ALAN LORIMER @ Malleny Park
YOU could hardly blame Marr’s mentor, Craig Redpath, for wearing a smile as broad as Malleny Park after watching his side outgun Currie Chieftains on their own turf to lift the Tennent’s Premiership title.
For Redpath it is the pinnacle of his coaching career, having steered the Troon side through the latter stages of a remarkable ascent of Scottish rugby, winning National League One, twice, and now reaching the top of the club game, a unique achievement in the game north of the border.
Moreover, Redpath inspired his charges to perform well in the shorter game at The Greenyards, on the stage where, as a Melrose player, the younger Redpath excelled both as a centre and a full-back. In 2019, Marr reached the semi final of the prestigious Borders sevens tournament, giving a hint perhaps of what was to follow three years later.
Redpath admitted that he had good vibes ahead of the final. “I knew we were building and got more confident as the week went on. I knew we had it in us,” he offered.
And Marr certainly realised Redpath’s thoughts. Saving their best for last, they brought an intensity to the game, particularly in defence, that had Currie held in check in a way unfamiliar to a Chieftains side more used to running in multiple tries and steamrolling their opponents.
Of course the Premiership Final was played in different conditions, the firm playing surface, ideal for top-of-the-ground rugby, which favoured Marr’s more mobile back-row. But the win was a bit more than having nimble-footed loose forwards: Marr’s forwards more than held their own in the set-piece and overall had the edge. And that alone, against a much vaunted Currie eight, made the men from Troon deserved champions.
Yet Currie could well have been celebrating winning the Premiership title if only they had maximised their chances. Twice in the second half they allowed Marr’s defence to use the touchline as an extra man when scores beckoned for the home side. But still they managed to score two excellent second half tries when they put the pressure on, the first from soft hands by stand-in stand-off See Leto, who put Joe Reynolds clean through for a fine try and then when wing Ryan Daley showed pace and good footballing skills with a kick-and-chase score.
The other Currie player to put Marr’s defence on constant alert was DJ Innes. The low-to-the ground inside-centre frequently threatened in attack, and but for some terrific defence by his opposite number Colin Sturgeon, mayhem might have ensued.
Sturgeon admitted that his side’s win was all about stopping Currie’s attack. “The crucial part of the game was in the second half when we kept them out for a ten minute period,” suggested the playmaker, who scored Marr’s penultimate try when Currie tried to extricate themselves out of a tricky situation by attempting to run the ball behind their own posts.
It backfired when Reynolds tried to pluck a difficult pass out of the air and ended up fumbling the ball, presenting Sturgeon with a simple try. “The was the easiest score I’ve ever had. I was just lucky that I happened to be there at the right time,” admitted the Marr No 12.
Sturgeon, who felt that having Ben and Angus Johnson back was a huge bonus, was also involved in the previous try for Marr, his delayed pass timed perfectly to send full-back Dougie Steele sailing through a gap, ultimately leading to a penalty and a crucial try for skipper Fraser Grant that opened up a 24-13 advantage for Marr.
One player not involved was Marr’s club captain and Scotland Club XV centre Conor Bickerstaff, who, having had a knee reconstruction in November, was forced to watch the game from the touchline. Even for a player who has excelled in the Premiership, winning the Premiership title was still difficult to take in.
“I think I’m still pinching myself. It’s incredible considering the journey we’ve been on, Seeing that today is a reminder of just how much you miss it,” said Bickerstaff, who is confident that he will be back playing next season.
Whether Marr will contest the final next season remains to be seen. But at Malleny Park, cheered on by the many supporters from Ayrshire who had made the journey east, helping to make the day a colourful occasion, the Troon club was able to step up a gear and provide further proof that competitive rugby is at its best when the game demands that players challenge themselves. And against Currie Chieftains this is exactly what Marr did. Worthy champions, indeed.