Cup campaigns come to the fore for Borders teams

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ONCE again Borders rugby followers see a break in league action this weekend as cup competitions come to the fore on Saturday.

Gala and Melrose will both be picking up their British and Irish Cup campaigns – and each have very different agendas.

At Netherdale Gala play host to Llanelli and can still make a big impact on Pool Six. A win would leave George Graham’s men breathing down the necks of group leaders Moseley going into the last weekend. For Melrose B&I Cup hopes have already been dashed, but they will travel to Llandovery this weekend looking to put a halt to their recent downturn in form.

Director of rugby Mike Dalgetty said: “Five very important league games remain, so the next two weeks’ action in the British and Irish Cup must serve the purpose of us preparing for the next league game against Aberdeen.”

Callum Anderson makes a very welcome return to the Melrose jersey this week, while the Dodds duo, Graeme and Allan, will be back in action for the Storm over the next couple of games. In October Llandovery travelled to the Greenyards and treated the hosts to a 29-14 turnover, and president John Reed is looking for revenge at Church Bank.

He said: “In our home fixture with them they were a bit too sharp and clinical for us and we found ourselves on the losing side. Hopefully we can raise our game and get the tables turned.”

Three local derbies are also in the offing this weekend as the RBS Regional Cup matches take precedence on the club circuit.

The pick of the bunch is set to take place at Philiphaugh as Hawick travel to take on Selkirk and attempt to close the gap at the top of the table in the process. Having won all of their three games played so far, however, the Souters will be keen to keep up their 100 per cent record in the competition.

Kelso will also be looking to keep in touch with the leaders when they entertain Peebles at Poynder Park, while Hawick YM take on table props Jed-Forest at Mansfield Haugh.

Elsewhere this week Galashiels’ record-breaking internationalist Chris Paterson led the tributes to Scotland’s most-capped scrum-half, Mike Blair, who announced his retirement from international rugby. Blair, 31, is bringing down the curtain on a glittering 10-year international career during which he won 85 caps, skippered Scotland on 14 occasions, toured with the Lions in 2009 and became the only Scottish player so far to be nominated for IRB World Player of the Year (2008).

Paterson, a former Edinburgh and Scotland team-mate of Blair, said: “Mike was one of the most gifted and naturally-skilful players I ever played alongside. His ability to read a game and make the correct decision was brilliant. He was razor-sharp in attack and his defence, especially when chasing back and cover tackling, showed how tough a player he was.”

Blair stated that moving his family to France played a part in his decision, but added: “It’s a combination of reasons that’s led to my standing down from international rugby, not just one factor. For me a place in the squad at the Rugby World Cup in 2015 is not a realistic personal target and, with that in mind, it’s right for Scottish rugby and the Scotland team that other players gain experience in a pivotal position.