TENNENT’S NATIONAL LEAGUE ONE has a completely new look to it this season with the six ‘Club XVs’ that are connected to Super6 being parachuted into the 12-team division, where they will compete alongside Cartha Queens Park, Highland, Kelso, Dundee HSFP, Biggar and Gala.
While it may take a few weeks for the Club XVs to find their feet in the second tier, from the outset it looks like there are going to be some fascinating tussles in the weeks and months ahead.
Highland make the trip to Dumbreck to play Cartha Queens Park in their first round fixture in a buoyant mood after an emphatic 32-3 Scottish Cup preliminary round victory over Watsonians last week – but the Inverness men, who were promoted into the league from National Two last season, have been warned that they face a much tougher examination of their credentials this week.
“It has been a long pre-season, so the boys are just buzzing to get going now,” said Cartha QP head coach Thomas Davidson. “There is a bit of unknown about this league, but that is exciting and our big message to the players has been to focus on ourselves and control the controllables.
“During pre-season we have worked hard with the guys on their strength & conditioning while we had guest coaches such as Petrus du Plessis and Kenny Murray from Glasgow Warriors in to take scrummaging and backs sessions respectively. We are looking forward to this first weekend of action.”
Melrose take on Kelso in a Border derby. With a new 4G pitch currently being laid at The Greenyards, the match will be played on the Annay Road pitch in Melrose and grandstand seating has been erected there for the occasion.
Melrose head coach Stuart Johnson believes his young players will have felt the benefit of a tough Cup match against Hawick last week, while Kelso are also looking forward to the encounter.
“There has been a good buzz about training these last few weeks,” said Kelso captain Murray Hastie. “We have been enjoying working with new head coach Kris de Scossa and he has some great ideas. He hasn’t changed our game-plan and structures massively, but we feel his tweaks can make us a competitive side this term.”
De Scossa was born in Tanzania but played age-grade rugby for England and turned out for Bath. He has coached in many countries so it will be great to see what he brings to Scotland.
Dundee HSFP were edged out in the Cup by Ayr last week and will want to make amends on home turf against another Super 6 cub team in the shape of Heriot’s Blues. The visitors are coached by Phil Smith – their first XV head coach for the last seven years – and he will be supported by Jamie Parker and OJ Brown.
Two Super6 organisations in Ayr and Watsonians meet at Millbrae. The home side are led by back-row Gregor Henry and you know that this no nonsense character will have his charges ready for the league under head coach Stuart Fenwick.
Bruce Ruthven is the new head coach at Watsonians and he has named teenager Chris Bell as captain. The 19-year-old stand-off, who played for the first XV at the club while still at Merchiston Castle School in 2018-19, said: “It is a great honour to be named captain and although we are a young team I think we will learn quickly and gel as a group quickly during the first few weeks of the league.”
Biggar and Boroughmuir meet at Hartreemill. The hosts will have taken a lot out of last week’s narrow Cup loss at Tennent’s Premiership side Currie Chieftains and they have Davie Wilson, Craig Borthwick and Dougie Fleming coaching this year.
Borthwick, the former Scotland Club XV cap who had long stints at Gala and Watsonians, will also be playing and the second-row/back-row. “I have really enjoyed joining the club over the summer and to be able to learn about coaching alongside someone as experienced as Davie is great for me,” he said.
“On the pitch, I hope my experience can help the young guys around me because there are some really good up-and-coming players here.”
Boroughmuir head coach Rich Sievwright said: “The players are looking forward to kicking the season off against Biggar and this match will show us how physical this league is going to be. For many players this will be their first XV debut and I want them to bring the momentum of pre-season into this match.”
At Bridgehaugh, Stirling County Wolves will meet Gala. Chris Faill heads up the Wolves coaching panel and ahead of the home match he said: “Pre-season has gone well and we have a number of players putting their hands up for selection. We have had some useful friendlies, but taking on an established first XV like Gala first up will show us where we are in terms of this league.
“It is great that we have Jonny Hope as our captain as he brings a lot of experience to the table and we have quite a good mix of young boys keen to break through and older heads.
Gala are coached by ex-Samoa cap Opeta Palepoi while former Scotland centre Marcus Di Rollo helps out with the backs.
This weekend’s National League Division One fixtures (all 3pm) –
Cartha Queens Park v Highland
Melrose v Kelso
Dundee HSFP v Heriot’s Blues
Ayr v Watsonians
Biggar v Boroughmuir
Stirling County Wolves v Gala