Tennent’s Premiership countdown part one: Murchie focussed on the here and now at Ayr

New head coach aims to get the club back to the top in swift order

Ayr head coach Peter Murchie.
Image: © Craig Watson.www.craigwatson.co.uk

SOME coaches might be glad of the fact there is no relegation in the Premiership this season, welcoming the chance to play under a little less pressure. Not so Peter Murchie. The new Ayr head coach has no interest in what will be going on at the wrong end of the table, and expects his players, too, to be concerned only with what is going on towards the top.

At some clubs such an attitude could appear presumptuous, but the facts bear Murchie out. Since first winning the Premiership back in 2009, Ayr have been champions on three further occasions as well as winning the Cup three times. They were second best to Melrose last season, losing out in the play-off final at the Greenyards, but the hunger for trophies is still strong at Millbrae, and Murchie knows that expectations of him are high.

“I’d like to think that anyone who’s playing for Ayr isn’t thinking about relegation,” Murchie replied when asked about the implications of this season’s set-up. “With next year in mind, some guys are going to be desperate to be involved in that, so I would think that complacency in terms of just sticking the feet up wouldn’t be the way to go about that. If players are taking that attitude then they wouldn’t play, to put it pretty simply.

Supporting AYR RFC

“I don’t think that will be the case. Guys play because they want to win, and it’s always enjoyable to win as a team.

“Melrose set the standard last year in terms of winning the double. They’re a very good team who do the simple things pretty well. They’re obviously the team to beat, and it’s up to the other teams to work out how to do that.

I think that we came pretty close in the Premiership final, and we were in control of the game until 10 minutes before half-time when we got a guy binned. Suddenly they got a score and we just couldn’t wrestle the game back from them.

“So it was small margins in that final, but in fairness to Melrose they were well out in front in the league. You’re not out there unless you deserve to be, so it’s up to the other teams to reel that back in.”

Just as he has no truck with the notion that anyone should relax this season because of the absence of relegation, the 32-year-old also has a similar approach to any suggestion that this should be treated as a transitional year. Yes, the Premiership will be gone by next summer, to be superseded by Super 6, in which Ayr have been awarded a franchise. But there will be no treading water in the west; no appetite for treating this campaign as a dress rehearsal.

“I think it’s a bit of a cop-out to use the phrase ‘transition year’ – it sounds like people are getting in their excuses if they say ‘transition year’, it’s like giving yourself a free shot.  How I’m looking at it is it’s the last year of the Premiership and we want to win every game that we play. We obviously want to try and win the competition, so let’s see how we get on and not use excuses in terms of the Super 6 and down tools and just wait it out until next year. The best way to transition for me is to get a winning culture going and build that way.”

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Having played for Glasgow Warriors from 2009 until last year, the former full-back knows all about building a winning culture, and was part of the squad that steadily improved their status from also-rans to PRO12 champions in 2015. He was a player/coach with French club Stade Nicois for part of last season before hanging up his boots at the turn of the year on medical advice, and was also part of the Scotland Under-20s set-up. He also found time to contribute as a specialist skills coach with the regions and academies – something he will continue to do three days a week – and found time in the second half of the season to work under then Ayr head coach Calum Forrester as a backs coach, which meant he was certainly not coming into the job cold when he took over a few months ago.

“I came in around the end of January, beginning of February, and it was a little bit bitty at times, because on an under-20s week you’re away for most of the week in camp, but it did give me an opportunity to see the squad and work with the guys – see what people are about. It was really good, because it gave me an idea of who the players were, and helped me get to know the guys a little bit better as well as finding out about all the different structures at the club both in terms of the rugby and the off-field team. I think it did help in giving me a head start going into this year.

“It is different being a head coach, but you’re still working within a team as a you do when you’re an assistant coach. Obviously there’s an extra responsibility there when you’re a head coach, but you’re still working with a group of coaches who do their jobs and express themselves at the same time.

“It is different, because ultimately you have to make the decisions. But I’m enjoying it – it’s a really good opportunity for me.

Lynch Homes are proud supporters of Ayr RFC

“I’ve been really impressed with the youth system and we’ve also got a pretty strong second team. And if you look at the players we used last year, I think it was 42 or 43 players, obviously that’s going deep into your resources, so it’s important that you’ve got strength in depth throughout the senior teams.

“It’s a big club. It’s got some good things going on behind the scenes. So it’s certainly good to be part of.”

Plan A is for Murchie to be part of the set-up at Ayr for some time, or so it would appear, and no-one else has been seriously mooted as a challenger for the post of head coach when the Super 6 franchise is up and running. But the man himself is taking nothing for granted, insisting he is not looking so far ahead just yet.

“The process [of selecting Super 6 coaches] is going on, and when that’s completed I’m sure everyone will find out who the coaches are. At the moment, I’m just concentrating on the job as it is now. If that happens later on, we’ll see how that looks – when the start dates are, et cetera. But at the moment there’s no point thinking about that.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1414 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.