A NEW SEASON and a very new looking Premiership kicks off on Saturday, with six teams coming up from National One to join Currie Chieftains, Edinburgh Accies, Glasgow Hawks and Hawick in the top flight of the traditional domestic league structure.
The North East is represented for the first time since 2014 by Aberdeen Grammar, with three Border clubs, three Glasgow/West sides and three East/Edinburgh outfits also involved, meaning there is a far healthier geographic spread to the league than we have been used to in recent seasons, and also some mouth-watering derbies on the cards.
So much change, so many sub-plots, it is going to be a fascinating campaign.
Here are the runners and riders –
Head Coach: Ali O’Connor; Assistant coaches: Iain Stanger (forwards), Bailey Walsh (backs) and Greig Ryan (player/assistant forwards).
Captain: Sam Knudson; Vice-captain: Greig Ryan
Players In – Nathan Brown (Stewart’s Melville), Patrick Ritchie (Stewart’s Melville), Morgan Martin (Hamilton), Lewis Govanlock (Aberdeen University), Matt Callow (Aberdeen Grammar School), Patrick Mulholland (Aberdeen University), Jonny Spence (Ballymena), Mungo Somerville (Madras).
Players Out – Ewan Stewart (Boroughmuir Bears), Alec Dravitski (New Zealand)
Key Man: Matthias Schosser
Young Gun: Nathan Brown
Last Year: 4th in National League One
Prediction: A strong rugby base in the North East is a good thing for all of Scottish rugby and Grammar know this is a big opportunity to put themselves back on the map. It is not easy taking on a 150 mile round-trip for every away game, which helps explain why Grammar have a tendency to blow hot and cold on the road. They are hard to beat on their own patch but not invincible (as Marr showed last weekend), so it is going to be tough breaking into the top half of the table.
Head Coach: Mark Cairns; Assistant coaches: Ally Donaldson (backs & attack), Bruce Mcnaughton (assistant & ‘A’ team), Matt Scott (analysis & assistant), Pietro Ceccarelli (scrum) and Alistair Hamilton (manager & scrum).
Captain: Fergus Scott; Vice-Captain: Mike Vernel
Players In – Cairn Ramsey (Otorohanga), Ben Slessor (Nottingham Rugby Academy), Ross Merrilees (Datchworth RFC), Hamish Ferguson (Nottingham Rugby Academy), Matt Poole (Watsonians FC), Diarmaid Dee (Young Munster), Gregor Chirstie (Pukekohe), Alex Harley (George Watson’s College/Currie Youth), Cammy Lesells (Currie Youth), Jack Patterson (Hartpury University)
Players Out – AP McWilliam (Boroughmuir Bears/S6), Fraser Watt (Retired), Vince Wright (Sydney Rams), Marc Kelly (Terenure RFC), Scott McGinley (Boroughmuir Bears/S6), Thomas Gordon (Glasgow Warriors), Joe Reynolds (Watsonians/S6), Ben Robbins (Rotherham Titans), Jamie Forbes (Watsonians/S6), Matt Hooks (Caldy RFC).
Key Man: Fergus Scott
Young Gun: Adam Hall
Last Year: 3rd in Premiership (then lost to Heriot’s in play-off semi-final).
Prediction: Malleny Park has been a revolving door for players this summer, meaning Mark Cairns’ men will start the season as a bit of an unknown quantity. Having said that, some of the new faces have fairly impressive credentials. A strong club culture, some serious know-how in the coaching team and a deep sense of righteous indignation should drive them on to be serious contenders.
Lead Coach: Iain Berthinussen; Assistant Coaches: Andrew Easson, Chris Martin, Duncan McLeod,, Ross Young and Niall Lear (skills).
Captain: Jamie Sole; Leader Group: Max Love, Neil Armstrong, Ruari Campbell and Ruaridh Bonner
Players In – Sean Crombie (Unattached), David Anderson, (Guernsey RFC), Declan Dinnen (Souths Magpies, Brisbane), Patrick O’Sullivan, (Melrose Rugby), Jack Bruce (Hamilton), Ruaridh Bonner (Unattached), Clement Lacour (Selkirk RFC), Cameron Bain, (Edinburgh University), Ross McConnell (Unattached), Jacob Adamson (Cartha Queens Park), Cole Lamberton (Royal High), Hamish McLean, (Loretto), Ben Appleson (Leeds Beckett University), Ross Gregor (Musselburgh), Gareth Pritchard (Unattached).
Players Out – Martin McGinley (Boroughmuir Bears S6) Rory Simpson (Relocated to London), Ronan Seydak (Heriots S6), Michael Badenhorst (Watsonians S6), Robert Lovett (North Berwick), Nick Stephen (Retired), Sam Johnson (Haddington RFC), Vincent Hart (Relocated to Portugal), Robbie Kent (Stirling County S6), Robbie Chalmers (Heriots S6), Cameron Gray (Boroughmuir Bears S6), Shaun Gunn (Southern Knights S6 – dual registered through academy player protocol), Rory Jackson, (Watsonians S6 – dual registered through academy player protocol), Jack Mann(Heriots S6 – dual registered through academy player protocol), Harry Paterson, (Heriots S6 – dual registered through academy player protocol).
Key Man: Max Love
Young Gun: Hamish McLean
Last Season: 10th in Premiership.
Prediction: Another club with a huge player turnover this summer. The veterans from last season will be stronger and wiser for the experience, having never given up the fight and ultimately picking up a couple of morale-boosting wins at the end of the campaign, which should stand the Raeburn men in good stead as they zero in on a play-off spot.
GLASGOW HUTCHESONS’ ALOYSIANS
Head Coach: Trevor Carmichael; Assistant Coaches: Calum Forrester (Defence), Iain Kennedy (Attack), James Eddie (Forwards) and DTH Van Der Merwe (Skills).
Captain: Jamie McCarthy; Vice-Captains: Cameron King
Players In –Adam Scott (GHA U18/St. Aloysius College), Andrew Hughes (GHA U18/St. Aloysius College), Andrew Lamb (St. Aloysius College), Cameron Stewart (GHA U18), Luke McCutcheon (GHA U18/St. Aloysius College), Matthew Conroy (GHA U18/St. Aloysius College), Tom Lonergan (GHA U18), Erik Cavan (Strathclyde University), Jonathon Hamilton-Potter (Hillhead/Jordanhill), Hamish Clark (West of Scotland), Milan Marinkovic (Cartha QP), Jordan Craig (Hamilton Bulls), Craig Williamson (Unattched), Scott Derrick (Stirling County), Matthew Fletcher (East Kilbride), Sean Callaghan (Whitecraigs).
Players Out – Michael Scott (Ayrshire Bulls S6), Ross McCorkindale (Ayr RFC) James Sutherland (New Zealand), Ross Angus (Perthshire), Ben Addison (Retired), Jonathan Macado (France).
Key Man: Sean Fisher
Young Gun: Adam Scott
Last Year: 3rd in National One.
Prediction: A big influx of youngsters points to a rosy future, but much will depend this season on how quickly the team adapt to this new level after losing some of their more influential players during the summer. Consolidation is the name of the game.
Head Coach: Andy Hill; Assistant Coaches: Viki Penpraze, Steven Findlay, Alex Reid.
Captain: Stephen Leckey; Vice-Captains: Callum Harrison
Players In – Ben Hutton (The High School of Glasgow), Callum Carlin (GHK), Calum Harris (Howe of Fife), David Irvine (Cartha QP), David Milne (Hamilton Bulls), Ethan Aitken (Hamilton Bulls), Fraser Christie (GHK), Kerr Gossman (Boroughmuir), Kyle Henderson (GHK), Lyall Archer (Strathclyde University), Matt Storey (The Navy), Matthew Stewart (Biggar), Nathan Moffat (Stewart’s Melville College), Ryan Sweeney (Glasgow Accies), Sandy Greig (The High School of Glasgow), Sione Halafihi (Irvine), Tom McTier (Royal High), Will Murray (The Marines), Yousif Alagilly (GHK).
Players Out – Andrew Nimmo (Heriot’s S6), Angus Fraser (Stirling County S6 – dual registered through academy player protocol), Calum Duke (Glasgow Accies), Cameron Crozier (Relocated to London), Cameron Symes (Studying Abroad), Charlie Thomson (Relocated to London), Craig Willis (Watsonians), Dan York (West of Scotland), Fraser Hastie (Ayrshire Buls S6), Gary Adams (Hamilton Bulls), Gavin Wilson (Ayrshire Bulls S6), Glen Faulds (Boroughmuir Bears S6), James Couper (Heriot’s S6), Jack McCready (Glasgow Accies), Mark New (Stirling County S6), Kaleem Baretto (Stade Nicois), Kevin McCann (Hamilton Bulls), Kristian Kay (Stirling County S6 – dual registered through academy player protocol), Lewis Skinner (Stirling County S6), Ross Thompson (Ayrshire Bulls S6 – dual registered through academy player protocol), Scott Peffers (Hawick Harlequins), Steven Fndlay (Retired).
Key Man: Ryan Sweeney.
Young Gun: Matthew Stewart.
Last Year: 8th in National One.
Prediction: A club which hasn’t had its troubles to seek in recent years, and a defeat away to Musselburgh in the Cup last weekend was an inauspicious start to this season. There is still some hardened Premiership experience in this squad, which will be invaluable as the new boys brought in by head coach Andy Hill bed in. Another year of struggle is on the cards.
Head Coach: George Graham; Assistant Coaches: Dean McCracken and Matty Douglas
Captain: Shawn Muir; Vice-Captain: Matt Carryer and Ali Weir.
Players In – Craig Greer (Alnwick), Adam Piotrowski (Poland), James Rowley (Hawick Linden), Mully Bannerman (Hawick Youth).
Players Out – Nikki Little (Hawick Harlequins), David Lowrie (Hawick Harlequins), Lee Armstrong (Retired), Dalton Redpath (Southern Knights S6).
Key Man: Bruce McNeil
Young Gun: Bailey Donaldson
Last Season: 9th in Premiership
Prediction: Four key players from last season have moved on, but George Graham has managed to keep the nucleus of his squad together. With some grunt added to their previously threadbare front-row, the Mansfield Park men should be there or thereabouts.
Head Coach: Gavin Kerr; Assistant Coaches: Fraser Harkness and Ross Goodfellow, Kevin Barrie.
Captain: Gregor Young; Vice-captains: Monty Mitchell.
Players In – Harry Meadows (Dundee HSFP), Adam Keeler (Blaydon), Dom Buckley (Hawick), Nik Stingl (Heriot’s), Othello Heka (Eastern Suburbs, Brisbane).
Players Out – Jamie Oliver (Alnwick), Joe Northwood (Retired).
Key Man: Monty Mitchell
Young Gun: Elliot Lauder
Last Season: 2nd in National One.
Prediction: Have been pushing hard to get into the Premiership for the last three years without quite managing to force their way over the line. Their success on the 7s circuit is testament to some of the talent contained within the squad, but do they have the strength in depth to play consistently at the level required if they are to rise above a mid-table finish?
Head Coach: Craig Redpath; Assistant Coaches: Kenny Diffenthal, D’Arcy Rae (Forwards) and Scott Bickerstaff (S&C).
Captain: Conor Bickerstaff; Vice-captain: Mackenzie Pearce.
Players In – Robert Brown (Hamilton), Greg Montgomery (Carrick), Josh Harvey (Biggar), Cody Cunningham (Irvine), Jack Preston (Ayr), Benedict Grant (Palmerston North OBM, New Zealand), Brandon Sweet (False Bay RFC, South Africa), Iosefo Turaga (Barking RFC).
Players Out – Liam McLoughlin (Boland Cavaliers, South Africa), Dan Law (Hawkes Bay, New Zealand), Ross Miller (Retired), Stephen Adair (Retired), Ben Johnston (Relocated to London).
Key Man: Calvin Henderson
Young Gun: Jamie Drummond
Last Year: Champions of National One.
Prediction: Topped National One last year and have Premiership experience from the 2017-18 season. A strong club spirit, typified by a tight group of players who largely came through the ranks together, they have every reason to be targeting a play-off finish.
Head Coach: Graeme Paterson;Assistant Coaches: David Officer (Backs), Murray Fleming, David Flynn and Declan Slaven (Line-Out).
Captain: Michael Maltman; Vice-captains: Danny Owenson and Rory Watt.
Players In – Callum Champion (Dunbar), Paddy Porteous (Watsonians), Aidan Reddick (Currie Chieftains), Paul Cunningham (Watsonians), Freddie Roddick (Stewart’s Melville), Lucas Brook (Loretto School), plus nine Musselburgh Colts.
Players Out – Ross Gregor (Edinburgh Accies), Jack Anderson (moved away), Kyle McGhie (Boroughmuir Bears S6), Martin Cimprich (Boroughmuir Bears S6), Nathan Sweeney (Southern Knights S6)
Key Man: Danny Owenson
Young Gun: Paul Cunningham
Last Season: 6th in National One.
Prediction: Grabbed the last slot in this league by picking up a bonus point against Jed in the final game of last season. It is 33 years since they were last in the top-flight so this really is a step into the unknown for the Stoneyhill men. They will take encouragement from their victory over Glasgow Hawks in the Cup last weekend. They started last season like a train but fell away after Christmas, and will have to be more consistent over the course of the whole campaign this time if they are to avoid getting caught up in the relegation quagmire.
SELKIRK ARE ALSO IN THE LEAGUE