GRAHAM SHIEL is refreshingly realistic about what he hopes to achieve with his Boroughmuir Bears squad in the Super6 Sprint series, which starts this coming weekend.
“Our aim is to get better than last season. Clearly we want to win games, and that’s a big driver and a gauge of how successful we are but it’s not the only measurement of success,” stresses Shiel, who continues to see this tier of rugby as a vehicle for allowing young players to reach higher levels of attainment.
“We want to bring through guys like Duncan Munn to get another year in under-20s, and for others like Rhys Tait to play pro rugby. For us at Boroughmuir, it has been about giving young players opportunities. Hopefully we can continue that. The big thing is how we promote these young guys and put them in the shop window like we did Kaleem Baretto [the Bears’ hugely talented scrum half last season who is now with the Scotland 7s squad].”
Financial constraints and Shiel’s desire to stick to his philosophy of what he sees is the point of Super6 means that it is unlikely that we will see imported marquee players boosting the playing strength at Meggetland, even though Murrayfield has allowed each franchise to have up to four ‘foreigners’ in their roster.
“We’ve not gone down that route [signing non-qualified Scotland players] for a number of reasons,” explained Shield. “It’s too expensive and we would not have been able to sign the quality we wanted. Ideally, we want to bring in players like Jerry Blyth-Lafferty and Liam McConnell, who have come through our club system. They’re both in France right now with the Scotland under-18 side, but when they return we can plug them into Super6 rugby and give them game time. We recognise also that there are players in Edinburgh and the Lothians and Glasgow who want to play Super6.”
Shiel talks enthusiastically about further talent in his squad. “We have players like [second/back row player] Ewan Ferrie, who is an Academy boys, and hooker Corey Tait [from Hawick, who is the younger brother of Rhys], who’ll certainly get a chance this season.”
Another player migrating to Meggetland this season in Josh King, the former Queen Victoria School flanker, who was in Stirling County’s squad last season.
““There’s also more competition now in the centre to challenge Duncan Munn and Robbie McCallum,” suggests Shiel, adding: “Over the piece we’re slightly more competitive in all positions across the squad than we were last season”.
Last season, Boroughmuir Bears brought in a player from England to fill the stand-off position but for the coming series Shiel has avoided going down that route by signing Connor Allan, the son of the dual Scotland and South Africa international hooker, John Allan. The South African youngster, who, of course, is Scotland qualified, will compete for the 10 shirt with ex-St Leonard’s pupil, Harry Mercer, who is at Durham University. “Hopefully they’ll both settle in and give the outside backs what they need, ,” says Shiel. “I know Harry from old when he was involved in the under-16 programme.”
Boroughmuir Bears had a hit-out against Southern Knights last Friday in a match billed as part of the four-day Melrose Sevens programme. Neither of the two new fly-halves were available for this game, so Shiel opted to give game time to youngster Callum Anderson, who has been playing for the Boroughmuir Club XV in the National One. “I thought Callum played very confidently at this level,” was Shiel’s judgment. Also given a chance at ten last Friday was Adam Scott, the ex GHA player, who according to Shiel is more likely to be used in the back three.
It’s’ not all about youngsters, however. Shiel does not subscribe to the widely held view that Super6 should be for under-25s. “I don’t think I’d have an upper age limit,” he says. “For example you’ve got a guy like Craig Keddie who absolutely loves playing at this level and relishes the chance to play this kind of rugby. To deny him that opportunity would be wrong.
“Also you’ve got guys like Tom Brown who’s transitioning from a bubble [pro rugby] into normal life. This has been a real release for Tom compared to what he had been doing. What they give is experience, leadership and guidance. Tom playing outside Duncan Munn has to be a good thing. Ditto Craig playing alongside Rhys Tait and Ewan Ferrie, giving them experience he’s gained over many years.”
Looking forward Shiel states: “It’s going to be a tough season for us and obviously a tough start against Ayrshire Bulls at Millbrae, but that’s what this Super6 programme is about. It’s about challenging players.”