THE coach has assembled his squad, a captain has been named, and the branding has been unveiled. Boroughmuir Bears are confident that they have everything in place on and off the pitch as they prepare for Super 6 – a competition they see as the start of a “new era” for the club itself and for Scottish rugby.
That confidence should not be mistaken for over-confidence. Given the strength of some of the other squads in the competition, and their parent clubs’ achievements in recent seasons, head coach Graham Shiel expects some tough battles over the coming months – beginning on 8 November, when Stirling County visit Meggetland for the inaugural fixture of the new tournament.
But, having had the bulk of his 35-man squad together for the best part of four months, and with captain Chris Laidlaw and other senior players helping the new boys integrate, Shiel believes that the lengthy run-in time to the new campaign will stand the Bears in good stead. “We started back at the end of June and the time together has been invaluable,” the former Scotland international explained. “It’s built a bit of camaraderie and galvanised the group, and now the rugby’s just around the corner.
“We’ve used the time really well. The players have worked hard and got themselves in better condition than they’ve probably been in for a while, and we know the competition’s going to be pretty tough, so hopefully their preparation will help them withstand the forces they’re going to be coming up against.
“It is impossible to predict, but I think your traditional teams that have been strong for the last several years or decades will continue to be strong. We beat Melrose in the last game of last season, but we’ve got a lot of work to do to be competitive on a regular basis.
“We’re under no illusions – it’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to take time. Our aim is to be competitive this season, and if we could make the top four it would be a really significant step forward for us. Being realistic, that would be our aim.”
Shiel had hoped to have Johnny Matthews, the Premiership’s leading try-scorer last season, as part of his squad, only for Glasgow Warriors to sign up the hooker. But, given that the details of the professional draft have yet to be finalised, Matthews might yet be seen again in Boroughmuir colours on occasion should the Warriors opt to release him.
“That was an 11th-hour one, which wasn’t ideal, necessarily,” the coach said of Glasgow’s decision to sign Matthews. “But at the end of the day we’re delighted Johnny is getting the opportunity with one of the professional teams. Hopefully we don’t lose him altogether, but it’s with our blessings that he goes to Glasgow.
“Discussions are ongoing about the pro draft. I don’t know if there will be any announcements about it – it might be more on a case-by-case basis. I’m led to believe there will be an alignment of [pro] players to the Super 6 programme.”
Despite missing out on Matthews, Shiel has managed to put together a squad that promises to be an impressive blend of new recruits and Boroughmuir stalwarts. The former category includes Scotland Under-20 caps Rufus McLean, Robbie McCallum and Kyle McGhie, while those who have already made a significant contribution to the club include winger Jordan Edmunds, lock Callum Atkinson and of course the skipper.
“Chris has been at the club for a time, which is important for continuity, and he’s been an exemplar of great behaviour,” Shiel said of his decision to appoint Laidlaw as captain. “He epitomises what we’d be looking for in a professional or semi-professional athlete: he works hard, he’s diligent, he’s committed, and he sets good standards on and off the pitch.”
While he provides some continuity, Laidlaw insisted that neither he nor his team-mates could treat things as they had done before. The whole point of Super 6 is to raise standards below pro level, and if that is to be achieved, every member of each squad will have to play his part.
“I’ve been club captain for the past two years, but this has got a very new feeling about it in terms of the playing group and the coaching staff,” Laidlaw said. “There’s no shying away from the fact that this has been a big step up, and I think it needs to be if we’re realistic about this competition being successful and us as a group being successful.
“Ultimately we’re going into this competition as the bottom side if you look at the Premiership standings from last year. We only turned over one of the Super 6 teams and that took us until the last game to beat Melrose, so we’re under no illusions that we’ve got a bit of work to do and a bit of catching up to close the gap with these other teams – but that’s exciting for us.”
That excitement is shared by Boroughmuir president Stevie Douglas, who hopes and believes that the Stirling County match and subsequent fixtures can attract a wider audience to the sport as well as enthusing greater numbers of traditional supporters. “The whole club is feeling pretty excited about hosting the event,” he said. “We see this as the start of a new era. Meggetland is a fabulous stadium and we intend to show it at its best and do what we can to create a fantastic atmosphere and deliver a match day experience that feels fresh, engaging and fun.
“We are engaging with our community to attract as many rugby fans and supporters, old and new, to come down to Meggetland and hopefully convert them into becoming regular supporters. I’ve always enjoyed Friday night games under the lights and I am really looking forward to seeing a large Meggetland crowd drive on the performance of our Fosroc Super 6 teams.”