CURRIE CHIEFTAINS head coach Mark Cairns is remarkably upbeat ahead of this afternoon’s [Saturday] Premiership Grand Final against Hawick at Mansfield Park, especially in light of a couple of ugly looking statistics from his team’s perspective. Hawick finished the regular season atop the table winning every game bar the first which they drew 20-20 with Selkirk. Moreover, when they played Currie home and away the Teries won by an aggregate score of 89-32.
Currie were undone by Hawick’s set scrum and maul in the Malleny fixture and while Cairns insists that his side patched over those two problems when they travelled to Mansfield in January, they got just about everything else wrong, suffering a 43-7 shellacking at the very ground that hosts Saturday’s final. So why is there an unmistakable air of confidence emanating from the Chieftains coach like an expensive aftershave?
“We have not played well against Hawick and that is frustrating,” reasons Cairns. “I don’t want to take anything away from them. Hawick have proven that they are the best team in the league across the piece but it’s been frustrating to watch us play against them. We haven’t been physical enough and then we have tried to ship the ball wide too early and we have been undone by that and by a lack of accuracy.
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“The biggest learnings have to come from what we have not done in the last two games [against Hawick]. In the last few games we have just been intent on improving from that horrendous away game at Hawick and the boys have really stepped up. There is a strange confidence about our players but we know it’s going to be a real physical battle.”
I put it to Cairns that if someone from Mars had visited Malleny Park last Saturday afternoon [for Currie’s 35-7 semi-final win over Edinburgh Accies] they would have witnessed stalls selling pizza, gin, beer and coffee/cake to a four figure, vocal crowd including plenty of Accies and concluded that all was well with the club game in Scotland. So how to get those numbers through the gates and that same electrifying buzz all year round?
“Look at the Leinster website compared to the Scottish Rugby site to see where we are going wrong,” replies Cairns without hesitation. “There was hardly any promotion of that fixture, one of the biggest club games of the year, an Edinburgh derby in the semi-final of the league and there was almost nothing there. Leinster’s website is focused on grassroots rugby, clubs and schools.”
Cairns claims they currently host 17 articles on domestic rugby compared to three on scottishrugby.org. And if you, like me, wonder why he doesn’t compare Leinster’s site with Edinburgh Rugby’s online page, Cairns responds that Edinburgh’s site has nothing on the domestic game whatsoever. Zip.
“I was being nice,” he argues.
“We need to advertise the club game a lot more and that isn’t happening,” Cairns continues. “Go to the Scottish Rugby website and all you get is a preview of the Ireland game or something about the pro teams. Clubs do a lot to promote themselves via social media etc but it would definitely help to have support from up top.”
Mansfield should have good numbers today, boosted by a fair few travelling Currie fans because the Edinburgh club have a breeze at their backs after a good run of form that has seen them rack up a whopping 79 points in their last two games, against Selkirk and Edinburgh Accies, while conceding just 24.
They have momentum and they also know, to their cost, that regular season form does not always translate into a victorious final, after Marr beat them at Malleny Park in last season’s finale almost exactly 12 months ago.
Cairns also has the luxury of picking an unchanged side from last weekend’s semi-final. “I am not chucking Marcus Smith in!” he quips.
I ask him which positions he was sweating on and he shoots straight back: “None!” This is the first time this season that he has selected the exact same squad and that continuity can only help the Malleny mob when entering a ground as hostile as Mansfield Park. The local crowd will be desperate to see a first Hawick title in 21 years even though they failed to set the heather on fire in their own semi-final against Marr.
I ask Cairns if he had a spy at that game but he doesn’t need to as all Premiership and National One clubs upload their matches to Cairns’ very own ‘Coach-Logic’ website where clubs can get players to review opposition games (Google it for more info). What he saw was a typically gutsy display from the defending champions.
“Marr are brilliant at staying in the fight,” says Cairns. “They had no right to be in the mix with 20 minutes to go. It was the same when we played them at Malleny. Marr were not at their best, Craig Redpath [Marr’s coach] said as much, but they hung in there. It’s nerve wracking because you have a lot of possession but you don’t have lots of points to show for it!
“So what we can learn from Marr is that we need to be dogged in defence. They could have been more accurate in attack but defensively we can learn a lot about the attitude and physicality they brought to Mansfield and if we can get the same from our boys we will be in with a shot.”
Currie will need their forward pack to step up a gear or two if they are to win this one because when they get onto the front foot Hawick are a difficult team to stop in their tracks.
Everyone knows about Currie’s star-studded back-line so when asked for a couple of unsung heroes of the team Cairns naturally enough opts for two front-row forwards, experienced loose-head Chris Anderson and livewire hooker Ryan Stewart, who has played way more minutes than anyone else at Malleny this season and usually to very good effect. Alongside the usual suspects, these are the sort of players who Currie will look to this weekend.
I put it to Cairns that the majority of neutral club supporters will be rooting for the home side on the basis that Hawick carries a long and illustrious history and they haven’t won the league since 2002?
“The majority of people will be supporting Hawick … but I am not one of them,” he says with the sort of defiance his players will need come kick off.
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