With the BT Premiership due to kick-off this Saturday (30th August) Brodie Smithers previews the prospects of all ten teams.
In the Borders rugby is a significant part of the region’s rural makeup. In almost all rugby clubs down there you will spot a wall with a framed mural on it, commemorating glorious years gone by. There is a rich heritage of match-ups between boroughs and towns bursting with civic pride. For many years these small towns have defied logic as they continually produce teams of rugby players from small groups. This ‘Us against Everyone’ feeling that all the clubs have is one that perpetually regenerated their own league, the oldest in rugby history, the Borders League.
A lot has been made in recent days of the renewed proposal for restructuring the leagues in Scotland. The ‘Season Structure Working Party’, comprising of representatives from Premier 1 to the Regional Leagues, has put forward its proposal (pretty much identical to that tabled in 2010) and is hoping to implement changes as early as next season.
Sorry for the belated piece, guys; I’m currently playing rugby in Canada and have been enjoying, *ahem*, what North America has to offer. That is a report for another day, though…
So the Premier 1 season is done! Over! Finito! And what a surprising and refreshing season it has been for Scottish Club Rugby. With all the grumblings about the proposed changes to structure and format for the top divisions and whether it is what ‘amateur’ rugby needs, and a rumoured step away from an allegedly ailing cup competition perhaps it is a good time to reflect on the positives of this season.
Every time you turn on the news these days you are bombarded with the word ‘CHANGE’. The politicians are all screaming it. Travel agents can’t get enough of it. Even the chief exec.’s of Rangers and Celtic seem to be on the streets begging for some spare. So what is set to change in Scottish rugby next season?
The answer to that appears to be the squads of almost every single ‘top level’ team.
This saturday sees the men’s semi’s (classic!) of the Scottish Hydro Premier Cup in which league leaders Currie travel south to face Melrose and Champions Ayr host cup holders Heriot’s. Both of these fixtures are interesting, to say the least. While it has been noted that the league’s trailblazers have been kept apart this does not necessarily mean that Currie and Ayr will play each other on the big pitch later this month.
A delayed roundup of last weekend’s premier 1 matches. Things are getting tight at the top as Hawks beat Dundee, Melrose got the win they had needed and every top half team is ravenously hunting for a top four spot rumoured to earn the highest placed teams a station in next years British and Irish Cup. Of course this is all supposition right now. Something that is true, however, is that Watsonians are staring into the relegation abyss after losing to Selkirk. It could come to the wire between them and fellow strugglers Accies but with two of their remaining games against Melrose and Hawks, things aren’t looking good for the men in maroon.
After two games and countless shredded nerves the 6N takes a break. Good thing, then, that the weather is taking another bad turn!
Front runners Currie are away, while their nearest rivals Ayr are hoping to claw Currie back with a win at home. At the other end of the table the bottom two, Watsonians and Stew Mel, face off. It could perhaps be a cagey Saturday for a lot of teams with Hawks vs Currie, Accies vs Dundee and Watsonians vs Stew Mel looking to be quite tight and physically brutal. Also expect games like Boroughmuir vs. Melrose and Heriot’s vs. Selkirk to have some end to end action. It could be a much different story with West. While there could be some smart play from the Burnbrae outfit Ayr are able to tot up a fairly big score in their current vein of form.
Here are the games as they are set to KO:
Ayr – West of Scotland
at Millbrae (ko 3pm)
Heriot’s – Selkirk
at Goldenacre (ko 3pm)
Watsonians – Stew Mel
at Myreside (ko 3pm)
Boroughmuir – Melrose
at Meggetland (ko 3pm)
Edinburgh Accies – Dundee High
at Raeburn Place (ko 3pm)
SRB Game of the Weekend: Glasgow Hawks – Currie
at Old Anniesland (ko 3pm)
Hawks have a few games in hand and at home could be dark horses against Currie. Both teams look at their best with structure so whichever side looks after the ball better for the entire match should come out on top. Currie have a bit of an advantage when they break, but with both back lines having nifty backs able to exploit a space this will hopefully have some exciting tries from both teams.
Players to watch: Hawks stand-off Duncan Weir and Currie’s Richard Snedden
When one looks at Rory Hutton, he’ll be the first to admit, he doesn’t look like a rugby player. Tall and slender, slight with a lazy gate you could be forgiven for thinking he was an electrician, or something! Then you put a ball in the kid’s hands.
When Rory played against Cardiff on the 9th of January rugby viewers in the Celtic regions sat up and took notice. While easing into the game in a way natural to his insouciant spirit, it was his feint and dart that made spectators catch their breath. Twice he unlocked the Cardiff defence and made seasoned pros and British Lions follow imaginary passes. If he gets on this Friday he could do it to Munster.
He’s been doing this for years. Just ask anyone from Hawick. He’s got 5 7’s caps to prove he is a talented ball player. Even in his fleeting forays into this season’s Scottish Hydro Premier 1 matches for Heriot’s he has shown glimpses of something special. Is he ready for a professional contract? Most likely. Is he going to be the answer to Scotland’s problems at 10? We will have to wait and see. One thing is for sure; Wherever Rory plays, he will be doing so with a smile on his face.
A.D. briefly caught up (‘Countdown’ style) with Rory this week;
AD: Alright, Rory! How do you feel your season has gone so far?
RH: It’s been ok. A bit stop start with injuries but I’ve had a game with Edinburgh and on the whole it’s going pretty well.
Being, ostensibly, an Academy player stepping into your first pro. game, how did you feel before the Cardiff game?
I did feel a little bit nervous. Training had gone well, though, and I was more excited at the chance, rather than anything else.
Having made an impact on that game how have you coped with the increase in recognition and notoriety? A lot are calling for you to get a contract next season/play for Scotland, after all!
Ha-ha it’s been fine! I’ve not noticed it too much to be honest. I try and just get on with my rugby.
Has it changed your outlook on games?
No I always take every game the same. It’s important to perform at whatever level I’m involved in.
What is your normal match preparation? (Day before: food, sleep, cinema, swimming etc)?
I try and eat well and regularly. Other than that I just chill out, usually with the girlfriend.
How lovely…Away from rugby, what is your Nickname?
For some reason I have now become known as ‘The Eel’ at Heriot’s.
What is your drink of choice?
I am prone to an Irn Bru.
What’s a perfect Saturday night for you?
I like to go out have a good laugh with the boys. Always being sensible, though…
What is your ‘Dream Job’?
I wouldn’t mind being a musician.
If you could be a kingpin in any other sport, who would it be?
Easy. Usain bolt. Superstar.
Which 3 people, dead or alive, would you love to go for a pint with?
Frankie Boyle, Peter Griffin from family guy…and your lovely self!
And finally…Scarlett Johansson or Beyonce Knowles?
Look out for Rory in Edinburgh’s colours this Friday as he lines up on the bench against champions Munster. He could also feature for Heriot’s in their upcoming British and Irish Cup games. It could be an exciting 6N period for the youngster.
I will hopefully be back soon with a quick word with another up-and-coming Scottish prospect…
It had emerged over the weekend that Graham Lowe, the director of performance rugby in Scotland, intends to review the set-up of the top division. As coaches bemoan the lack of respect club sides get and call out for a semi-professional atmosphere in Scottish club rugby people are searching for alternatives. The main drive of Lowe’s review, it could be suggested, will be to make more money from Prem 1. A concept as elusive as Julien Malzieu (yeah, it’s time to get nervous/excited about Sunday already!).
Scottish club rugby needs a new way to generate excitement. But how do you make it more sexy?! The mainstream ideal tends to be cutting the league down to a more competitive 10 team league. In fact, if The Scotsman is to be believed, the powers that be at Hawks have produced a paper calling for the league to be reformatted to include 8 teams only. This, however, looks unlikely. One; because it is improbable that all the Prem 1 powers will agree on this but also because, two; it is doubtful that Lowe would propose such a grand change so soon into his tenure that could instantly alienate up to 6 clubs as 4 are relegated and 2 denied promotion.
It is obvious that change is needed in some degree. The truth is, however, that cutting the amount of teams alone would not guarantee that the premier club rugby competition in this country is more exciting. More competitive? Definitely. More entertaining? I, for one, am not convinced.
Excitement is what generates more interest. More interest generates more coverage. More coverage generates bigger attendances and more sponsorship. In short, ladies and gentlemen, excitement brings the bucks. So Prem 1 needs to foster the pluralist notion of entertainment and rivalry within a league, preferably shortened to 10 teams. Some remit, Mr. Lowe! You’d have an easier job convincing card-happy Hines that collecting yellows in the 6N is not a good thing.
Would a play-off between the top 4 teams at the end of the season create more buzz? Would a play-off at the bottom of the league create more buzz? How do we get the BBC or STV to show more of our ‘amateur’ games? Craig Chalmers has been saying for months that play-offs (at the top half of the table at least) would not only initiate interest but give local broadcasters a better package to work with. This would definitely seem more marketable.
As well as this theory, Lowe is said to be considering an SPL-style split at a certain point in the season where the top-half teams fight for the title while the bottom-half teams scrap for survival. This would engender a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality, but seems to lack the market appeal of a shorter play-off product. Either way the mission is clear. Get more punters; thrill more punters; take cash off more punters. As a punter, I’m just hoping the league retains some of its classic rivalries while offering a fair opportunity for teams to earn a league title. And some unexpected high scoring results wouldn’t go amiss, either, thank you Mr. Director!