SCOTTISH club rugby is going through changes and on Saturday the new season will begin in earnest with 36 clubs in the three Premiership leagues battling it out – but this time round there is far more at stake.
By the end of the campaign, 16 of those clubs will have to say goodbye to national rugby with the 2012-13 season taking on a new regionalised format.
It will mean there are just 10 teams in one Premiership division with another league of 10 below it called the National League. After that, regional leagues will be formed with the Borders clubs not involved in national rugby becoming part of three East Leagues.
It means that for the Borders contingent in Premier Two – Kelso, Peebles, Selkirk and Jed-Forest – the coming season is going to be more crucial than ever.
These four will have to fight like they’ve never fought before to survive in the Top 20. It’s going to be tough, but exciting, and it will be so important for everyone to hit the ground running from day one and build momentum before the important split towards the end of the year.
Just how many Borders sides will be at the top table of Scottish rugby by the start of the 2012-13 campaign is going to be interesting. It could be that seven remain or there could be as little as four. Going down to regional rugby would be a disaster. While the clubs voted for this format at the recent SRU AGM for the better of the game in Scotland, it creates issues for some who rely on quality national competition to attract crowds.
This year, however, the format is similar to last season. Premier One’s top eight after 11 games move into Premier A to fight it out for the Championship. The split will also see the bottom four from Premier One join the top four from Premier Two to form Premier B. Those clubs will then play each other once and after each has completed their seven games, the top two start in the new Premiership next season, while the other six play in the National League.
The Premier Two sides which finish their first part of the season in the bottom eight positions will then find themselves in a dogfight. Those eight clubs will form Premier C with the top four getting into the National League and the bottom four dropping to regional rugby, alongside the 12 teams in Premier Three.
Moving on to other matters and the national cup competition (now known as the RBS Cup) will re-vitalise the Border League.
With a potential place at Murrayfield at stake, the RBS Cup will see all the main players from the region going head-to-head with double headers for the Border League and cup.
The pool system is still in place for the Border League which means the winner will not meet all the main clubs on the way to the title, but there will be a feast of local derbies. At a stroke, Border League games will be priority dates and not cast aside as in previous years.
As for player movement over the summer, a big boost for Melrose is having winger Fraser Thomson back from Sale where things didn’t work out. It will be fantastic to see him in action locally again this year.
GALA (Premier One)
OUT: Bruce Dick, Ghino Huarau, Mitch Walton, Alan Johnston, Mike Christie, Greg Marks, Mark Kibble.
IN: Craig Robertson, Craig Borthwick, Gregor Hunter, Gary Lowrie, Russell Anderson, Chris Auld, Bryce Turner.
HAWICK (Premier One)
OUT: Craig Robertson, Gary Lowrie, David Lowrie, Alistair Marsh.
IN: Lee Armstrong, Nicky Little, Ross Gibson, Shawn Muir, Steven Bouglas, Ross Armstrong.
MELROSE (Premier One)
OUT: Callum Anderson, Scott Wight, Ben Allen, Richard Higgins, Nicky Little, Brodie Runciman, Hayden Mitchell, Craig Jackson, Ewan Ford, Gavin Robertson.
IN: Dallas Pawley, Peter Eccles, Alan Walker, William Massey, Chris Keen, Andrew Skeen, Bruce Dick, Thomas Wilson.
JED-FOREST (Premier Two)
IN: Johnny Cunningham, Kevin Aitchison, Andrew Ions.
KELSO (Premier Two)
OUT: Adnaan Osman, MeeKaaEel Hartley, Iain Moody, Gareth Riddell, Chris Keen, Na Ione, Frank Young.
IN: Richard Minto, Donald Seed, David Lowrie, Alistair Marsh, Lewis Mallin, Ewan Ford, Ryan Selkirk.
PEEBLES (Premier Two)
OUT: Craig Borthwick, Willie Aitken, Dave McLean, Shanon Temita.
IN: Rory Milne, Josh Forrester, Jake Serex, Clemens Kaindl, Nathan MacKay, Tawhiri Walsh, David Kilgour.
SELKIRK (Premier Two)
OUT: Simon Willett, Matt Weller, Ross Armstrong.
IN: Clement Lacour, Yanniek Amiel, Jaba Kikvidze, Alex Godsmark.
HAWICK YM (National One)
OUT: Lee Armstrong, Lewis Mallin, Ross Gibson
IN: Wullie Blacklock, Rory Scott, Andy Hamilton.
LANGHOLM (National One)
OUT: Russell Anderson.