Rejuvenated Jed-Forest close in on Premiership survival

Riverside Park production line ensures that a small population base goes a long way on the rugby field

Jed-Forest are looking to kick-on after a big win over GHA in their last outing a fortnight ago. Image: Bill McBurnie
Jed-Forest are looking to kick-on after a big win over GHA in their last outing a fortnight ago. Image: Bill McBurnie

MENTION Jed-Forest and immediately thoughts turn to that famous trio of world-class scrum-halves, Roy Laidlaw, Gary Armstrong and Greig Laidlaw, who all emerged from the Riverside club, and whose achievements were recognised at a celebratory dinner in Jedburgh  last summer. 

Jed, coached by the former Scotland prop, Gavin Kerr, may not be fielding Scotland and Lions No 9s in their team in the current era, but the spirit of these three great players lives on to inspire the present generation, a number of whom have already made their mark at higher levels. Second-row Glen Young has made appearances for Harlequins since moving there from Newcastle Falcons last summer, second-row Gregor Law played for the Scotland Club XV this season, and wing Calum Young was also part of that Club XV as well as following his older brothers Gregor and Lewis into the Scotland Sevens set-up in recent months.

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These days club rugby has changed since the decision was taken to follow a semi-professional path. Jed opted to remain an amateur club and in the reordering that followed the exodus of Super6 teams, Jed found themselves back in the top layer of the amateur game this season.

Beset by early season injury problems, the Riverside men struggled to achieve results in the first half of Premiership campaign. However, after their character-building victory over GHA at a Storm Dennis-ravaged Riverside last time out, they appear to have discovered a new-found confidence and are now exuding a chirpiness ahead of their two remaining matches in the Premiership, away to Currie Chieftains on Saturday and then at home against Hawick a week later.

Whether this optimism translates into results remains to be seen but it seems clear that Jed have now put behind them an alarming run of reverses during the first half of the campaign when they won only two of their nine matches. A recovery in December, January, and February, albeit peppered with defeats has put Jed back on track, bringing smiles back to faces at Riverside and confidence that the Borders club can remain in the Premiership.

Kevin Barrie, who recently retired as Jed’s Development Officer, knows all too well that his club has had to fight hard to keep a position it had for so long coveted.  “Getting into the Premiership was great,” he said. “It’s taken us about 20 years to get there and we want to stay in it.

“We were always going to have a difficult season – but if you look at the past five or six years they’ve been pretty good. We’ve been in play-offs and always in the top three.

“We’ve had a year where there’s been a lot of injuries and other difficulties. Clark Skeldon [second-row] went abroad to Australia, Cammy McKay [front row] and Robbie Shirra-Gibb [wing] both had shoulder operations, and so on. You want to start the season running but we’ve been just tripping into everything.”

A production line of talent

Jed, mainly through Barrie, have worked hard at producing players in difficult circumstances. Jed Grammar School now has a secondary roll that is under 300 and in some years the number persuaded to play rugby is perilously low.

There has, however, continued to be a high strike rate in the transition of players from the youth team, Jed Thistle, into senior rugby. “We’re lucky in that we’ve got boys who were able to go straight from Jed Thistle into the Premiership, such as Finlay Campbell (hooker) Elliot Lauder (back row) and Josh Laing (wing).

“But players need to have a target or another goal. If we’re not giving them these,  then players will go to another club or go abroad. Boys are playing senior rugby for Jed at 19 and quickly rack up the years. Gregor Law came in straight from Jed Thistle. He’s never played for the 2nd XV. I can see him needing something different, so it was good that he got involved with the Club International XV squad.

“I think if we had a district side we would have quite a few Jed players in it. You need something that allows players to keep on developing.”

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Law’s return to the Jed team after an injury-enforced absence has certainly given impetus to the forward effort. But the performance of the pack has also been helped by the continuing improvement of front-rows Harry Meadows, Campbell and Tom Jeffrey.

It’s not all about young blades. Crucial to Jed’s performances this season has been the presence of veterans Michael Weekley and Donald Grieve, not to mention the occasional cameo appearance of assistant coach Fraser Harkness.

Behind the scrum, Jed field what is virtually their Kings of the Sevens title winning side and on their day they can certainly perform, even in hostile conditions. An addition this season is scrum half Nik Stingl, who is showing very good progress in Royal Blue colours and a good complement to Gary Munro.

With no chance of making the play-offs, Jed’s focus is on gaining enough league points to stay in the Premiership. Their destiny is now in their own hands, and if they can keep scoring tries the way they did against GHA then they fully deserve another season to light up the Premiership.

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About Alan Lorimer 352 Articles
Scotland rugby correspondent for The Times for six years and subsequently contributed to Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Scotsman, Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald and Reuters. Worked in Radio for BBC. Alan is Scottish rugby journalism's leading voice when it comes to youth and schools rugby.