Super Series countdown 4: Ayrshire Bulls happy to live with ‘favourites’ tag

Head coach Pat MacArthur and senior player Bobby Beattie aim to follow up Sprint success by reclaiming the Championship itself

Ayrshire Bulls head coach Pat MacArthur is out to regain the Championship trophy he lifted in 2021. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Ayrshire Bulls head coach Pat MacArthur is out to regain the Championship trophy he lifted in 2021. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

MOST Scottish teams, at any level, tend to be uncomfortable with being tagged favourites for either a single match or a whole competition. But the Ayrshire Bulls are not like most Scottish teams.

After becoming the inaugural winners of Super6, the Bulls were knocked off their perch by Watsonians last season, but got back to the top of the pile in the Sprint earlier this year. They know that they are widely regarded as being likely to follow up that success by regaining the Championship title this time round, and, while having a healthy respect for their rivals, are relaxed to have that ‘favourites’ label round their necks.

“We’re happy with that, aren’t we?,” senior player Bobby Beattie asks head coach Pat MacArthur. The pair are at Murrayfield for the Super Series media day along with representatives from the other half-dozen teams, but the presence of their rivals has not cajoled them into any expression of false modesty.


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“Yeah,” MacArthur agrees. “The aim is to win: we all know why we’re there. And we all know that the sacrifices are massive – a lot of my boys have full-time work, and then you put this on top of it. They’re not at home with their wives and kids, because they’re on that training pitch every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday – and doing S&C in the middle.

“It is hard, but there is a reward. We got a little taste of it with the Sprint, we’ve won the Championship once, we came second once: now we’ve got to hit the ground running, knowing what is expected and what we have to do.

“Everyone talks about the main mantra being developing players, but part of developing players is learning how to win, learning how to deal with pressure situations, and I think we’ve been building that right from the get-go.

“We’re there to try and win, and by winning we’re developing players and increasing standards, and we’re learning how to play higher-pressure games. So I think that’s been a massive positive.

“Especially if you look at the last Sprint there, the league has tightened up, whereas a year ago in the Championship there was a bit of a breakaway. Now teams are buying into it and getting the benefit.”

 

Beattie has a similar analysis. Still only 29, the centre/winger began his career with Glasgow Hawks, then played at professional level with Glasgow Warriors for a couple of seasons before moving to the English Championship with London Scottish. Since returning to Scotland and joining the Bulls two years ago, he has seen a levelling-up in the Super Series which he believes has helped drive it to a higher standard than the Premiership. 

“I think the Super Series has been good. Having played in the Premiership in the past and then going into this, I think it’s just a step above what that Premiership was, which is really good. It does the job in bridging the gap between the amateur and the pro game.

“And as Pat said, now that all the teams are really competitive, you can’t go into any of the games expecting to win anymore. I think the first couple of seasons it was almost a two-horse race, but now everyone is a competitor, you can’t be expected to win, and you go out and give it everything in every game.

“I think the Super Series is pretty similar to the [English] Championship. The one thing in the Championship is there might be a few bigger, older forwards that are kicking around who have been past Premiership players. But it’s a lot quicker game up here than the Championship. It’s better rugby – as a back especially, sometimes Championship games would be really slow and you wouldn’t get any ball. There’s some really exciting rugby and great tries every week from all the teams. And I think that’s really good for Scottish rugby to be getting that scene.”

While standards in the Super Series may have gone up across the board, the Bulls surely deserve a lot of the credit for driving that improvement. Over the past decade or so, the Millbrae outfit – first parent club Ayr and then the Bulls themselves – have been arguably the most professionally-minded team in the domestic game both on and off the field. Over the past 12 months they have had two opportunities to measure themselves against actual pro teams, offering a good account of themselves both times.

“We played against Glasgow in pre-season and we ran them really close,” MacArthur recalls of a 22-17 loss to the Warriors in Inverness last September. “We were pushing to win that in front of three or four thousand folk up north. And that was a massive statement for Super Series rugby – that shows you how much work the boys are putting in and the progression off the back of that.

“And then with the A teams coming in, we had 1,500 folk watching us against Glasgow A. And the boys again stuck in and got a victory off the back of that,” he adds of his team’s 29-12 win in the Sprint three months ago.

“And I think that’s two huge statements that show you a massive positive. That to me, when you look back on the last couple of years, they’re some massive moments for Ayr.”


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About Stuart Bathgate 1392 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.