AYR were crowned Premiership and Scottish Cup champions last April at the end of Peter Murchie’s first campaign as head coach at Millbrae, but the former Glasgow Warriors and Scotland full-back says that will have little bearing on how the inaugural season of Super6 pans out.
It’s not that Murchie doubts his team’s chances of challenging at the top of the table, more that he believes that this is a whole new sporting landscape for all six competing teams.
His 35-man Ayrshire Bulls squad for the new competition includes just 15 players from last season’s double-winning campaign. That means 20 new faces, although four of those players are returning to Millbrae after some time away, including former Scotland Under-20s full-back Matt Davidson and, of course, loose-head prop Gordon Reid, fresh from his exploits with the senior Scotland team at the World Cup in Japan during the last two months. The big man is already back in action, having started for the Bulls in their final warm-up match against Watsonians last weekend.
“There has been a big turnover in terms of players, our squad has changed quite considerably, and just how we work has changed in terms of the amount we are training and the infrastructure we have around the team,” explained 33-year-old Murchie. “We have an S&C coach this year, which we didn’t have last year, so it is just things like that, that you need to offer a good programme for aspiring players.
“We’re Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, unless we are playing on a Sunday, then our week will look slightly different. On top of that, we offer S&C and skill sessions, which is not compulsory, because we have to realise the guys still have careers and are not full-time rugby players.
“You’ve got a real mix,” he continued. “You’ve got guys who want to push on to be professional players, and you’ve got guys who are in careers, so it is important that we put something together that caters for everyone. We can’t exclude guys who have careers away from rugby because they are really good players and we need them to make the standard good enough to challenge everyone.”
It just so happens that the Bulls kick off this new Super6 era against Heriot’s (no name change) at Millbrae this coming Sunday, reprising two epic clashes as the end of last season – the Premiership Grand Final (Ayr won 29-23) and the Scottish Cup Final (Ayr also won 27-25) – in a match which is likely to prove that this might be a brand new competition but old rivalries will not just disappear.
“All the games are going to be tough, but I guess there is a history there with Heriot’s so it is a great game to get things going with,” said Murchie. “It has been such a long lead-in. People have been talking about it for so long that they are now just eager to see what it looks like. There is a lot of excitement throughout the club – from the old boys to the youngsters – we just want to get out there and show how it looks.
“I do expect the standard to go up from last season’s Premiership,” he continued. “If the pre-season games are anything to go by, that’s what we will see. We obviously had a good squad last year, and I guess the aim is to try and get a stronger squad this year, and I think we have done that.
“And from what I am hearing, that is being replicated across the board, so if you have better players you should see a higher standard of rugby.”
With that in mind, Murchie believes that one of the major challenges he will face this season will be rotating selection in order to keep everyone fresh and happy in a winning environment, especially as there is no ‘playing down’ of non-Academy Super6 players into the Premiership and/or National Leagues.
“There is no point trying to sugar-coat it, it is going to be very difficult, but that’s when man-management skills come into it,” he said. “35 into 23 doesn’t go, so there is going to be selection decisions every week, and guys will know that they have to take their chances when they get them. Ultimately, it is up to the guys to put themselves into a position that they have to be selected.”
- Buy match tickets for Ayrshire Bulls v Heriot’s [Sunday 10th November, kick-off: 2pm] by clicking HERE.