Inter-District Championship: South seek to roll back the years for Glasgow & West visit

A crowd in the region if 2,000 is the target for Poynder Park clash

A reunion of The South team which defeated the 1984 Grand Slamming Australians will be part of the celebrations at Poynder Park this weekend.
A reunion of The South team which defeated the 1984 Grand Slamming Australians will be part of the celebrations at Poynder Park this weekend.

THE SOUTH is preparing for what could be its biggest rugby match in decades this weekend as the district side returns to Kelso to host Glasgow in the newly expanded inter-district championship.

The return of the famous red and white hoops attracted a crowd of over 1,500 to Netherdale last year and, with all the Borders clubs working together to build on that, a target of 2,000 has been set for Saturday. That will dwarf the several hundred that have watched the opening district games so far, and provide an indication of the affection the Borders retains for its district side, despite losing a pro team fully 17 years ago.

Off the field, the host club are using the occasion to mark the 40th anniversary of the South’s win over Australia in 1984, where a Wallabies team with young fly-half Michael Lynagh was put to the sword by Johnny Gray’s Borders select at Mansfield Park.

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Australia, also featuring legends Mark Ella, David Campese, Nick Farr-Jones, Simon Poidevin and Steve Cutler, went on to become the first touring side to secure a British and Irish Grand Slam, defeating Scotland the week after their 9-6 loss in Hawick, having already got then better of the other ‘Home Nations’ and Ireland.

Gray will be at Saturday’s pre-match lunch along with most of the South team from that day, including John Rutherford, Roger Baird, Roy Laidlaw and Keith Robertson, as well as many famous South faces from the 1970s and decades since.

Scott Forbes, the main organiser on the Kelso committee, explained: “It just seemed like the right thing to do when we knew the South were coming back to Kelso, to invite former players along. It’s a huge occasion for the club and the town, and with all the Border clubs working together to grow our club game it’s been great to see the support for this match.

“When we asked about the 1984 team coming back together, there was lots of enthusiasm, and so I think that will be quite special. It’s important that the youngsters get the chance to learn about the history of the South, the players they’re following in the footsteps of, and that we have a lot to be proud of in the Borders.”

The last time a genuine South team of standing played at Poynder Park was when the first pro side, albeit called the Reivers, lost narrowly in the European Cup in 1997 to a Pontypridd side conducted by Wales and British and Irish stand-off – now coach – Neil Jenkins. The crowd that night was over 6,000.

Poynder did host a match in December 2001, a 60-0 Scottish Borders victory at home to Edinburgh, while the South’s one-off matches between the demise 22 years ago of the full inter-district championship, first contested in 1953, and its revival last year were played at Netherdale in December 2009 (a 37-3 victory against Northumberland), Hawick’s Mansfield Park in October 2011 (a 22-15 win versus the Barbarians) and Jedburgh’s Riverside Park in November 2016 (a 33-7 success over Caledonia Reds).

Ewen Swinton, Director of Rugby at Gala and Operations Manager for the South, commented: “It’s absolutely fantastic to have the South back as a full representative side in a championship in the Borders. I remember as a wee boy coming down here on a cold November’s night and seeing the steam rising out of the pack, and watching these huge names playing here at my local ground. What a thrill that was.

“The boys now have an inkling of that history and they’ve spoken about it, but it’s all new to them really. None of them were born when we had big South games and crowds in the amateur era, but they are really enjoying the experience of working with players and coaches from other towns.

“They did well to come back and win against Edinburgh last week in a great game at Musselburgh, and now, from a Kelso perspective, it’s just great to have the South’s best club players back in this environment, with all the clubs working together. We just hope we get a really big crowd now and everyone enjoys a fantastic rugby occasion.”

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About David Ferguson 22 Articles
David Ferguson has covered Scottish rugby for over 30 years. Starting out in the Borders with the Berwickshire News and Southern Reporter, where he was sports editor and also covered rugby for a wide variety of national newspapers, Radio Borders and BBC Scotland, David became editor of Scottish Rugby Magazine, working with then Managing Director Sean Lineen. David was then Chief Rugby Writer with The Scotsman for 14 years, during which time he covered club, professional and international rugby, including several Rugby World Cups and Lions tours. He started his own communications and media business in 2014, and has worked across a wide range of areas from Scottish and UK government to charities and corporate business, most recently as Chief Executive of the Observatory for Sport in Scotland, Scotland's only research think tank on sport.

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