SIXTH in the National League One last season – and as ‘last man in’ they were always going to find the Premiership hard going – particularly having lost Kyle McGhie and Martin Cimprich to Boroughmuir Bears and Nathan Sweeney to Southern Knights.
Hawick then Marr was hardly the easiest of starts. They struggled with the physicality and gave away too many penalties – but despite conceding 14 tries over the two matches, they more or less kept their shape in both games. The wheels came off big style, however, against Accies in round three – and though they did pick up a couple of decent wins against Hawks and GHA, they struggled for consistency, much hindered by injuries to Michael Maltman and Craig Owenson. Things were not looking good at Christmas – but Cinderella did eventually make it to the ball.
After losing the first game after the break to Aberdeen, they came good at just the right time – and picked up 12 points from their last four games – a bonus point win over Jed, a draw with Selkirk, an away win against GHA and a losing bonus point against Chieftains. Their game management was maybe sometimes askew – but nobody could question their spirit.
- Veteran lock William Fleming bursting through two tackles to set up Paul Cunningham’s crucial try against Hawks at Balgray – in what was his 200th game for the club.
- Great solo try by Gregor Tait against Aberdeen at Stoneyhill in October.
- The gutsy bonus point win against GHA in November – coincidental in no small measure with Craig Owenson and Michael Maltman’s return from injury.
- Belligerent bonus point win against Jed at Stoneyhill in January. Route One – with all the bits and pieces falling into place. Seven tries – five vital league points – and a massive fillip in self-belief.
- The forward power and fighting spirit manifested in atrocious conditions to draw with Selkirk at Stoneyhill and beat GHA at Braidholm – with Michael Maltman, Colin Arthur and the Owenson brothers galvanising their younger cohorts. Mission accomplished! Premiership rugby again next season.
- Danny Owenson and Colin Arthur making the TOL ‘Dream Team’.
- Having been reasonably competitive in the opening two games against Hawick and Marr, totally losing the plot against Accies in round three. A ‘no show’.
- Really poor game management against Aberdeen at Stoneyhill in October – a game they could and would have won had they not chosen to go for the corner rather than take the penalty points on offer.
- Not closing it out against Chieftains in the last game of the season – to lose it on the last play – and surrender what would have been a big scalp to take into next season.
- Michael Maltman brought a hard edge and a wealth of experience to the pack – and was badly missed when he was out injured. A beacon for the youngsters and the key man in the season-saving run-in against Jed, Selkirk, GHA and Hawks.
- Danny Owenson always plays well. Pugnacious – smart thinker – slick service – kicks confidently – sharp break. Surprising that he did not make the Scotland Club XV squad.
- Craig Owenson and Colin Arthur kept the scrum solid in sometimes difficult circumstances – and they both pitched in tellingly about the park. Young Euan Bonthron showed real promise at hooker in his first season of senior rugby.
- Rory Watt was strong in the centre and Gregor Tait was always a threat on the wing.
- Inside backs Paul Cunningham and Freddie Roddick were useful recruits from Watsonians and Stew/Mel respectively – who gelled nicely once Graeme Paterson found a format to accommodate both of them.
- “We want to be a Premiership club. We are here and we want to stay here” – head coach Graeme Paterson, after opening game against Hawick.
- “There is no way to sugar coat it – we were second best at everything. It’s going to be a long hard season if we have that kind of performance every week. We are better than that” – Graeme Paterson, after his team had been put to the sword by Accies in round three.
- “There’s no doubt it’s going to be a tough season for us” – backs coach David Officer, after shipping 60 points to Selkirk at Philiphaugh.
- “They are not lying down to anybody and they have improved massively in the last few weeks. To be fair we could have nicked it in the end” – Graeme Paterson, after draw with Accies at Newfield in early December.
- “That is what we have been striving for all season and it came together. That is what we need to replicate in the last three games” – Graeme Paterson, after vital victory over Jed at Stoneyhill.
- “To be honest, I think it was heart and desire that won us that one” – Graeme Paterson, after the win over GHA in the penultimate game.
- “We did everything but win the game” – Graeme Paterson, after the last game against Chieftains.
- “Staying up would be a bigger achievement than getting here. If we get that second season then hopefully we will embed; the guys who have played this year will be a bit more used to this level of rugby, and a few more players might look at us as a place they want to go to develop because they see that we are not just whipping boys” – Graeme Paterson, as his team geared up for their fight for survival
An East Lothian rugby hub geared to harness and develop the rich vein of local talent has long been a subject of debate and conjecture – and now, with the dramatic change in the structure of Scottish club rugby brought about by Super-6, it is maybe time to re-examine the hypothesis. Certainly, with their Premiership status, the planned improvement in their playing facilities and their successful player development programme, Musselburgh are well placed to encourage the process. The best of luck to them.