BOTTOM of the Premiership last year – Raeburn Place looking and feeling like a builder’s yard – ten players lost to Super-6 (Ronan Sydak, Robbie Chalmers, Jack Mann and Harry Paterson to Heriots; Martin McGinley and Cameron Gray to Boroughmuir Bears; Michael Badenhorst and Rory Jackson to Watsonians; Robbie Kemp to Stirling and Shaun Gunn to Southern Knights) and another ten moved on because of changed personal or business circumstances. Iain Berthinussen did not have his problems to seek back in September.
Training was severely disrupted by the development work at Raeburn Place – and they had to play their first eight games on the road – so they could be reasonably satisfied, after these eight games, to be sitting mid-table with 17 points from three wins and a fighting draw away to Premiership leaders, Marr.
But it went pear shaped from there on in – and though they generally kept themselves competitive, a draw with Musselburgh and a good win over Jed was all they had to show for their seven home games – including a loss in the critical relegation decider against Hawks.
- Spiking Marr’s guns at Fullarton with a combative, Jamie Sole inspired, draw.
- Spirited bonus point win at Philiphaugh – despite Sole getting a yellow card from the Spanish exchange referee in first minute, before he had even touched the ball.
- Strong defence and forward control for a bonus point win over Jed in the first game back at the very much un-reconstructed Raeburn Place. Festive cheer from the only home win of season.
- Jamie Sole making the Scotland Club XV.
- The frustration of not getting back to Raeburn Place in November and having to decamp to the Academy pitch at Newfield was reflected in the results – a sluggish defeat by Aberdeen – a poor yet fortuitous draw with Musselburgh – three yellow card, poor game management and defeat by GHA – which pushed them into the relegation quagmire from which they never escaped .
- Being bullied out of it by Hawick at Mansfield in January.
- Forfeiting home advantage yet again in the reciprocal fixture with Hawick in February – and suffering a miserable windswept day at the Queensferry Hub – though cheered somewhat to pick up a losing bonus point in the driving sleet.
- Not having the firepower to take Hawks in the relegation decider at Raeburn.
- Jamie Sole was the top man – with his fingerprints all over the gutsy draw at Marr and the hard earned win at Philiphaugh.
- Ruairi Campbell’s switch from back-row to centre was propitious and bodes well.
- Jamie Loomes is a good player – and his sense of purpose and direction was badly missed when he was out with hamstring trouble in November, and the run-in to the end of the season.
- BATs product Robert Wilson, now returned from studying in Glasgow, was a worthy man-of-the match in the big win at Musselburgh. A compelling blend of power and pace whether playing in the centre or on the wing.
- Another BATs product, Max Love grabbed a hat-trick in the early season win down at Riverside – and was very much an on-field focal point.
- Sean Crombie brought a harder edge to the front-row and Angus Inwood worked tirelessly in the boiler house.
- “It’s going to be an interesting season considering everything that is going on in the game” – Iain Berthinussen, after the first game up at Rubislaw in September.
- “We just want to keep playing and having fun. A key thing for these boys is that last year maybe wasn’t fun. We’ve had the same number of wins as we had last season. We want to get a bit of fun back into it and we’re doing that” – Iain Berthinussen, tempting providence after the comfortable win over Musselburgh.
- “I think that was a dose of reality for us – a lesson in risk versus reward” – Iain Berthinussen, after the disappointing result against GHA the following week.
- “It is tough for us because we are on the road all the time – we’ve just got to keep going. We will be back playing in Edinburgh for the second half of the season” – Iain Berthinussen, after the defeat at Malleny.
- “Jamie Sole was immense, the effort from everyone was fantastic, and if we could expand our opening and closing twenty minutes over a full game we would fear nobody” – Assistant Coach Andrew Easson, after the draw away to Marr.
- “We have only one game to go on the road before we get back home” – Iain Berthinussen’s optimistic thoughts after win down at Philiphaugh.
- “We just did not play in the right areas. We’ve got to keep working hard to put it right. We’ve got a new squad out there and we are beginning to get some boys back from injury which will help” – Ian Berthinussen, after the draw with Musselburgh in early December.
- “There was a real grunt in our defence that has been missing over the last two or three weeks. I thought the boys got on with doing their job today. But there’s still a hell of a hill to climb” – Iain Berthinussen, after the much needed home win over Jed in January.
- “It’s massively frustrating. You can’t turn up like that and expect to get anything from the game. We’ve dug ourselves a grave and it is going to be tough getting out of it. There’s no excuse really, we’ve just got to keep working hard. We’ve got Hawks next week, then Marr and Currie to play – we’ve got three games to go, so it’s still in our hands” – Ian Berthinussen, after defeat by Selkirk.
- “We have shown that we can compete against any team in this league, but beating them is a different matter, but I will never fault their attitude and commitment of our players” – Iain Berthinussen, after the Hawks decider.
Edinburgh Academicals are the oldest rugby club in Scotland – the second oldest in the world – they have the history – they have their excellent BATs development programme – and by next season they should have one of the best club rugby facilities in the country. They need Premiership rugby – and, as with Glasgow, the Premiership needs a rugby club in the city centre.
Despite the difficulties, Iain Berthinussen managed to keep the show on the road – and ensure that when the pandemic struck, the club still had a legitimate mathematical argument against automatic relegation. They now need to celebrate having dodged the bullet by recognising and installing the support structures that he needs.
Declaring the season null and void was, of course, an incredibly hard call on Biggar. The clubs have voted – but how informed the ballot process was is a matter of concern – and a strong case could still be made for an eleven team Premiership for next season.