AS he looks back at his 20-year spell as Director of Rugby at Melrose RFC, Mike Dalgetty readily admits that his “Christmas card list is a lot shorter now than it used to be”. The 64-year-old doesn’t delight in having rubbed people up the wrong way through his relentless pursuit of success for the club he has been a member of since he was 16, but neither does he make any apologies for having done so.
“I’ve never set out to make friends because you can’t please everybody, so you just have to do what you think is right,” he reflects. “Everybody has different ideas: some have better ideas, some have worse ideas, and some have no idea. Whatever environment you are in, it is dictated to you by the group of people involved at that time, and I think we are very fortunate in this club to have a group of people who understand where we want – and need – to go.”
The news two weeks ago that Dalgetty is stepping down from the DOR role at Melrose represented the end of an era. On his watch, the club won four Scottish Championships, consistently competed at the top of the Premiership table, won the Scottish Cup three times, reached the final a further six times, were Kings of the 7s series winners seven times and Border League Champions six times.
“I don’t think I could name one single moment,” he replies, when asked for the highlight of his tenure. “The big achievement is that we’ve been consistent by creating an environment where young guys have wanted to come and play the best rugby they possibly can.
“When I took over the director of rugby job in 1999-2000, it was quite soon after that generation of players which included Craig Chalmers, Bryan Redpath and Doddie Weir had gone off to be professionals, and it was mainly about putting things back together again. In some ways Super6 has been fairly similar to that. It is pressing the restart button, and that experience has been helpful.”
Which begs the question: why step down now? Why at such a crucial moment in the club’s history, as it sets about adapting to the challenges and grasping the opportunities which come with owning the Southern Knights Super6 franchise?
At this point, it is worth noting that he is not leaving the club altogether, but will now be purely focused on assisting Knights head coach Rob Chrystie, leaving Rob Moffat (former Melrose and Edinburgh head coach) and Colin Meager (former director of youth rugby at the club) to deal with the jigsaw puzzle or keeping the overall club vibrant and successful.
“I’m 65 this year and I think everyone comes to a point in their life when things happen to you and the people around you which makes you re-evaluate a wee bit,” says Dalgetty. “I’ve done this on a virtually full-time but voluntary basis since 2003 when I sold my business, and it has recently become clear to me that I need and want to spend more time doing other things.
“So, it was just an amalgamation of factors, which included Super6 because that is a job in itself – there are 40 people involved and it is at the beginning of a process so there needs to be an understanding of what it is and a commitment to building it up – and the fact that I am not going to be here as much as I was in the past.
“I knew that I couldn’t do that overall job properly. And that’s not any good for this club – it must be done properly.”
Dalgetty has not yet got a new HOB title but is unconcerned about that. “It’s not important,” he states. “Rob’s role involves things like looking after budgets, a lot of admin stuff and an understanding of all the political processes and so on which are going on around Super6, so my job is to buffer him from all that so he can just concentrate on coaching.”
Adapting to a changing world
The conception and creation of Super6 has not been smooth, and there is no escaping the fact that there is significant resistance at a number of other Border clubs to the idea that one of their own has now been given this elevated position.
There is no easy answer. One of the great strengths of Borders rugby is the ferocious local pride of clubs like Hawick, Gala, Jed-Forest, Selkirk and Kelso, which has driven the region to punch well above its weight for over a century. The challenge the Southern Knights face is persuading their neighbours and ancient rivals that although the new team plays out of the Greenyards, it can have a value to the wider community.
“Our aim is quite clear, it is a franchise given to Melrose, and our objective is to run that to give opportunities to players throughout the Borders and beyond,” explains Dalgetty. “Southern Knights is not here solely to meet our own needs. It is there to meet the needs of young players from all over.
“So, for young players in the Borders, if Super6 is what they would like to do and they are good enough, this is where we would like them to come. But we can’t make them, and they may choose to go and play in Edinburgh, or at Stirling, or in Ayr. We don’t look beyond what players want. All we can do is offer ourselves.”
What about the argument that Scottish rugby would be better off without Super6 altogether?
“Rugby is changing at an unbelievable pace – the guys who are playing rugby are changing, the society which produces rugby players is changing, the whole rugby world is changing – so, you can try and stop it but I would suggest you are fighting a losing battle, or you can grab as much of it as possible that is relevant to what you’re doing and just try to keep up with it,” is Dalgetty’s response.
“To me, that’s the way to run a rugby club. Not think about what we used to be, and maybe at times it is not even what you want to be. It is what you have to be. And that is determined by what players want, and young players are completely different now to what they were five years’ ago, let alone 10 or 20 years ago.”
“It is all about that ambition to be the best they can possibly be, whether that is as a club player, or above that at Super6, and for some it is a stepping-stone into the academies and the full-time pro game. I think we need to be positive and understand that rugby clubs are not about old guys like myself, they are about what they offer young players.
“We – as in Melrose – had to do two jobs as a Premiership club in recent years: to bring through and develop our own players and to cater for ambitious players from anywhere who wanted to be at a successful Premiership club with a view to getting into the professional game,” he continues. “Now that same job is officially separated, so we have a Melrose team which is in the main for Melrose players, and the Knights team where the better players from anywhere can get that level of rugby they need. So, in some ways it is no different at all, just better defined.
“It is up to us to make it work. And when I say that I mean everybody in Scottish rugby. Clubs outside it will disagree but I would stress the need to have a wider thought process.”
It is not all hostility. The day of the interview is a Wednesday, and Southern Knights had taken part in a joint training session with Selkirk – coached by former Melrose captain Scott Wight – the previous evening. “We got a lot out of it and I think they did, too,” says Dalgetty. “We’re keen to work with any club in the area who wants to work with us.”
After a slow start to the season, the Knights have found their groove and are looking for a fifth league win on the bounce when they take on top of the table Watsonians at Myreside on Saturday afternoon in the final match of the regular campaign. A play-off appearance is already assured.
“The players who have come in [to Southern Knights] have really enjoyed it,” says Dalgetty. “When you talk about season two, it is not even a 30 second conversation. There is less rugby, but we are giving them more in terms of the facilities, the analysis, the focus of the training. There is now a deeper and wider process in giving them information, and they feel the benefit.
“And the best part of it is still to come with cross-border,” he adds. “As Melrose, we really enjoyed the British and Irish Cup when we were in it. We had a pretty good record winning 45 percent of our games, which in Scottish terms wasn’t too bad, and we see this being something similar.
“Players love the opportunity to live like a professional for that weekend, travelling down to play a big game, being in camp together beforehand, all that stuff.
“The first three games are away from home, so it’s going to be tough, but that’s what we want. If you have ambition in sport then you want to play alongside and against better players, and you want your mentality to be tested a little bit.”
Maintaining a one-club mentality
Meanwhile, the Melrose ‘Club XV’ are currently fourth in the National One table, and the Wasps [youth] finished a close second to Hawick in the ‘Warrior Border Town Conference’.
“If you look at the ‘Club XV’ team, we’ve got 10 boys playing regularly who are still aged for under-18 rugby, so to have that level of talent in that 17 to 22 age-group, plus a few old heads like Richard Ferguson and Grant Runciman, is amazing,” says Dalgetty. “Our biggest issue is because of the numbers going into Super6 we’ve stopped running a 2nd XV, which narrows the funnel down a little bit for game opportunities, so that is something we have to address as quickly as we can.
“This has to be one club – it has to be – it can’t be anything other,” he adds. “So, it is one club in terms of how we work together, and the Southern Knights goes beyond the club for players to reach a higher level. But in terms of the way we operate – sitting in the same rooms and speaking to each other – we have to work together.”
Key to everything the club is trying to achieve – including their bold plans for a four-day Sevens Festival in April – is the newly installed 4G surface at The Greenyards, which perhaps left traditionalists shuddering with shock at first but has vastly increased the capacity of the whole facility.
“We’re not traipsing around in the mud, the floodlight are brilliant, we can have five games back-to-back on it and then a football match, so I’m not exaggerating when I say that we have had more people play at the Greenyards in the last six months than we had in the previous 20 years,” says Dalgetty.
“Everything before was satellited out to the outlying pitches. You could be a kid here and never be on the Greenyards, always playing in a mud-bath on the other side of town, whereas now they are out there from 9am on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and they can come into the clubhouse afterwards for a juice and a coffee, so it is helping us become a real hub.
“As always, there are things we can do to improve the way we use the premises, but there is nothing negative about this new pitch.”
He casts himself as a dinosaur, but Dalgetty won’t make the same mistake of failing to adapt to a changing climate.