THE 2022-23 Premiership season reached a dramatic climax at Mansfield Park on Saturday, with 13-man Hawick – who have finished the regular season at the top of the table with an unbeaten – defeating their nearest challengers, Currie Chieftains, with an injury-time try in the corner.
It was a tough one to take for Chieftains, who were the better team on the day, but ultimately it felt like justice was done because Hawick were undoubtedly the better team over the whole season.
But which individuals have been the most influential over the season and who has stood out as the best in their position?
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Each week TOL nominates a team of the week, and this season 151 different players have been selected at least once in the course of the campaign for the 270 places on offer. Surprisingly, three players who featured in our ‘most appearances’ XV because they started all 18 games for their clubs in the regular season – Callum Inglis and David Andrew of Marr and Luke McCutcheon of GHA – have never featured at all, so the selection does not reward consistency of performance, but it does reward star quality in particular games. Nevertheless we will make nominations for TOW the starting point for a TOL team of the season.
At full-back, Hawick’s Kirk Ford leads the way with four nominations. He also tops the ‘points from boot’ table, so he rightly claims the full-back position. Chris Hyde of GHA had some fine moments, Hawks’ Andy McLean burst into the adult game impressively, and Paul Cunningham was a big contributor for Musselburgh in their end-of-season run to escape relegation, so all were in the discussion.
On the wings, GHA’s Luca Bardelli with five and Jed’s Mason Cullen with four, lead the nominations. Both are high up in the try scoring charts as well – Cullen has 11 and Bardelli 10. Top try scorers Craig Robertson (15) and Kody McGovern (17 (14 in regular season and three more in the play-offs) must be in the selection mix as well but I am sticking with the star quality wings on this occasion – Cullen has real dog in him, and Bardelli has run in some remarkable tries from deep through heavy traffic.
Choosing the centres has been more difficult. Ethan Reilly arrived from Australia for the second half of the season and with three nominations has made a big impact at Hawick. In contrast, converted flanker Andrew Grant-Suttie picked up three nominations early in the season for his form at centre for Selkirk, but injury prevented him playing after week eight. Robbie Kent and Max Wallace have both had their moments for Edinburgh Accies, but I have opted for consistency in this area of the team. James Pinkerton earned three nominations in 15 appearances for Hawks, anchoring their often changing young backline around him, while Andrew Mitchell not only received twi nominations, but started all 18 games for Hawick, and stands out consistently as the best centre in the competition.
Stand-off is often the player who shapes a game and runs the attack. At Hawick, Kyle Brunton has had his most consistent season and deserves to be in the mix. Whoever Currie have had in the 10 shirt – they have played five different players there – inevitably plays well and there is no doubt Gregor Hunter and Jamie Forbes are among the best players in the league. But for maximum impact from minimum appearances I’m opting for Edinburgh Accies Jamie Loomes. In just nine appearances he picked up three nominations for both the Dream Team and man-of-the-match.
We have had two exciting young scrum-halves emerge into the adult game this season in Hector Patterson (17) at Hawick and Eric Davey (18) at Hawks. At the other end of the spectrum, both Danny Owenson (Musselburgh) and Graham Wilson (Heriot’s) have scored heavily and influenced their teams significantly. But if you are looking for a scrum-half that consistently gets the ball away quickly it is hard to look past Grant Baird at Marr. He had the misfortune to be injured for the play off semi-final and Marr missed him. The tall No 9 could yet step up a level and play in the Super Series comfortably.
Marr’s international prop Gordon Reid was nominated four times for the TOL Dream Team, a number matched at loose-head only by Shawn Muir at Hawick. Muir gets the nod for this team on the basis that he has started every game for his club this season. On the tight-head side, Craig Miller of Marr not only started every game but played 80 minutes every game as well. Outstanding. His three nominations in the TOW were matched however by Currie’s Cairn Ramsay and his impressive tally of six tries edges him ahead into our team.
Completing the front-row at hooker, it is difficult to look past Fraser Renwick, returning to Hawick after playing Super6 for the Southern Knights, and picking up four nominations for TOW. Hawks all-action Istok Totic was impressive throughout the season, and Jed’s Finlay Scott gave a new meaning to the term ‘set-piece specialist’, kicking 104 points for his team in addition to his throwing and hooking responsibilities.
A number of players returning from Super6 had influential seasons in the boiler-house for their teams. Both Dalton Redpath and Daniel Suddon showed up well for Hawick, Ewan Stewart and Will Inglis were a similarly dominant pairing for Currie Chieftains, but for sheer impact on a team’s performance it is hard to look past Michael Badenhorst at Musselburgh. At the halfway point of the season Musselburgh had only eight points. Then Badenhorst arrived, and along with Paul Bogie and Jamie Campbell galvanised the pack which was undoubtedly a major factor in the Stoneyhill men picking up 22 points in the second half of the season. Alongside him we’ve picked Jedf-Forest’s Mr Consistent Clark Skeldon. 17 starts, five tries, and thee appearances in the TOW speaks volumes of his commitment and reliability
Among the wing forwards, two players have earned four selection in TOW this season, namely Calum Renwick of Hawick and Scott McClymont of Selkirk. They are similar buzz-bombs who are good both sides of the ball. Renwick perhaps edges it in attacking play, and defensively, McClymont rarely misses a tackle. They would play well together. Connor Sutherland of Hawick is unlucky to miss out and Sam Wallace of Heriots has a big future ahead of him.
Between the flankers we are blessed to have an abundance of riches to choose from for No 8. Rhys Davies of Currie and Ruairi Campbell of Edinburgh Accies consistently get their teams over the gain line, as well as contributing a good number of tries themselves. But despite missing a fair chunk of the second half of the season, it is hard to look past Jae Linton of Hawick who in his 10 appearances for the Greens racked up five nominations for TOW.
Following the format of the league season we’ve allowed a bench of only five players, with the emphasis on flexibility. The ability of Blair Jardine of Marr to play at both hooker and flanker makes him an irresistible choice who could well have been in the starting XV with his four appearances in TOW. Hawks Gary Strain is comfortable on either side of the front-row so earns a bench slot and Rhys Davies provided back-five cover after some huge performances this season, not least in the play-offs, with Ruairi Campbell desperately unlucky to miss out after 10 tries over the course of the campaign.
Danny Owenson‘s versatility as a nine and 10 made a strong case for his selection among the replacements, but Graham Wilson‘s consistency over all 18 games of the regular season and his mastery off the bench to help guide 14-man Heriot’s Blues to a crucial win over Musselburgh in January gets him the nod, while Ryan Cottrell of Selkirk played centre, wing and full-back so provides good cover right across the backs.
15. Kirk Ford (Hawick)
14. Mason Cullen (Jed-Forest)
13. James Pinkerton (Glasgow Hawks)
12. Andrew Mitchell (Hawick)
11. Luca Bardelli (GHA)
10. Jamie Loomes (Edinburgh Accies)
9. Grant Baird (Marr)
1. Shawn Muir (Hawick)
2. Fraser Renwick (Hawick)
3. Cairn Ramsay (Currie Chieftains)
4. Michael Badenhorst (Musselburgh)
5. Clark Skeldon (Jed-Forest)
6. Calum Renwick (Hawick)
7. Scott McClymont (Selkirk)
8. Jae Linton (Hawick)
16. Blair Jardine (Marr)
17. Gary Strain (Glasgow Hawks)
18. Rhys Davies (Currie Chieftains)
19. Graham Wilson (Heriot’s Blues)
20. Ryan Cottrell (Selkirk)
Hawick’s Jae Linton & Ethan Reilly ( as guest players )in Newcastle Falcons team v Ayrshire Bulls .
Just shows you don’t have to play in Super 6 to be noticed in professional circles .
Well done Falcons for giving them the chance .
Well done both players to show the doors not closed on the pro ladder just because you’re not in the Super 6 bubble. Rand it’s possible to progress from prem rugby
Fraser dont take it personal.Just look at david mcadam deduction 2 marr players split for selection both on the same amount of offside lines motm.They dont make the team and dont even get placed on the bench.I dont need to say any thing else.
Did anyone watch Currie ? !
Fair comment Fraser. As you know TOL has a reporter at every game. There is no doubt Currie are an outstanding team with outstanding players, and if we were picking a Scotland Club International XV I have no doubt there would be a lot of Currie players in it – D J Innes, Gregor Christie, Ewan Stewart for starters. Currie had more players (19) nominated for TOW than any other team but only one player – Cairn Ramsey – was nominated more than twice. So the lack of Currie players in this team is a quirk of the primary selection criteria (appearances in TOW) and a tribute to the fact that Currie did not rely on 3 or 4 big names but different players stepped up at different times of the season. The selection is also just a bit of fun.