BT Premiership Preview

As we enter the final throes of a very exciting and competitive BT Premiership season there is an air of unpredictability to the remaining round of ‘normal’ season fixtures. Intriguingly the race for a final championship playoff place is as close as the nail-biting race to avoid the relegation playoff place.

Let us first start with the certainties.

Heriots, Melrose and Ayr are all in the playoffs with only the impressive Nails sure of a home tie in the semi-finals. Ayr and Melrose will scrap for second place and the other guarantee of home advantage. Ayr have a game in hand against Currie who have plenty to play for (more on that later) before they make the trip to Greenyards for a final bare-knuckle contest with Melrose which will decide the venue for the second play-off semi-final.

Meanwhile, after a disappointing first season for Phil Leck Edinburgh Accies are relegated. Difficult to pinpoint exactly where Accies failed this term but a slow start and a brutal injury list hasn’t helped. There’s been an undeniable flatness to the Edinburgh team this year and they will need to recover quickly if they are to thrive in the dogfight that is National One.

Beyond that things get a lot more uncertain.

However, whilst we’re on the subject of relegation, let’s look at the race to avoid the second last spot. Three teams are fighting to avoid entering into a playoff with the second placed team from National One (likely Stewarts Melville or GHA). Stirling County, Glasgow Hawks and Boroughmuir all sit within a point of each other but crucially Boroughmuir have played one more game than the other two.

Somewhat inevitably this fixture in hand is County against Hawks at Bridgehaugh this Saturday (28th). That should all but eliminate one of the two from the race to the bottom. Tantalisingly this leaves County playing away at already relegated Accies on the last day whilst Muir face Hawick at Meggetland and Hawks go to Currie.

Speaking of Hawick and Currie…both are still very much in the mix, along with Gala, for the fourth play-off position. As it stands there is not much to choose between the three but Currie need to win their game in hand at home to Ayr on the 7th March to stand a chance of still being in the mix on the final day. The fact they are still in the hunt for glory at this late stage of the season is testament to rookie Head Coach Ben Cairns and his squad. Many (including me) had them tipped for the drop. On this occasion, I’m happy to be proven wrong.

All this adds up to a final day which sees Gala travel to Heriots, Boroughmuir face Hawick and Currie travel to Hawks. Such is the competitiveness of the mid-table teams in this year’s competition it is hardly surprising that there will be so much to play for come judgement day. Impossible to predict and equally impossible to ignore. Any one of Malleny Park, the Greenyards, Meggetland, Raeburn Place or Goldenacre look to be a dramatic place to spend the 14th March.

So if you’re not travelling to Twickenham why not head down to one of these clubs to take in a game then watch the Scotland game in the clubhouse after? It’s going to be emotional…

 

Journalist and rugby player for @LangholmRugby and the @PigbariansRFC, please follow @brodiesmithers

30 comments on “BT Premiership Preview

  1. Big Wullie on

    Hawick could be responsible for sending 2 Edinburgh teams down to National league 1
    They beat Accies and relegated them last week .
    If they beat Muir that consigns the Meggatland team to relegation play offs .

    Selkirk coming up means 4 Borders teams in prem 1 next year .
    More the merrier.

  2. Neil on

    I totally agree that would be a fantastic scenario. Maybe at that stage the buffoons at the SRU will realise that the Borders teams are the best (something anyone with 2 brain cells would have realised years ago) and introduce a pro team in the borders. Thats what fans have been arguing about for years but the SRU atre too stupid to look at the bigger picture- we need more pro teams in order to increase the pool of players available to turn out for our national team. Common sense I know but that is lacking in the SRU at present.

  3. pragmatic optomist on

    Heriots look like the favoutites and the team to beat.
    Can’t rule out either Melrose or Ayr who can both beat anyone on their day. The 4th team will be interesting.
    Given their poor start to the seson, Hawick look likeliest now.

  4. Melrosian on

    SRU ( McKee & co ) pumped money into Glasgow & Edinburgh and did the opposite with the Borders .
    They were going to fold the Borders the previous season but lo and behold the underfunded Borders finished ahead of Glasgow in the Magners league so they had to scupper their plans .
    Crowd numbers was never the reason .

    • Allan on

      Who ever said it was? The reality was that only two teams could realistically survive with the SRUs finances the way they were. from a purely business sense, a pro side in a region with a geographically disparate population was never going to be saved in favour of a side in a large city.

      Even you must admit that crowds of 900 for some games didnt help their case though!

    • FF on

      I agree, crowd numbers were never the principle reason. The reason was lack of funding and the desire to concentrate miserable financial and playing resources into a smaller number of teams.

      I don’t think you can really dispute that if a professional team had to fold in Scotland it had to be the Borders. Glasgow’s average attendance was almost double the Border’s and Edinburgh’s was two and a half to three times. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow are city based and have far larger potential support – Glasgow at least has started tapping into this but both teams average attendances are far higher than 2006/7 when the Borders was disbanded, as attendances have generally risen across the league. So there were sound enough commercial reasons for continuing to run sides in the two biggest population centres in Scotland as they were more likely to become sustainable.

      Secondly, the Borders performance was the worst of the three professional teams, albeit they had been in existence for less time and you say they were not funded equally (I had a look but couldn’t easily find any information on this). The Borders league position was generally improving but the performance of all the Scottish pro-teams was generally poor and they were struggling the most.

      2002/3 – 6th place out of 8 in their division W/L 2/5 (this was before the Welsh regions were formed from the clubs)
      2003/4 – 12th place out of 12 W/L 4/18
      2004/5 – 11th place out of 11 W/L 3/17
      2005/6 – 9th place out of 11 W/L 7/13
      2006/7 – 11th place out of 11 W/L 2/18

      Since that season the performance of the remaining sides generally improved, which has been sustained in Glasgow and not in Edinburgh. This at least shows the SRUs logic was sound.

      Glasgow 5th, 7th, 3rd, 11th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd
      Edinburgh 4th, 2nd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 10th, 8th

      All that being as it is, it remains a tragedy for Scottish rugby that the Borders was folded. Wales were forced towards regionalisation and then abandoning the Celtic Warriors and Ireland tried to close Connacht too, so the SRU were dealing with the same pressures as our Celtic cousins but lumbered with more debt. Ireland have clearly prospered through managing to sustain Connacht and it has taken considerable time and effort to develop them into a sustainable proposition – they had the benefit of riding on the coat tails of the other provinces success which spread the popularity of rugby and provided sufficient funds to the IRFU to sustain them.

      My personal opinion is that Scotland both needs two more pro teams and cannot afford another collapse. If a pro-team is to be resurrected in the Borders it must be supported by the rugby community there. I’m not sure that it would be, many associated with the traditional clubs seem to view SRU pro-rugby as a competitor let alone are willing to cooperate with each other.

      The article Allan linked to suggests creating pro-teams properly integrated with the clubs in its region which is an obvious necessity. I’m sure the SRU failed in many regards to cultivate this previously but it is not obvious such a partnership would be possible now and there is no prospect of a privately run team being formed. Again, this more or less exactly mirrors the trouble Wales has had with its regions who have many advantages over the borders.

      • Neil on

        FF- well you’ve certainly changed your tune. You actually agree with me now that we need more pro teams-preferably 2 more. Why did you not agree with me before hand on this issue instead of slagging me off.

        Never mind- at least you can now see my logic. In order to create strength in depth in our national squad we need 2 more pro teams.

  5. Mick the marmalizer on

    Borders now have 4 teams in prem 1 with loyal support every week
    None in north East .3 men and a dog at Dundee HS & Aberdeen Grammar.games so where’s your support coming from

    • Allan on

      And how much of that “loyal support” turned out to watch the Reivers, or would do again if they were resurrected?

      You wouldnt open a restaurant in a town where everyone eats at home would you?

      • Mick the marmalizer on

        Allan.
        You get numbers if they have a team in the city .
        Do they ?
        Beg to differ .cant see many at Edinburgh games .
        Looks like more yellow coated security than punters

    • Neil on

      I agree with Mick. There is so much passion for rugby in the borders that a pro team would take off provided it was promoted and managed in the right way, something that did not happen in the past.

  6. Matto on

    Edinburgh are getting around 2800 – 4800 for regular league fixtures this season, with a lot more for special fixtures (e.g. the Glasgow game). How does this compare to the gates that were achieved by the Reivers for comparable matches? I’m not looking for a fight, just some facts.
    As for Aberdeen I think there is a lot of interest in pro rugby here. It’s a fairly mobile population and I know a lot of people that would love to see and support a Pro team, but who would rarely/never go to see Grammar. These folk are not dyed in the wool types, but more fans of high level sport and having an entertaining time. I do feel for it to work that the stadium location would be very important. Something based around the Sports Village or Pittodrie would work, within striking distance of the town centre, university and near to the main bus routes.

    • FF on

      The 2800 is for games during the 6N taken away from Murrayfield. Their average attendance last season was 4,382 with a highest attendance of 10,125 and a lowest of 3,000 according to Statbunker.

      For the 2007/8 season Edinburgh’s average attendance was 2,889 with a highest attendance of 6,225 and a low of 1,200. I can’t find average attendance figures for before that but individual games attendances can still be found on the Guinness Pro-12 archive and are around 1,000-1,300 I think.

      It should also be pointed out for context that when the Borders was folded Edinburgh was under franchise ownership of the Carruthers brothers and actually put out a statement condemning the closing of the Borders and not being consulted during the SRUs review. This was at a time when the whole of Scottish rugby could conceivably have been bankrupted and the stadium debt reached £23m with income being pitiful.

    • Andy McLellan on

      Just to jump in about the Aberdeen possibility – Aberdeen Football Club are desperate to get away from Pittodrie and build a new stadium, however one of the stumbling blocks in place has obviously been planning permission from the council. It’s a story that’s rumbled on for years.

      However, they wiped out their debt last year and now are being ran pretty well. One of their biggest investors is Aberdeen Asset Management whose boss is very keen to fund a third pro team in the area. There’s an article on BBC Sport from the tale end of last year and he cites one of the stumbling blocks for setting a team up there is a lack of viable stadiums. Ground share anyone?

      But, like you, I do believe there’s an appetite for it in the North East. Attendances at AFC’s matches have been up in recent years, a lot of that is down to the fact they’re doing well, but they also brought 40,000 down to Glasgow for a cup final last season. Different sports, I know but you’re potentially tapping into a pretty large catchment area if you include Dundee in that too.

      • Angus on

        I think Montrose would be the perfect place for a new team and super stadium. With it being equally accessible from Aberdeen and Dundee. Stadium share with AFC would work as well because Montrose has lacked a football team for many years

      • Neil on

        Sharing a ground with Aberdeen FC would be a great idea. I don’t think Montrose would take off- too far from both Dundee and Aberdeen. Fans are much more likely to attend if it is based in Aberdeen and the possibility of corporate sponsorship would be higher.

        But how about a team in Fife?

    • FF on

      Sorry I garbled that previous post – the 1,000-1,300 estimate prior to 2007/8 was for the Border Reivers. This isn’t an average I just looked at a couple of archived match reports (v Leinster, Ospreys and Dragons, selected by stumbling on them) for the season before Borders were disbanded.

      That compares to the 2,889 average for Edinburgh the season following the Borders being disbanded which is the first year Statbunker keeps records for. I can’t see any reason their attendances would have changed much in that one year.

      • Neil on

        Poor numbers but I believe that was because the game was not promoted or advertised in the borders region in the way it should have been. Pro football teams can survive with attendance figure in the 1000-2000 range so why not rugby. Poor management and poor advertising/promotion were to result in the downfall of the Reivers, nothing else.

  7. Matto on

    Those are indeed very poor numbers. Even Zebre regularly get double that. It’s hard to imagine that a pro team can raise enough gate revenue, advertising and broadcasting to be sustainable with that level of support. Is there any reason to believe things would be different a second time round? What could be done to improve things – establish a ‘neutral’ venue (assuming that tribalism is one of the main factors)?…

    • Angus on

      I think you are spot on Matto. The Reivers failed because they were not financially viable and lacked support / bums on seats

      What if anything would be different a second time round?

      • Neil on

        Promotion, aggressive advertising + more bums on seats. Careful management = not going over budget. Add a determination to achieve corporate sponsorship and, hey PRESTO- you have a team.

      • Angus on

        Advertising? Promotion? Have you been to the Borders? I really don’t think there would have been anyone who didn’t know when the Borders were playing.

        It’s an easy response and sounds so simplistic but fails to show any grip on the reality of Borders sentiment

        Maybe you are auditioning for a Borders based remake of Field of Dreams

        I am not saying a Borders based Pro team is an impossibility just that it would require a far greater grip on reality than you have shown thus far

  8. Angus on

    Sounds like a great end to the season with action at top and bottom which is exactly what every comp wants. How long have there been playoffs for the title and is it a straight semi final > final?

  9. Neil on

    GO MELROSE GO- you should be the next pro team and would probably be more than a match for the existing two at present.

  10. Neil on

    To Scottish Rugby blog

    How about adding a new thred on the subject of promoting a third or forth pro team. This is a hot topic and most of us think it is necessary.

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