Borders rugby clubs get set to pack a punch in league openers

ALL eyes will be on the oval ball this weekend as Borders rugby teams step up to the plate to launch into, what looks to be, another tough season on the national circuit.

But for Melrose it seems the sky is the limit. Sharing his thoughts, and his wish list, on the season ahead, coach Craig Chalmers said: “I believe this will be the tightest and toughest Premier One season ever. All the teams have strengthened in their own ways and I cannot see any weak sides.

“Our main aim again is to win the Premier One title, retaining it last year was tough and this year will be even tougher. We have a good group for the British and Irish Cup and would like to qualify for the quarter-finals after some excellent displays over the last two seasons.

“We would like to get back to Murrayfield again this year and win the domestic cup competition. We would also like to have a successful Melrose 7s and win the Kings of the 7s after missing out last year.”

Melrose, who travel to play Stirling County this weekend, have strengthened their playing squad with the inclusion of Lewis Mallin (winger), Kelso; Greg White (winger/full back), Toulouse RL; Richard Mill (stand-off/centre), Esher; Colin Arthur (prop), Biggar, and Nick McGrath (centre/wing), Southland (NZ).

“We also have Wayne Mitchell, Stuart Johnston and Jamie Murray returning to the fold after playing bit-parts last season,” added Chalmers.

“Added to that we also have a rich crop of under-18 players stepping up from the Melrose Wasps.

“So when and if everyone is fit, we should have good strength in depth to compete on all fronts.”

Snapping at the heels of their Border rivals will be neighbours Gala, who also would like to add the league trophy to their collection having won the domestic cup back in May. But what about head coach George Graham’s thoughts? Are they ready to face Heriot’s on Saturday in the Premiership?

“If I’m being honest, we’re not ready,” he told TheSouthern.

“The biggest enigma I’ve got with the players is that I don’t know where they are mentally.

“That makes me pull my hair out every Saturday. Hopefully, they’ll turn up on Saturday and we’ll get a performance.”

Down in the new National League Four, Borders teams will be battling it out for places among Scotland’s elite and last weekend’s Border League results suggested a huge divide among the quartet.

However, with most treating the local tournament as a warm-up, the general feeling is of optimism.

Speaking ahead of his team’s derby clash against Kelso at Philiphaugh, Selkirk head coach Brian Cassidy said: “We have to put last week behind us and not get carried away. The players know they have to set the bar and work to it and I believe they can do that.”

Over at Riverside Park, head coach Darren Cunningham is frustrated at not being able to build his team as quickly as he would like.

He told us: “We’ve had players leaving and other players signing pro contracts. We don’t know whether or not we will have the use of these players, so we haven’t been able to recruit because we didn’t know what we were going to have.

“Obviously we are going to have to take another look at that, but I still think we will be ok for the start of the season.”

Looking ahead to this weekend’s home clash with Hillhead Jordanhill, Cunningham added: “They will have a big pack, but if we get the ball and run them around and stay positive we should be fine.”

Peebles and Hawick YM kick-off their new season in Championship B against Musselburgh (away) and Kirkcaldy (home) respectively.