Updated: New boys first up for Southern Knights next rugby season
The competition, renamed the Fosroc Super Series Championship, is being expanded by the inclusion of a youth side, called the Fosroc Future XV, and the Borderers will be the first to take them on, hosting them at their Greenyards home ground in Melrose on the opening day of the new season – Friday, July 28, with kick-off at 7.35pm.
That’ll be one of two home games for the Knights against the new boys, a feeder team for Scotland’s under-20s, next campaign as they’re playing all 12 of their fixtures on the road, their second visit to the Greenyards being on Saturday, September 23, at 5pm.
Head coach Alan Tait’s Knights and the other five semi-professional franchises contesting the championship – Watsonians, Heriot’s, Boroughmuir Bears, Ayrshire Bulls and Stirling Wolves – will play each other home and away as usual, however.
Former Scotland international Tait, 58, is relishing the prospect of going up against a prospective future generation of Scotland stars, saying: “They’re Scotland’s next generation, as such, and they’ll be their under-20s for next year.
“Obviously they’re just coming into the competition and they’ll want to do well, but it’ll be tough for them to start off with, like it always is, as they’re a new side and a lot of their potential players will have been away in Kenya for the World Rugby U20 Trophy so they probably won’t join them for three or four weeks after we start because they’ll need a rest after getting back, I would have thought.
“It’ll be tough for them but I’m looking forward to seeing the youngsters getting involved.”
Next up for the Knights after their opener will be a trip to Edinburgh to take on Watsonians, last year’s champions, on Friday, August 4, also at 7.35pm.
Knights lost their last meeting with Watsonians, with Borderer Stevie Scott as the capital side’s head coach, 42-10 away in the Fosroc Super Series Sprint in April.
They also lost home and away to the capital side last championship season with Bruce Ruthven as head coach, by 36-12 in August and 28-14 in October respectively.
They then host Ayrshire Bulls on Saturday, August 12, at 3pm, before returning to the capital on Saturday, August 19, to take on Boroughmuir at 5pm.
The addition of a seventh team means the Knights sit out round five of the competition at the end of August, returning to action at home to Stirling Wolves on Saturday, September 2, at 3pm.
Round seven of the contest sees them back in the capital to take on Heriot’s on Saturday, September 9, at 5pm.
They host Watsonians on Saturday, September 30, and though that’s pencilled in as a 3pm kick-off, they’ve asked that it be put back to 5pm as Melrose are due to play a National League Division 1 Borders derby at home to Gala at the same time.
A trip to Ayr follows on Friday, October 6, at 7.35pm; then Boroughmuir at home on Saturday, October 14, at 5pm; Stirling away on Friday, October 27, at 7.35pm; and, wrapping up the regular season, Heriot’s at home on Friday, November 3, at 7.35pm.Play-offs follow on Friday, November 10, and Saturdays, November 11 and 18.
Tait is still in the process of assembling his squad but pre-season training is already under way and he’s looking forward to the new campaign, saying: “We’re getting there, but it’s not easy as all the clubs are chasing players.
“We’re all looking at the players we want and it’s usually the same ones, so it’s a bit of a race.
“There are a few of our lads who’ve gone back to club rugby as they’ve tried Super6 and given it their best and decided it’s not for them and a few going back to their universities.
“We’ve got players in on trial at the moment and we’ll have a good look at them and hopefully they’ll come through it and we’ll keep them on. We just need to go through a process and see what they’re all about first.
“It’s a really testing time the recruitment process but the fixtures are out now and we’ve got 20-odd lads in training and a few youngsters getting involved as well, which is good to see.”
Five of the Knights’ dozen fixtures are Friday-night kick-offs and Tait is regarding that as bonus as it will reduce the number of calendar clashes forcing fans to choose between the semi-professional championship and club game.
“It means we won’t clash with so many club games and that’ll be a positive in the Borders as we’ll have four teams in the premiership this year – Hawick, Selkirk, Jed-Forest and Kelso – and fans will be wanting to support them but hopefully they’ll be able to get out to see the lads in action on those Fridays too,” he said.
Former Scotland and Biggar hooker Scott Lawson has been appointed as head coach of the new youth side in the seven-strong championship, with Euan Clark and Shade Munro as his assistants, and they’ll be helped out by Scott Forrest and Fergus Pringle.
Explaining the reason for the creation of the new team, Scottish Rugby performance director Jim Mallinder said: “We are committed to providing more high-performance opportunities for our players.
“After the inclusion of the two professional A squads in this year’s Fosroc Super Series Sprint, this is yet another exciting step towards bridging the performance gap between the amateur and professional game.
“Providing higher-level competition and increased time in high-performance environments for our under-20 players ensures that we are best preparing them for the ever-increasing demands of international rugby.”