IN his well-worn cargo work trousers and scruffy grey t-shirt, stonemason Craig Borthwick is clearly not an archetypical Watsonian. And he readily admits that it was a bit of a culture shock when he first arrived at Myreside to find many of his new team-mates entering the changing rooms ahead of training wearing pinstripe suits and immaculately polished brogues. But the former Peebles and Gala man has adjusted well enough to his new environment to be named 1st XV captain in only his second season playing in West Edinburgh.
The second-row is, in fact, just one of a sizeable enclave of expatriated Borderers at the club, including Rory Hutton, Scott McLeod, Euan Dods and Keith Young. “There’s Angus Duckett as well – he’s from New Zealand but a Selkirk boy at heart,” Borthwick adds.
“Unless you have played in both Edinburgh and in the Borders then you can’t understand just how different it is,” he adds. “Down there, rugby is everything; while up here people juggle it with other things in their life much more. So, it is a bit of a change, but it doesn’t take long to realise that rugby boys are all the same beneath the surface.”
As it happens, the move to Watsonians has not been quite the biggest culture shock of Borthwick’s rugby career. That occurred four years ago when George Graham at Gala decided he had a new role for the then 27-year-old centre.
“I was actually a stand-off and full-back when I was 18-years-old at Peebles, then went to inside centre, and this will only be my fifth season as a second-row,” explains Borthwick – who celebrates his 31st birthday today [Thursday]. “I was getting a bit older and a bit slower, and I’d had a wee run in the back-row and quite enjoyed it. Then George said to me one pre-season to come with the forwards, I thought I was going to be in the back-row so when he said second-row I had a few grumps and grumbles. But its worked out for the best, I’ve enjoyed the last few years. It gave me a change and freshened things up a bit for me – which you need because things can go stale later on in your career.”
He was selected to fill the boiler-house for the Scotland Club XV against France during his first year in the new position and has never looked back.
“I still struggle a bit with the line-out jumping so that’s something I have to keep working on, but everything else was fine. At the end of the day, you’re just playing rugby – with a different number on your back,” he shrugs.
When Graham and Gala parted company at the end of the 2015-16 season, it left a bitter taste in the mouths of several senior players, and Borthwick was one of four to make the move to newly promoted Watsonians soon after. With former Scotland internationals Marcus Di Roll and Simon Taylor at the helm, things started off pretty positively when the team won the first three matches of the 2016-17 campaign against champions Heriot’s, Hawick and Boroughmuir. But that pace couldn’t be sustained and although the team only flirted fleetingly with relegation, there was a sense of frustration at how the season had drifted towards a sixth place finish.
A change of coaches ensued, with former Edinburgh and Scotland hooker Stevie Lawrie taking charge this summer, and Borthwick has noticed a shift towards the sort of rugby environment he grew up with.
“Stevie loves his discipline – there’s a lot more structure – he’s trying to change the ethos at the club. Last year, with Marcus and Simon, it was very relaxed, and I’m not saying there is a wrong or a right way to do things, but Stevie has definitely got his own approach and the boys have jumped on the bandwagon.”
“I played under George for a long time and I like it that way. There’s a lot of young lads who are maybe not used to this, but its what I’ve been brought up with. Stevie is very current with his drills and coaching style but he’s old school in terms of his discipline – I’d say he has got the balance pretty much spot-on.”
“The style of rugby Watsonians have traditionally wanted to play is tremendous to watch, but they could have a 60-point win one week then slip up the next week and drop to the bottom of the league. Stevie is trying to get that consistency so that every week the standards are the same – and he’s drilling that into us out here every Tuesday and Thursday night.”
Except from this week, that it, because training has been moved Monday and Wednesday nights as part of the preparation for a rare Friday night match against Heriot’s at Myreside [kick-off: 7.30pm].
For Lawrie, there is an added edge to this match because Goldenacre is where he cut his senior coaching teeth under Phil Smith before moving to Myreside. Meanwhile, the players are acutely aware that the history between these two clubs stretches back much further and reaches much deeper than that.
“I’m not from up here but that doesn’t make it any less of a big deal for me. The boys are looking forward to it and the fact it is under the lights on a Friday night adds to the sense of occasion,” says the Watsonians captain.
Lawrie’s quest for consistency clearly remains a work in progress. After losing their first two games of the campaign, Watsonians picked up a morale boosting win at home to Stirling, and looked on course to back that up away to Marr last weekend when they led by ten points early in the second half, only to slump to a 13-13 draw.
“We just stopped playing,” sighs Borthwick. “All credit to Marr, they got their hands on the ball and we couldn’t get it back off them for the whole of the second half. We just let it slip away.
“It is a new group of players and a new coaching staff, so we know there is a lot of gelling to be done. But I quite firmly believe that when we get clicking and get everything moving in the right direction, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Every week is another step up the ladder.”
A victory against a resurgent Heriot’s team [who come into this match on a hight off the back of impressive victories against Glasgow Hawks and Hawick] would be more of a giant leap than a just a mere step.
- Watsonians and Heriot’s meet at Myreside this Friday night at 7.3opm. Team news will be published on The Offside Line tomorrow.