WATSONIANS head coach Fergus Pringle rejects the suggestion that his team finishing top of the table at the end of the first Super6 regular season makes them the team to beat this time round. As he looked ahead to taking his side west to kick-off their 2021 campaign away to Ayrshire Bulls this Sunday, the understated Southern African insisted that he and the team still have an awful lot to prove.
“I think we all know that it is a totally new season with very different squads,” said Pringle. “We might have been top of the table last season but the bottom line is that we didn’t play in the play-offs because of Covid and we didn’t get our hands on the trophy. In any case, I don’t think you can read too much into season one.
“I think we are still trying to win the respect of other teams like Heriot’s, Ayr now Ayrshire Bulls and Melrose now Southern Knights, who have been consistently successful for a number of years. They have earned that right to be regarded as the top clubs and our motivation is to get ourselves up there into that bracket, which means achieving more than just one good season.
“I think we started to earn respect as that first season wore on, but I still think we need to prove ourselves, to be honest.”
Pringle’s 32-player squad for this season contains 16 new faces and 16 returners from season one, with 10 of the recent recruits in the match-day 23 for this weekend’s match.
The scrum has been bolstered by the arrival of two experienced tight-heads in Angus Williams (a New Zealander who arrived in Scotland just before lockdown and was rewarded for his perseverance with some game time with Edinburgh towards the tail-end of last season) and Steven Longwell (a former Millbrae favourite who most recently played for Old Glory DC in the USA).
Former Scotland Under-20s player Kwagga Van Niekerk has arrived from South Africa and is named in the second-row this weekend, while former Currie Chieftains and Scotland 7s star Harvey Elms links up with Jamie Forbes and Lomond Macpherson in a lively looking back three.
The depth of the Watsonians squad is going to be tested from the off because they face Stirling County at home in their next match on Friday.
“We tried to change that,” said Pringle. “It is a big ask to come back from playing no rugby for 16 months and then play two competitive games in five days, but it is what it is. It comes down to squad rotation and we’ve got a plan in place to hopefully get through this first month when we have one home gam and three away matches. It will be a big challenge, but we are using that to motivate ourselves, we know we are going to have to be up for it.”
The franchise did suffer a setback earlier this week when Angus Guthrie was ruled out of the entire campaign through injury. His place in the squad has been taken by Scott King, who recently represented Scotland in the U20s Six Nations.
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Meanwhile, Pat MacArthur has been juggling his day job as a project manager for Cala Homes with being head coach of Ayrshire Bulls since his appointment as Peter Murchie‘s replacement back in May, but is confident that the Millbrae men have done everything necessary to ensure they hit the ground running this weekend.
“I haven’t just appeared on the coaching scene down here, I have been working for some time with the team as a forwards and defence coach,” the former Glasgow Warriors and Scotland hooker points out. “Ayr’s system is brilliant and I’m lucky enough to have come through from the youth set-up, into the age-grades, and all the way up to senior rugby, so I know the place inside out and it does help that a local boy is now in charge of the top team because I’ve got a lot of good will and support.
“Then with the professional background I am lucky enough that Pete Horne and Rob Harley, who I played alongside with for ten years at Glasgow, have decided to come on board as assistants,” he added. “I obviously have my own ideas as a head coach but these guys are vastly experienced and will bring their own slant. So, for all it is my team, it really is a group effort in terms of how we’ve come together and have prepared for this season.
“Ayr’s DNA isn’t going to vastly change,” he added. “I’ve been back here coaching for five years, so it is more about little tweaks rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.
“It is very busy, but it is my local club so when the job came up I felt I was a good fit for it, and it is something I enjoy doing. I love rugby and I felt like I could help push the club on.”
The Bulls have some serious firepower out wide this weekend with former Glasgow Warrior Robbie Nairn on the left wing and Bobby Beattie – previously of Glasgow Hawks, London Scottish and briefly Ealing Trailfinders – on the other touchline.
George Thornton, another ex-Glasgow Warrior, is at loose-head prop, Ryan Sweeney will hope to reproduce his pre-Covid form with Glasgow Hawks at blindside flanker, and the side will be captained from No8 by Blair MacPherson.
- The match is being shown live on FreeSports (Freeview HD channel 64, Sky HD channel 422, Virgin HD 553, TalkTalk 64, BT Vision channel 64 and on the online FreeSports Player).
Ayrshire Bulls (versus Watsonians @ Millbrae on Sunday 1st August, kick-off 1.30pm): M Davidson; R Beattie, T Williams, T Jordan, R Nairn; M Minogue, J Lenac (vice-captain); G Thornton, R Tanner, M Scott, T Everard, E Bloodworth (vice-captain), R Sweeney, Y Fantini, B MacPherson (captain).
Subs: A McGuire, R Sayce, C Henderson, E Bulger, G Wilson, H Warr, C Townsend, A Tait.
Watsonians: J Forbes; L Macpherson, L Berg, D Coetzer, H Elms; L Millar (captain), R Cullen; H Courtney, C Davies, A Williams, K Van Niekerk, M Badenhorst, K Main, H Fisher, S Daly.
Subs: R Graham, N Argiro, S Longwell, K Watt, L Ball, C Wilson, M Scott, S King.