A LITTLE improvement can go a long way in the BT Premiership – and Boroughmuir plan to make more than just a little improvement this season. The Meggetland club were seventh last time round, only ensuring safety late in the campaign. But on their day they were able to compete well against their more successful rivals, and head coach Peter Wright is convinced that, with more experience behind them, they can now play their best rugby more consistently.
Turning narrow defeats into narrow victories is more easily said than done, of course, but there are grounds for Wright’s optimism. After being appointed to the post relatively late in the spring of 2016, he has had far more time this year to assess the shortcomings of his squad and recruit accordingly. And, while he expects most of the clubs in the top ten to be of a very similar standard, he is sure that his players have the mental toughness as well as the physical attributes to make headway up the table.
“We’ve lost a couple of players, but most of the squad from last season is still there,” the former Scotland prop explained. “All the young guys are a year better, and we’ve managed to recruit three or four guys in the forwards. We’ve bolstered the pack, which was probably our weakest part last year. We came good towards the end, but we lost a whole pack at the start of last season.
“Getting the job late was the difficult part last season. Peter Blackhall, the manager, was trying to recruit players. I never got appointed until the beginning of May, so we were behind the eight ball a little bit, although Peter did exceptionally well to get some good guys. This year we’ve started recruiting far earlier. Timing is the key to everything.
“We try to do a bit of homework on our guys – what they’re like off the pitch as well as on it. One thing we’ve been driving in the last couple of seasons is the social side and what guys that’ll fit: we want them to train hard and play hard, but we also want them to have a good night out on a Saturday, have a few beers, and not everybody fits into that. You’re trying to get the balance between the guys who are really competitive, and guys who’ll stay around on a Saturday for a couple of beers. It’s good for the club atmosphere and morale – you just bond better over a couple of beers and your friendships become stronger. What we lost a little bit when we went professional was that rugby-club atmosphere.
“Selection will be pretty tough when everyone is fully fit. The squad is certainly stronger and more experienced. We were pretty competitive last year, but we need to learn how to close out the tight games.
“I’ve looked back over the results, and apart from the two games against Currie and the two against Melrose we were actually pretty competitive in every game. We could probably have won a lot of the games that we lost, and I think it was just down to that lack of experience.”
In a relatively short season, an extra couple of wins can make a big difference. Boroughmuir only won five of their 18 fixtures last season, and if they had turned even a handful of their narrow defeats into victories they could have been on the verge of the play-offs. There lies the incentive: bring about that small improvement, and you can reap substantial dividends.
“You can, and I think Currie proved that last season,” Wright said. “I think they got off to a slow start last season then got a little bit of momentum going and got into the play-offs. I don’t think there was much between the teams – we beat Ayr in one game, they beat us in another, although Melrose beat us twice – we weren’t close to Melrose, we were way behind them. So there’s not big differences between the teams. The draft and the availability of players can skew it a little bit, but at the end of the day we all know what we’re buying into when we start. Rather than moan about it, you just get on with it.”
While he believes that last year’s top two will again be the teams to beat, Wright is sure that other clubs as well as his own will be stronger this season. “I think Ayr and Melrose are always a given, aren’t they? They’re the teams that set the benchmark year in year out, and they have the resources to bring in players that other teams can’t. But that’s life – you just get on with it.
“Heriot’s obviously have done pretty well over the last few years: they fell away a little bit last year, but that’s understandable given the levels they had set. Watsonians have recruited well. They’ve got a good coach in Stevie Lawrie – I’ve got a lot of time for him. If he wants, he could go pretty far.
“There won’t be any easy games. You’ve still got to go to Hawick, and that’s never easy. Marr are a bit of an unknown force, but they’ve recruited well. Stirling, as the only big club in their area, should probably be doing a bit better. Currie’s coaches have got them organised.
“So I think everybody will be there or thereabouts. The only team you might say would struggle over the course of the season is Marr, but they’ve recruited a couple of big guys and if they can avoid too many injuries I think they’ll shock a few teams.”
Despite being involved in the game for so long, and having had a fair few run-ins with the authorities, Wright is looking forward to the new campaign, and to crossing swords with his peers. Just don’t remind him that he will celebrate – if that’s the right word – his 50th birthday in December.
“There’s some good young coaches there,” he added. “It’s pretty horrible to be the oldest coach in the league. I remember being the youngest coach not that long ago. But I still enjoy my coaching.”