by GARY HEATLY
NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION TWO action returns with a bang on Saturday when the top two sides in the third tier of the Scottish club game meet in a mouth-watering clash between Dumfries Saints and GHK at Park Farm.
Table-toppers Saints are still unbeaten in the league, but saw their seventh match against Stewart’s Melville postponed on October 19 and then lost to the Edinburgh side in the National League Cup last Saturday. That means Euan Mack’s side are solely focused on gaining promotion throughout the rest of 2019-20, with winger/centre Robert Douglas and No 8 Calum Smith – who have scored nine tries apiece so far this season – determined to lead the way.
Douglas, 23, grew up in Fife and played his rugby for Howe of Fife in Cupar until his job as a teacher took him towards the Dumfries area. He joined the Saints in the summer of 2018 and fitted in straight away.
“Everyone was really welcoming from the start,” he explained. “There is a really nice family feel at the club and it didn’t take me long to feel at home amongst the boys, so I just worked hard to try and get a regular place in the team.
“A lot of the boys played with each other coming through the age-grade system and I think that gives us a team spirit that is very strong.”
So, what were the aims set out for this season?
“After finishing third [in the league] last season, the overall feeling within the group was that we were actually pretty disappointed with that,” Douglas admitted. “We lost twice to Biggar, who eventually went up, while against Peebles we let them score a last minute try to draw 15-15 and there were a number of games where we should have got bonus points, but didn’t.
“You can think back to those games and think ‘what if’, but there is no point dwelling on it. At the start of this season we agreed that we could give promotion a real go if we kept the majority of the squad together and kept working hard.”
And they have certainly done the hard work while entertaining at the same time in recent months. They won their Cup preliminary round at Glasgow Accies 59-10 back in late August and, in their six league wins to date, have scored 311 points and let in just 85.
“This season in the league has been going well so far,” said Douglas, who scored two tries in the team’s last National Two outing against Falkirk on October 12th. “The guys have been training hard, really putting in a shift and forcing some tough selection calls – it just shows that everyone wants to do well for the club. But you can never get too far ahead of yourselves and we will just keep focusing on the next job in hand.”
Becoming a Saint
Having grown up playing for Carrick and being a big part of the first XV squad as they won three Shield trophies in a row at BT Murrayfield up to 2017-18, Smith decided it was time to move to another club 16 months ago.
“It was brilliant to play in three finals with Carrick,” said the 27-year-old. “The club was great for me and I have some great mates there, but I was keen to try playing at a higher level and a couple of my friends play at Dumfries so I would have been kicking myself if I hadn’t given it a shot.
“It takes a lot of commitment because I travel about an hour and a half to get to training, but it is worth it because what I have found at Dumfries is a close bunch of guys who socialise together and want to win for each other.”
In late October last year Smith broke his leg in a game away to Howe of Fife. It was the worst possible outcome having just joined the Saints a few months earlier, and although he tried to get back by March it was a step too far.
“My next target was getting back for the start of pre-season and I think it has been the earliest I have ever been back training during a summer, so it meant that I was raring to go by the time this new campaign got going,” he explained.
“There has been a real togetherness within the squad right from the start of the season and that has worked well for us in recent months.
“We have seen quality players like Ewan Miller and Rory Steele coming back to the club, while there are some great young players coming through which is always exciting to see.
“We have been playing some quality rugby so far in the league and it is up to us to try and keep that going because we have some big matches coming up like the one against GHK on Saturday and then Newton Stewart [on November 9th].
“For myself, personally, I am happy with how things are going and it is always nice to be outscoring some of the backs!”
- Dumfries Saints v GHK takes place in Tennent’s National League Division Two at Park Farm at 2pm on Saturday