Kelso officials tell of pride at hosting South of Scotland in rugby’s inter-district championship

Kelso Rugby Club's Poynder Park home ground (Photo: Stuart Cobley)Kelso Rugby Club's Poynder Park home ground (Photo: Stuart Cobley)
Kelso Rugby Club's Poynder Park home ground (Photo: Stuart Cobley)
Rugby officials in Kelso have told of their pride at hosting South of Scotland for a Scottish inter-district championship match for the first time this century later this year.

​Head coach Matty Douglas’s South side will play their only home game of the revived championship at Kelso’s Poynder Park versus Glasgow and the West on Saturday, March 30, with kick-off at 3pm.

Their other fixtures of the championship, being played in a league format this time round rather than in pools, giving teams one more game apiece, are away – to Edinburgh at Musselburgh’s Stoneyhill ground on Saturday, March 23, and Caledonia Reds at Highland’s Canal Park pitch in Inverness on Saturday, April 6, both 3pm kick-offs too.

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The red-and-white-hooped regional representatives’ sole home match of last year’s revived championship, the first since 2002, was a 50-17 victory over Edinburgh at Netherdale in Galashiels in May prior to their 32-30 loss to Caledonia Reds in a final played at Glasgow Hutchesons Aloysians’ Braidholm ground later that month.

Bruce McNeil during South of Scotland's 32-30 loss to Caledonia Reds in May's Scottish inter-district championship final at Braidholm in Glasgow (Photo: Bryan Robertson)Bruce McNeil during South of Scotland's 32-30 loss to Caledonia Reds in May's Scottish inter-district championship final at Braidholm in Glasgow (Photo: Bryan Robertson)
Bruce McNeil during South of Scotland's 32-30 loss to Caledonia Reds in May's Scottish inter-district championship final at Braidholm in Glasgow (Photo: Bryan Robertson)

Poynder Park did host a match during the 2001/02 championship, at the end of December 2001, a 60-0 victory at home to Edinburgh, but it was contested by the Scottish Borders amateur district side rather than the South that time round on their way to winning the title.

It also played host to a 15-9 win for Border Reivers versus Edinburgh in January 1997 en route to a third-placed finish in the table, as well as a 23-16 Heineken Cup pool-stage loss to Welsh outfit Pontypridd for the now-defunct professional team in September of that year.

The South’s three one-off home matches between the demise 22 years ago of the championship, first contested in 1953, and its revival last year were played at Netherdale in December 2009, a 37-3 victory against Northumberland; Hawick’s Mansfield Park in October 2011, a 22-15 win versus the Barbarians; and Jedburgh’s Riverside Park in November 2016, a 33-7 success over Caledonia Reds.

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They also played Reds away, in November 2017, winning 40-24 at Stirling’s Bridgehaugh Park.

Current Kelso player-coach Bruce McNeil played in all four of those games and in last year’s championship and hasn’t been ruled out of playing this time round too – as well as being among Douglas’s assistant coaches, along with Selkirk’s Gordon Henderson and Melrose’s Iain Chisholm – despite having turned 40 in June.

He was one of two players from last season’s Scottish National League Division 1 champions in the South’s starting XV against Edinburgh in May along with Dwain Patterson, with captain Frankie Robson among the replacements, and all three started against Reds.

The South’s try-scorers in May’s final were captain Shawn Muir and his Hawick team-mate Kirk Ford, Melrose’s Calum Crookshanks and Musselburgh’s Michael Badenhorst, with Gala’s Craig Dods kicking two penalties and two conversions.

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Reds’ try-scorers were Highland’s Adriu Muritoki, Stirling County’s Callum MacPherson, Glasgow Hawks’ Liam Brims and Falkirk’s Harry Russell, with Brims adding three conversions and a penalty and Falkirk’s Glen Faulds also kicking a penalty.

Welcoming the championship’s return to Poynder Park, Kelso secretary Norman Anderson said: “We are delighted to be hosting the game against Glasgow, especially as it’s the only home game and Glasgow were the only side the South did not play last season.

“Traditionally, Kelso were a regular host to inter-district games, especially if we go back to the 1960s and ’70s as we were the only club with floodlights in the Borders and, as a result, midweek home games had to come our way.

“We have already set up a steering committee at Kelso to ensure everything goes well at Poynder on March 30.

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“Rugby in the town is quite buoyant just now with the good form of our first XV and we have built up a strong support base and membership. Hopefully, these folk will come along to cheer on the South.

“We had a few players in the squad last season, coming from a National 1 side, and we would like to think that will improved upon this year because of our good form in the premier league.”

Neil Hinnigan, director of rugby at Kelso, currently fifth in the Scottish Premiership, on 40 points from 14 fixtures, following their promotion last year, added: “It’s great and not just for the club, for the whole community.

“It’s also great to get a full championship, and for Kelso to be the only club here hosting it is massive.

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“We’re hugely honoured to have it in Kelso, and with us playing as well as we are at the moment, we’d expect to have a good representation in the South squad as well.”

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