DESPITE the region no longer having a pro team, Borders sides have enjoyed plenty of achievements in a successful season.
Melrose secured back-to-back Premier One championship titles which takes a lot of doing, while Gala, fresh up from Premier Two, weren’t far behind their local rivals, beating them twice out of three meetings last season.
They ended up winning a place in the British & Irish Cup next season (along with Melrose) and added the Scottish Cup and Border League title for good measure.
Hawick had a disappointing start to the season and a change at the top with Phil Leck taking over as head coach was needed to steady the ship. The results started coming again, and while they couldn’t stay in Premier One they did get to the final of the Border League and a brighter future looks on the cards next season as they continue to rebuild.
Jed-Forest started off their Premier Two campaign very well, and despite a dip in form halfway through, they got things back on track and were crowned Premier Two champions. At the end of the season they became Kings of the Sevens by being the most consistent team over the 10-event tournament.
We are usually talking about great escapes when it comes to Kelso. Traditionally poor at the start of a season, they always seem to pluck things out of the bag by the end, giving their supporters an incredibly rough ride along with way.
This time, though, with Eugene Murnane at the helm, they managed to get points on the board although their form on the road was poor. By the time they got to the split into Premier C they were in a comfortable position. They even started to win away from Poynder Park and ended up topping Premier C in front of Selkirk.
Selkirk were never in any danger of being one of the clubs to go out of the Top 20 in Scottish Club Rugby and there was a real improvement in their defensive play. Last season they finished at the bottom of the defence stats, but turned that round to come within a whisker of topping the table by reducing their points conceded by half. With plenty of new players coming through from Borders Semi-junior champions Selkirk Youth Club, the future is looking good.
Sadly, Peebles had a miserable season. Their head coach, Gary Parker, announced mid-season that he was emigrating to Australia and they managed to build up a big list of injuries from key players.
Filling the gaps was extremely difficult and wins were very hard to come by. None of this helped the efforts of new coach Gerry McGuinness, and he became a casualty at the end of the season.
Peebles have signed Peter Wright to take charge next season and that is an appointment which will be watched closely by everyone. The first challenge for the former Scotland Under-20 and Glasgow Hawks coach is to get the club back into the top flight.
In the National League, Hawick YM continued their long winning streak with back-to-back titles. They went from winning Division Two to winning Division One and came close to another final appearance at Murrayfield.
Coach Jammy McFarlane was named as Scotland’s club coach of the year at the Scottish Club Rugby Awards – a phenomenal achievement – while Rory Scott switched from centre to back row and scooped the National League player of the season accolade.
Another winner at the event, held at Murrayfield last Friday, was Michael Weekley of Jed-Forest, who bagged the Premier Two player of the season title.
Further individual successes went to Fraser Thomson (Melrose) and Gregor Young (Jed-Forest) who both scored the most amount of tries by a Borders player in the Premiership last season, scoring 10 each. Andrew Skeen was the region’s most prolific points scorer in Premiership rugby, collecting 202 in the 18 matches.
Melrose won the Borders team of the year title by scoring more match points than anyone else. They also scored more tries (59) than any other local Premiership club during the league season. Their attack was also the best (495 points) while Gala stopped them from a clean sweep by narrowly winning the best defence category (leaking only 308 points), ahead of Selkirk.