Head coach: Ben Cairns
Current league position: 2nd
The story so far:
The Chieftains currently lead the chasing pack behind Melrose. They are two points ahead of Ayr in third place, and just six points ahead of Glasgow Hawks in sixth place – which gives an indication of how tight it going to be in the race to make the play-offs.
Two of their three losses were at home to Ayr and Heriot’s, while they also came up short at The Greeenyards.
The pro release has not been kind with a grand total of three centrally contracted players turning out for the west Edinburgh outfit over the course of ten weeks – which is four less than Heriot’s, and 17 behind Stirling County.
This has been compounded by the on-going unavailability of Luke Crosbie and Charlie Shiel, who are BT Sport Academy members but have been with Edinburgh on more-or-less a full-time basis during the last two months. At least Crosbie has been getting some game time; whereas Shiel has been 24th man for the pro team, which means he travels with the squad but doesn’t get on the field.
The sudden death of Graham Hogg – former coach, serving chairman of the rugby board, mentor to head coach Ben Cairns and generally a towering figure at Malleny for over three decades – shook the club to its foundations in August. But there is a clear determination to honour his memory in the most fitting way possible – by getting results on the park.
Hogg was instrumental in pushing through the re-branding process which has seen the ‘Chieftains’ soubriquet added to the club’s name, and his nickname – ‘Greco’ – is now embroidered onto the bottom right hand corner of the new strips
“If ever the boys are struggling and need to dig deep then they can look down and see that and it will give them all the incentive they need,” says Cairns. “Greco would have loved that – he was all about getting players in the right frame of mind to play well.”
Coach’s comments –
Rate your season so far:
We’re happy with where we are in the table. But have we been happy with every performance? I would have to say no – there are a couple of games we have let go. The two home games against Ayr and Heriot’s, spring to mind, because we know we could have given ourselves a better chance of winning.
At the start of the season, if we had known all the challenges we were going to face – in terms of not seeing very much of Luke Crosbie or Charlie Shiel, plus our injury situation, plus the pro player release not working in our favour – I think we would certainly have taken second in the league at this stage.
Rate your coaching so far:
This is my fourth season in charge, and I think the key is just to continue learning. I picked up a lot during my first three seasons, and there’s things we have changed each season. This has been a really good one for me as a coach because of all the rebranding we have been doing, and trying to help give a lead with that. My role has expanded as well with Greco passing away, which meant I had to take a bit more responsibility for the rugby side in the whole of the club, rather than just concentrating on the senior squad. I am still learning week-to-week, and of course there are things I would do differently with hindsight – so if I was giving myself a mark it would be a pass, but with a lot of things still to learn. So, let’s say: six or seven out of ten. And that would be for the whole coaching team rather than just myself.
Most important player:
It’s a funny one because a really important player for the way we want to play is Charlie Shiel in terms of that tempo and what he brings as a threat off the base – but we’ve not really seen him. In terms of who has been there week-in and week-out, and who we would really miss is he wasn’t available, then Robbie Nelson is our most important player.
Most improved player:
Our tight-head prop, AP McWilliam, wasn’t a Premiership player last season: he did an okay job when he got opportunities, but he wasn’t a 1st XV team player for us. But the work he’s done during the off-season and in pre-season has got him into a position where he is now a very good tight-head at that level. So that’s a testament to his own work-ethic and attitude, and to the help he has had from Andy Barnett, our S&C and scrum coach.
The other player I would refer to is Mike Vernel, who has always been a very good player for us, but I think he’s just gone to a different level this year – and he should definitely be challenging for the Club XV this season, whereas he has not quite been on that radar before.
So, they are not the youngest guys in the team, but they’ve had that moment where a switch flicks and they are ready to reach their potential. It is very pleasing that we have been able to improve two key position where we were a bit light by doing it in-house rather than going on a recruitment drive.
Best performance by your team:
We’ve had some really good 30 or 40 minute performances but we’ve not been able to put it together for the full 80. I’d say the best all-round performance was against Watsonians at home [in Round 2], when we played very well and didn’t give them too much of a sniff.
In terms of the best 30 minutes we’ve put together: I think it has got to be the comeback against Hawks. You don’t get turnarounds like that very often.
The way we played in the first 40 minutes against Heriot’s [in Round 9] is definitely the angriest I have been at half-time. Our standards were not good enough at the start of that game. We got a reaction in the second-half, which was fine – but I had to question the boys on how they can start a game like that. They need to be playing close to their best from the start.
Melrose – I’d imagine most coaches will say that. They are a very good squad.
We didn’t play well enough down there, but I’m confident that in the right circumstances, with the right guys available for us, we can give them a really good game when they come to Malleny on 13th January.
The big thing for them is the consistency of their squad – they’ve had Ally Miller released every week bar one, and they’ve generally had the same hard-core of players week-in and week-out. They are now getting players like George Taylor and Austin Lockington back. Yes, they’ll start to lose a few boys to the 7s set-up, but they probably have the best strength in depth in the country to cope with that.
Realistic aim for the second half of the season:
As I said to the boys after the game on Saturday, traditionally we kick-on during the second half of the season. So, it is up to us to live up to that reputation. I suppose it is about consolidating that second place slot to make sure we get a home semi-final and to try to close that gap on Melrose.