in the next episode had many seeing County as the seasons surprise package. The streamtrain then came off the tracks at Goldenacre in week three and it is still slightly derailed following a close home loss to Ayr last Saturday. Next up? A trip to Netherdale. Not an impossible task but a very stern test of this rejuvenated squad. Perhaps more telling will be their game against Hawks in a fortnight, which is already looking like a very big game for the Bridgehaugh faithful.
This is a difficult thing for a Langholm lad to write but I quite like the look of this Hawick team. The home-town-coaching-team of Nikki Walker and Roddy Deans has brought a feel-good-factor back to the Green Machine. All four of their games have been agonisingly close, three loses by less than 4 points and a superb one-point victory at Ayr tell the story of gutsy, confident and re-invigorated Hawick. And that, my friends is a dangerous animal. Keep your eye on the men from Mansfield Park they may yet have some more surprises up their sleeve.
9. Glasgow Hawks
A bold start saw Hawks beating Heriot’s at home but things have gone the ‘way of the dodo’ since in terms of points. Understandable yet disappointing losses to Melrose, Gala and Ayr have shaken the pre-season belief at Old Anniesland. Their next three games all come against fellow strugglers in Hawick (H), County (A) and Accies (H) and provide an opportunity for Hawks to begin to claw their way out of trouble. Injury problems are particularly acute in their backline but they have, on paper, enough quality in their squad to prove the doubters wrong.
10. Edinburgh Accies
The hope at Raeburn Place in the off-season was that a new head coach (Phil Leck) would prevent spillage from last seasons form seeping into the new campaign. No such luck. Accies look a bit mentally shattered and four solid losses on the bounce so far doesn’t bode well for the future. Some consolation may have been gleaned from the loss to Heriot’s on Saturday, in that it was an exceptionally close two-point game. However, they will be very aware that they need to start winning, and soon. Therefore, games against Ayr (A) and Gala (H) are the last thing they want to see on the menu. Tough times may be ahead at Raeburn Place.