CAPTAIN Jack Gordon praised the “spirit and togetherness” in the Preston Lodge 1st XV squad – and at the club overall – after they secured the National Three title with a 51-12 home win over nearest challengers Orkney on Saturday.
In 2022-23, the East Lothian outfit finished eighth in National Two and, because of league reconstruction, that meant they went down a division. As a result, there was a real sense of determination at the Pennypit right from the first day of pre-season to bounce straight back up to the third tier of Scottish club rugby.
The campaign started positively enough with bonus point wins over Cartha Queens Park and West of Scotland in September getting the 2023-24 campaign in the new-look 10-team league off to a flying start, before the setback of a 28-24 loss away to Orkney in week three proved to be a blessing in disguise.
“At the time that defeat was a tough one to take, but maybe it was the jolt we needed,” explained 26-year-old back-rower Gordon. “With just one team gaining promotion at the end of the season we knew that every game was going to be important and that Orkney game maybe sharpened the minds a bit and made us really focus on one game at a time.
“It is an old cliché in sport, but especially at the level we play at you cannot get too ahead of yourselves and from that moment on we really just looked at the next game.
“There was always going to be ups and downs along the way, but since then we have not lost a league match and the spirit and togetherness in the 1st XV squad is as good as I have ever known it and I have been at the club since I was a junior.
“In fact, the spirit and togetherness in the whole club is as good as I have known it and credit must go to the committee and others who have really worked hard to get the local community engaging with the rugby club.
“That has led to new faces popping along to watch games and on Saturday just gone against Orkney there were a few hundred people there and it really does make a difference on a matchday.
“I think what has created that real sense of community around the place this season is that members and supporters can see that the majority of the squad are local boys who have grown up together and want to play for Preston Lodge.
“The second team is also full of local boys and that is also good for the future because it shows young players that are coming out of the youth teams that there is a rugby pathway for them at their home club should they want it.”
While PL’s title success has been built on very strong home form, they have also impressed on the road and they have really dug in when required.
“In December we went to Howe of Fife who were flying at the time and had to work very hard to get over the line, but we did [29-22],” Gordon recounted. “And before that in October we were at Allan Glen’s when young Fraser Falgate showed great composure to kick the winning penalty at the death [25-22].
“They are moments tht stick out from away games, but the whole campaign has been special.”
Up-and-coming players like Falgate have certainly played their part for in recent months, but experienced players like Dale Gordon, Allan Whittingham, Paul Dixon and centre pairing Blair Robertson and Paul Glynn – the latter three having all played over 200 1st XV games in their careers –have also been important.
Players like Jack Gordon, Andrew Horne, Scott Clark and Finlay Hughes are still relatively young too, but have all played over 100 1st XV games. And Pete Johnstone, who has missed the last few games through injury, has over 150 top team appearances in the bag.
Head coach Mark Steedman has had a long association with the club and he said: “There was a real change in mentality after last season.
“Going down a league was pretty unfortunate, but it was what it was given the reconstruction. We knew that we would be able to compete for the National Three title this year if we got things right, but to do that the collective attitude of everyone had to change quite a bit.
“Last year we had a few guys who trained when they wanted and seemed to pick and choose their games, but this year the buy in from the squad that got together in the summer from then until now has been top notch.
“Every player has worked really hard at training and in the matches and I think as a collective the whole mentality has been much better and everyone has been in it together.
“That is important when you are one of the teams at the top to be shot and the members and local community have seen that hard work that’s going in and have really backed us, it has been great to see the Pennypit buzzing for the home games.”
PL have won 16 of their 17 league games so far and have 78 points. A coach is never content though and now Steedman’s next aim is to win at Dumfries Saints for the first time in his coaching career in his team’s final league match on February 17th.
The East Lothian side then have Whitecraigs away in the National League Cup first round on March 9th and Steedman added: “It is all about keeping the momentum up and maybe getting a wee Cup run and then building towards next season now.”
While PL have been winning this season, they have also been looking good whilst doing it and that has been down to the Macron playing kit supplied by Colin Campbell Sports.
“They have been the best kit supplier we’ve ever had, by a country mile,” Steedman concluded. “We’ve had years of reps coming round with big suitcases full of kit, trying to sell you as much as they can then disappearing and we never see them again, whereas with these guys we’ve found that anything we’ve gone back to them with they’ve responded straight away.
“They have this Macron kit designer software, which is really easy to work, and then you just tell them how much you want of each item and there has never been any hassle.”