SOUTHERN KNIGHS will go into the Super6 Sprint Series with a new man at the helm in Bruce Ruthven, a head coach who has Melrose coded into his DNA, having played for and captained the club and having followed his father, Colin, in representing The Greenyards side. Moreover, the former Scottish Schools cap played alongside his elder brother, Scott, a notable stand-off for the Borders outfit.
Having had little time to reshape the Southern Knights squad since he took over in January of this year, Ruthven, is perhaps fortunate that some of the key players who were in the squad have remained in situ. “Although we’ve lost a number of players from last season, there’s still fair percentage of the squad remaining, but we’ve got young players coming in,” explains the head coach, whose squad, much to the delight of the home fans, has much more of a Melrose (and Borders) look about it.
The local colouring includes Will Owen, Sam Derrick and Doug Crawford, all products of the Melrose system, and former Kelso player Liam Herdman. Pleasing for home fans will be the return of a famous Melrose name in Robbie Chalmers, the youngest of Craig’s three sons. Another returnee is Thomas Brown, son of Melrose second-row stalwart Robbie Brown. Also signed up for the Knights this year is the Scotland under-20 cap Rudi Brown, one of several stage three Academy players contracted to the Greenyards Super6 squad.
Enhancing the Melrose brand for this latest iteration of Super6 is the Scotland under-20 scrum-half, Murray Redpath, whose surname is synonymous with The Greenyards. “It’s great to have a Redpath back at Melrose. The big focus for us is getting local boys coming through the system. Murray’s an Exile but the Redpaths have a great affinity to Melrose”, explains Ruthven. “He’s an exciting prospect. He needs game time. He’s still got a lot to learn but he’ll do that with the game time he gets here.”
Another Scotland under-20 signing is local talent, Kieran Clark. “Kieran just needs to play. He caught the tail end of the Scotland under-20s and did really well. We see him as a fifteen,” suggests Ruthven, who, by bringing in Melrose products Zander Ramage and Matt Bertram to the Knights’ training squad, has made sure that his side still has useable players beyond those contracted. “They’re the next generation,” says Ruthven.
“If you look at the profile of our squad it’s pretty young. But again the directive from Scottish Rugby is clear: Super6 is about developing players for under-20s, Scotland Sevens and Edinburgh and Glasgow. We’re quite comfortable within our own skin that given two, three or four seasons we can develop a lot of these youngster by giving them game time,” predicts the Knights’ coach.
But it’s not all about an emphasis on youth, as Ruthven explains: “We’ve got a solid few guys back, particularly in the forwards”.
He is referencing there front-rows Grant Shiels and Russell Anderson, while there is also consistency and experience in the back-row with Harry Borthwick, Ruairidh Knott and Allan Ferrie remaining in the squad, although Ruthven points out that the latter is still a youngster: “He is still only 22 and has a long way to go yet in his development.”
Southern Knights no longer have Jason Baggott, who has joined Watsonians, and filling the stand-off position will be academy prospects and former Scotland under-20s playmaker Cameron Scott, who returns for another season. But the head coach has another option in the little-used Edinburgh professional, Nathan Chamberlain, who, Ruthven believes, will flourish at Southern Knights.
“Nathan is a guy who could kick on really well. He just needs to play. We’ll give him that opportunity. He fits in very well. He’s good with the other guys, listens to the feedback and he’s really keen to bounce on. Status-wise Nathan’s in the pro draft. He’s come to us to get game time. For the moment we’re playing him at twelve but there’s no reason why he can’t play ten,” says Ruthven.
Partly because of financial reasons but also because of what fits with Ruthven’s philosophy, the Knights’ squad will contain only two players who are ineligible to play for Scotland. “We’ve only got two non-qualified Scottish players in our squad – Isaac Brace (prop) and Billy Wara (centre) – but that’s what Super6 is all about. The directive from Scottish Rugby allows us to have four in our squad – we’ve got two, so we’re doing pretty well with that,” he explains.
Just how well The Southern Knights have gelled in pre-season will become apparent this weekend. “We start our programme against Heriot’s away [on Saturday afternoon]. It will be a challenge but we’ll find out more about our players, and win, lose or draw we’ll take take another step forward.”