CAN Hawick carry on from where they left off last season? Or can Currie Chieftains reach the play-off final again and make it third time lucky? Will Marr suffer another mid-season dip which leaves them playing catch-up? And how will Kelso adapt to life back in the top flight for the first time in over 20 years?
Perhaps the biggest question of all facing the Premiership this season – and indeed club rugby at all levels – is how will the new tackle height rules impact the flow and outcome of games?
All will be revealed over the next six months. And, to get the ball rolling, here is The Offside Line’s team-by-team guide to the 2023-24 Premiership season –
Head Coach: Mark Cairns
Assistant Coaches: Ally Donaldson, Alastair Hamilton and Joe Reynolds
Captain: Jamie Forbes
Vice-Captains: Graeme Carson
New Faces: Thomas Jeffrey (Jed-Forest), Cam Murphy (Stirling County), Courtney West (Stewart’s Melville), Ali Bain (Boroughmuir) and Sam Cardossi (Dundee HSFP).
Fond Farewells: Mike Vernel (retired), Cairn Ramsey (Heriots Super Series), Gregor Hunter (Retired), Greg Cannie (Boroughmuir), Cammy Meager (Heriot’s Blues) and Adam Hall (Southern Knights).
Young Gun: Back five forward Ally McCallum is now an established member of the Chieftains pack and could form a dynamic and athletic boiler-house partnership with new signing Ali Bain.
Key Man: Former Watsonians and Stirling Wolves Super6 centre DJ Innes was the fulcrum of so much of Chieftains’ best play last season, and with experienced heads such as Gregor Hunter and Greg Canine having moved on, his direct running and composure could be key to the team’s fortunes during the weeks and months ahead.
Target for the season: “To provide a great player experience across senior section and get a 4th XV out.”
Last Season: 2nd at end of regular season and narrowly beaten in play-off final.
TOL Prediction: Third time lucky in play-off final.
Head Coach: Iain Berthinussen (Defence)
Assistant Coaches: Chris Martin (Attack), Ross Young (Forwards) and Andy Gallacher (defence)
Captain: Jamie Loomes
Vice-Captains: Finlay Simpson and Neil Armstrong
New Faces: George Shannon (Darlington Mowden Park), Calum Crookshanks (Melrose), Arran Hain (Falkirk), Grant Hall (Watsonians), Dom McGrath (Southern Districts), Chris Thomson (Returning after work relocation), Patrick Ritchie (Aberdeen University), Robbie Chalmers (Southern Knights), George Woods (Albury Steamers), Struan Wells (Watsonians) and Connor Allan (Boroughmuir Bears).
Fond Farewells: Clem Lacour (Retired), Lewis Wells (Heriot’s Super Series), Sinjin Broad (Heriot’s Super Series) and Ruari Campbell (Hong Kong Scottish).
Young Gun: “Struan Wells has impressed throughout pre-season with his desire to work hard and develop his knowledge of the game, and bring that onto the pitch in both training and games,” said head coach Iain Berthinussen.
Key Man: “Jamie Sole just keeps demanding more from all players at the club and is a real inspiration to all in his pursuit of excellence week-in and week-out,” Berthinussen added.
Target for the season: “To continue to develop on the past two seasons as a club, driving all teams to the top end of their respective leagues.”
Last Season: 3rd at end of regular season then lost to Currie Chieftains at Malleny in play-off semi-final.
TOL Prediction: Having gone from fourth to third the last couple of years, a top two finish – meaning a home semi-final – is definitely do-able … but going to be a real stretch.
Head Coach: Andy Hill (Attack and Defence)
Assistant Coaches: Charles Afuakwah (Director of Rugby), Victoria Penpraze (Head of Performance), Thomas Davidson (Backs), Murphy Walker (Forwards) and David Forbes (team manager)
Captain: Stephen Leckey
Vice-Captains: Paul Cairncross
New Faces: Mark Barrowman (Cartha QP), Ryan Howie (Cartha QP), Angus Rintoul (St Columba’s), Marcus Goodwin (Boroughmuir Bears), David McDonald (St Aloysius), Ewan Brannan (Hamilton RFC), Ewan Sime (Highland RFC), Josh Blane (Cartha QP), Mackenzie Timmons (Dunfermiline RFC), Sione Halafihi (back after a failed retirement), Murray Oliver (Strathallan), Grant Harman (Cartha QP), JP Thomson (Cartha QP), Myles Macaulay (Kelvinsdie Academy), Tobi Sofidiya (Heriot Watt University), Cameron White (Strathmore), James Imrie (Stirling County), Rory Gordon (GHA), Joe Ross (Cartha QP), Logan Riley (Strathmore), Liam Brims (Stirling Wolves), Freddie Thomson (St Columba’s), Jacob Adamson (Cartha QP), Michael Conteh (St Aloysius), Wayne Burrows (retirement), Josh McConkey (Northumbria University), Ben Morriss (Gordonians), Torquil MacLeod (GHK), James Couper (Heriots Super Series) and Harry Provan (High School of Glasgow)
Fond Farewells: Sebastian Hastings (relocated to Ireland), Jack McArthur (retired), Oscar Baird (Ayrshire Bulls), Ryan Burke (FOSROC Future XV), Seb Sing (sabbatical), Daniel Sweeney (sabbatical), Vilhelm Carlsson (relocated to Sweden), Eric Davey (Stirling Wolves), Callum Harrison (Greenock Wanderers), Jamie Thompson (unattached), Harris Mitchell (Gordonians), Rory McGinn (Glasgow Accies), Charlie Kennedy (sabbatical), Euan Muirhead (Boroughmuir Bears), Gary Strain (retired), Istok Totic (Henley RFC), Moby Ogunlaja (Stirling Wolves), Alfie Maitland (Boroughmuir Bears), Ruaraidh Chisholm (Strarthclyde University), Ruaridh Hart (Stirling Wolves), Jake Porter (Heriots), Kerr Yule (Ayrshire Bulls), Brendan McGroarty (retired), Sandy Greig (GHK), Andy McLean (Boroughmuir Bears), Euan McAra (Heriots SS) and Oban Baird (relocated to Australia)
Young Gun: A real battle is on the cards for the No 9 jersey but James Imrie leads the way coming out off a strong pre=season and has aspirations of pushing on into the Scotland Under-20s squad.
Key Man: Captain Stephen Leckey “makes everyone else around him one percent better” believes head coach Andy Hill
Target for the season: “Top four”
Last Season: 7th
TOL Prediction: Building consistency is tough when your squad changes so much season to season, but Hawks will have to be better at backing up good wins and edging tight contests on a week-to-week basis if they are to cash in on their outside chance of making the play-offs.
Head Coach: Matty Douglas (Backs and Defence)
Assistant Coaches: Lewis Bertram (Forwards) and Graham Hogg (Backs and Attack)
Captain: Shawn Muir
Vice-Captains: Fraser Renwick and Kirk Ford
New Faces: Frazer Anderson (Selkirk),Fraser Wilson (Gala), Lee Armstrong, Gary Lowrie, Sean Goodfellow, Morgan Tait, Owain Gray (Hawick Youth), Fergus Bell (Hawick Youth), Eli Hamilton (Hawick Youth), Ross Graham (Watsonians), Connor Sutherland (Southern Knights) and Dan Brooker (Canterbury – New Zealand).
Fond Farewells: Matt Carryer (Peebles), Tom Huggan (Hawick Linden),Lewis Ferguson, Elliot Stanger, Ethan Reilly (returned to Australia) and Hector Patterson (Scottish Future XV).
Young Gun: “Second-row Fraser Wilson is a Scotland Under-18 cap who has shown up well in pre-season and we firmly believe he can earn his place in an already competitive forward pack,” said head coach Matty Douglas.
Key Man: The return of Ethan Reilly to Australia leaves a yawning gap in midfield and former Scotland Club XV playmaker Lee Armstrong will hope to step up to the plate after a couple of seasons away from the game.
Target for the season:: “To build on last season’s success and look to retain the same level of consistency we have shown in the last 12-18 months.”
Last Season: Undefeated and undisputed champions
TOL Prediction: They’ve got a target on their back and will hope that they can field as settled a team as they managed last season in order to battle through cup finals every weekend. If they make it into the top two, it is hard to see anyone toppling them in a one-off game at Mansfield.
Head Coach: Phil Smith (Attack)
Assistant Coaches: Jim Parker (Forwards), OJ Brown (Backs) and Kieran Noble (Fitness).
Captain: Bobby Kay
Vice-Captain: Ali Johnstone
New Faces: Rory Jackson (back from USA), Niall Docherty (Highland), Cammy Meager (Currie Chieftains), Matt Dillon (Ulster), Keir Singleton (Stirling Wolves), Dan Tomaneck (Stirling Wolves), Rory Fraser (Glenalmond College), Kenta Kutsuna (Japan), Trent Soren (Australia), Finn Carden ( GHA) and Angus Hunter (Dollar Academy)
Fond Farewells: Dom Martin (moved to Glasgow), Rory Carmichael (retired), Martin Hughes (GHA) and Sean Johnstone (moved to London).
Young Gun: Malachy Keough, originally our of High School of Dundee, is a hard-carrying back-five forward who will look to kick-on after breaking into the Edinburgh District side at the tail-end of last season.
Key Man: Back-rower Innes Hill is a master of the chop tackle – an art-form which could come back into fashion under the new tackle height laws.
Target for the season: “Top four would be unreal, but, then again, so too would be staying up.”
Last Season: 8th
This Season’s Prediction: Top half finish will represent solid progress.
Coaching team: Euan Scott, Ross Goodfellow, David Grieve, Neil Cook and Kevin Barrie.
Captain: Clark Skeldon
New Faces: Tom Watego (Australia) and Mark Glen (Jed Thistle)
Fond Farewells: Finlay Scott (New Zealand), Grant Paxton (shoulder operation), Ben McNeil (moved to England), Andrew Sweenie (Kelso), Gary Clarkson (Australia), Garry Young (Southern Knights), Calum Young (Australia), Mason Cullen (Boroughmuir Bears), Robbie Yourston (Australia), Ross Nichol (retired) and Aiden Bambrick (Australia in November).
Young Gun: Could Mark Glen – still young enough to play under-18s this season – be the next star to emerge through the famous Jedburgh scrum-half factory?
Key Man: Kiwi No 8 Ben Fotheringham will have a big role to play.
Target for the season: “To lose so many players in one off season makes this years Premiership campaign even harder than previous seasons. To improve on last season’s 6th position would be a bonus.”
Last Season: 6th
This Season’s Prediction: A long slog lies ahead to avoid the dreaded drop.
Head Coaches: Bruce McNeil (forwards) and Kevin Utterson (backs/attack)
Assistant Coaches: Grant Shiells (scrum) and Kenny Gibson (S&C)
Captain: Frankie Robson
Vice-captains: Archie Cowens and Dwain Patterson
New Faces: James Thompson (Berwick), Euan Thompson (Berwick), Duncan Smith (Duns) and James Glendinning (Gala).
Fond Farewells: Keith McNeil (retired) and Liam Herdman (long term injury)
Young Gun: Murray Woodcock is a product of the Kelso youth system moving up from Kelso Harlequins last summer, who played the bulk of last season in the second-row or at blindside flanker for the Sharks (2nd XV) before breaking into the 1st XV at the tail-end of the campaign.. Very quick with a huge engine and a good line-out, he is naturally suited to Sevens has become a key man in the Kelso squad which currently top the Border Kings of the Sevens table. Scotland Under-20s might be out of his reach at this stage, but you’d hope Kenny Murray and his team are keeping an eye out for such late bloomers.
Key Man: Irish back-five forward Keith Melbourne joined Kelso two seasons ago straight after Covid after moving to area to be with his partner. A bulky 6ft 5in, he is dynamic and industrious in the tight areas and played a major role in last season’s promotion push. Played Super6/Series for Heriot’s as injury cover last season but will miss the first two weeks of this season due to being on holiday.
Target of the season: “We’re excited and hopeful, but we know it will be tough, and we’ll be underdogs, so we’ll just see what comes.”
Last Season: Promoted as champions of Nations One.
This Season’s Prediction: It is all about consolidation this year.
Head Coach: Kenny Diffenthal (Backs and Attack)
Assistant Coaches: Stephen Adair (Forwards and Defence)
Captain: Conor Bickerstaff
Vice-Captain: Blair Jardine
New Faces: Ali Rogers (Ayrshire Bulls), Alex Apthorpe (Cumnock), Robbie Baird (Hutchesons’ Grammar School) and Callum Smith (Wigtownshire)
Fond Farewells: Andrew Acton (retired), Gordon Reid (retired) and Craig Miller (Ayrshire Bulls)
Young Gun: With three experienced props moving on over the summer, Ali Rogers‘ recruitment from Super Series is a big boost.
Key Man: Back at Fullarton after missing the tail-end of last season to play Super Series level with Ayrshire Bulls, vice-captain Blair Jardine will look to lead the pack by example, whether at hooker or in the back-row.
Target for the season: “We would like to better last year’s league finish and go one better in the cup.”
Last Season: 4th at end of regular season before losing at Hawick in play-off semi-final.
This Season’s Prediction: Should be there or thereabouts come the play-offs.
Head Coach: Derek O’Riordan
Assistant Coaches: Andrew Clark (Attack), Callum Gauld (Attack and Kicking), and Robin Hislop (Set-piece and Breakdown)
Captain: Rory Watt
Vice-Captains: Sandy Watt and Michael Badenhorst
New Faces: Joss Arnold (Loretto School), Raymond Mackie (Lasswade), Ben Heber (Watsonians), Ollie Craig (Haddington), Darren Miller (Stewarts Melville), Rory Hindhaugh (Berwick), Harry Bone (Northumbria University), Aidan Barry (Boroughmuir), Jo Noble (Melrose), Logan Sinclair (Heriot’s), Gav Inkster (Boroughmuir) and Michael Maltman (returning from long term injury).
Fond Farewells: Findlay Thomson (Watsonians Super Series)
Young Gun:Back five forward Joss Arnold represented Edinburgh and Scotland at under-18s level last season.
Key Man: He has stepped down as captain but Danny Owenson‘s influence as a tactician, goal-kicker and a player the team can rally around will be crucial.
Head Coach Comment: “Best ever finish in the Premiership.”
Last Season: 7th
TOL Prediction: Widely written off last season but kept their heads and managed the ‘great escape’. With some new faces added to a generally settled squad they should be looking to push into mid-table.
Head Coach: Gordon Henderson
Assistant Coaches: Darren Hogan (Forwards and Contact), Michael Jaffray (Defence), James Head (Line-out) and Darren Clapperton (Strength and Conditioning)
Captain: Scott McClymont
Vice-Captain: Aaron McColm
New Faces: Jake Millband (Olney RFC), Jack Ketteringham (Tumut Bulls – Australia)
Fond Farewells: Ryan Cottrell (Southern Knights), Monroe Job (Southern Knights), Callum Smyth (Future XV), Craig Jackson (Stirling Wolves), Matt Reid (Watsonians Super Series), Jack Hamilton (Boroughmuir RFC), Frazer Anderson (Hawick) and Kieran Thomson (Dalkeith)
Young Gun: Teenager Finlay Wheelans will pose a threat from full-back.
Key Man: Vice-captain Aaron McColm‘s experience and game management will be key in midfield.
Target for season: “Play-offs”
Last Season: 5th
This Season’s Prediction: Matching last year’s fifth place finish would be a fine achievement after losing five key players to Super Series and another to rivals Hawick.