Men’s Premiership 2023 | Round 1

Men’s Premiership 2023 | Round 1

Saturday 2 September sees the return of the Men’s Premiership, with five fixtures taking place in Round 1. Join us as we preview each of the opening games.

Hawick v Glasgow Hawks, KO 3pm – Mansfield Park

Beginning with last year’s champions, Hawick host Glasgow Hawks at Mansfield Park.

In an historic feat, the Borders side claimed the double – the Premiership and the Scottish Cup – which centre Andrew Mitchell reflects on as something that’s “hard to sum up”.

“The start of the season was slow with our draw against Selkirk and we struggled against Jed, but after that we kicked on from our win against Accies and didn’t look back. We were lucky not to pick u many injuries so we had a consistent squad, and the boys dug deep to give us those wins in the two finals.”

Shawn Muir will lead the Hawick side as captain this year, with Andrew praising the double-centurion for his leadership, saying: “He if influential both on and off the pitch. When he speaks, the boys listen to him because he’s so knowledgeable and such a decent player.”

With a title to defend, Hawick will be looking to get their season off to a good start with a win at home, but that won’t come without a challenge from Glasgow Hawks.

“We’re going to have to start quick”, said Andrew.

“It’s hard to know what to expect with Hawks because they bring a lot of talent in, so it’s going to be tough, but we’ll have to just take it as it comes and see what happens on the day.”

Hawick’s opposition this weekend is Glasgow Hawks, who finished in seventh place last season. Captain Stephen Leckey believes that his squad can take positives from what they did, but are eager to learn from their mistakes.

“We played some good rugby last season, but we couldn’t always back that up. Going win, loss, win, loss was difficult and hurt our momentum, so that’s something we are going to take away with us for this season.

“Andy Hill has been working hard to get our new players integrated into our system. We usually have a high turnover of players, and we have some really exciting young talent joining us this year. It’s exciting for the club to have these new faces coming in who really want to push on and get to the next level, and if they can do that with us and if we can give them that, that’s everything we as a club want to do.”

Taking on the defending champions in Round 1 is no mean feat, but a challenge Stephen and his side relishes, saying: “It’s going to take a massive shift. Credit to Hawick and where they have been the last few seasons, I’m sure they are the envy of all the clubs – their consistency, the teams they put out and the way they play. We pushed them in the semi-final, but we know it’s going to take a mammoth shift but in our eyes it’s a great chance to start off with an impactful win which would set us up nicely for the season ahead.”

Heriot’s Blues v Marr, KO 3pm – Goldenacre

Heriot’s Blues successfully navigated their first season in the Premiership after being promoted the previous season from National 1. Whilst it wasn’t always easy, Blues forward Calum Bell was pleased with what his team put out there.

“It wasn’t easy but we stuck to our guns and we perhaps got punished for that a bit but we have a certain style of play and we just stuck to it and we got through which was pleasing.”

Blue’s coaching team remains unchanged with Phil Smith continuing to lead, with support from Jamie Parker and Oliver Brown, an experienced set up that Calum believes will provide the squad with an edge this season.

“I personally love working with Phil, I’ve worked with him since I was 13, he was my coach at school”, said Calum.

“Jim has so much knowledge in terms of the forwards. It helps that the three of them are such good guys as well as great coaches. Having that consistency helps us as players.”

The Blues play host to Marr in Round 1. Calum expects this to be a challenging fixture, saying: “We’ve had such tough games against Marr in the past. We’re going to have to front up in the forwards. Marr are strong and physical throughout their pack, so we will have to match that to get a win.”

Last season Marr were unable to defend their Premiership title, defeated in the semi-final by Hawick, who won in the final. Captain Conor Bickerstaff reflected upon last year’s performance saying: “Naturally we set out the season looking to retain the title, as any team would, so it was a bit disappointing for us, but we came up against a very good Hawick side in the semi. For us to get into that position was an achievement given how the season went.”

Kenny Diffenthal continues as Marr’s head coach and has been working his squad hard over the preseason to get them on the right foot this season.

“Kenny is very technical, he’s got a great rugby brain” said Conor.

“There’s been a lot of detailed work in preseason, stripping things back and making sure everyone knows what they’re doing and taking more time on that. He’s great with the guys, very personable so he’s a great head coach.”

Despite being on the road in Round 1, Conor believes their opening fixture to Heriot’s Blues will be a challenge to relish, adding: “It’s a good opening game for us, even though it’s away from home. Heriot’s have a nice big pitch which I think suits us with our style of rugby, it gives us a chance to move the ball about and I know Heriot’s like to do that as well.

“If we want to try and win this league again, we need to start with a win especially when we have Hawick in the second game, but for now it’s all eyes on this first one and make a point.”

Jed-Forest v Edinburgh Academical, KO 3pm – Riverside Park

Reflecting on last season, captain Clark Skeldon said: “If you look at how the season started and where we finished, I think we actually did alright. This year we’ll look to be more ambitious and finish higher.”

As part of that ambition, Jed have a new coaching system in place, Clark explained: “Our previous coach has moved on, and we’ve been taken over by some goo local coaches. Kev Barry has come back into the fold, and we also have Ross Goodfellow and Euan Scott helping out so there’s plenty of experience. We also have some young guys coming through so having those experienced coaches will help them.

“With some of our older players starting families and going travelling, it’s giving a chance for the young players to push themselves which maybe hasn’t been the case in the past, so they’ll be pulling on the jersey and doing their bit.”

The Jed squad are galvanised by starting their campaign at home, with Clark adding: “It’s good to start the season at home, running out at Riverside first is great for us. We had a good game against Accies in the last game of the season last year so we’re looking forward to it and getting stuck in.”

The visitors are just as eager to get going.

Accies were once again semi-finalists last season but were defeated by Currie Chieftains for a place in the final.

Speaking to Scottish Rugby, Edinburgh Accies flanker, Finlay Simpson said: “Last year we had quite a young squad, a squad that was coming together. I think this season we’ll find things easier because we’ve had time together and hopefully this year we can kick on.

“I think our traveling form last year wasn’t great, so if we can start winning away from home then we can start taking the pressure off ourselves later on in the season, taking that voodoo away this year is going to be the main thing.”

And what better way to test that than starting the season on the road.

Looking ahead to their opening match against Jed, Finlay said: “Since I’ve been at Accies for the last few years, there is always that Jed away game, it was usually at the end of December. This time it’s at the start so I think that should probably help us. The ground will be a bit harder, we can play our usual game rather than going back to a Borders rugby style. Hopefully we can throw the ball about a bit and give them a bit more of a challenge than having our forwards taking it up for December mud-baths!”

Musselburgh v Kelso, KO 3pm – Stoneyhill

Musselburgh begin their 2023/24 campaign at home, taking on Kelso.

After narrowly avoiding relegation from the Premiership, the East Lothian side are keen to get back into shape and avoid a similar fate this season.

Club Captain, Rory Watt said: “We gave ourselves a bit of a mountain to climb last season, but we knew we could do it. From where we were at the start of the season to where we finished, we were proud.

“We can learn a lot from last year. Looking at where we are now from preseason to where we were, it’s like night and day. We’ve gained some new players and we are raring to go. We are far more prepared this year than the last.”

Looking at their opening round against Kelso, Rory said: “We know what it’s like when you first come up into the Premiership, so we know they’ll be raring to go. We’ll do our due diligence before we play them. But we have to focus on ourselves, we’ve worked hard in preseason so it should be a good competitive match to set us off.”

Kelso are this season’s league newcomers, securing their promotion from National 1 last season in a nail-biting feat against Highland RFC (5-7). It’s been twenty years in the making for Kelso to once again reach the highs of the Premiership league.

Speaking to Scottish Rugby, Kelso Captain Frankie Robson said: “It feels good to be back, it feels right. We’ve put a lot of hard work in but we’re not taking anything for granted. We have a good team spirit, we have quite a lot of local lads mixed in with players from elsewhere and we’re all keen to get started.”

Becoming the fourth Borders side in the Premiership, the team have spent their preseason preparing their players for the step up.

“We have a new strength and conditioning coach who’s been preparing us well”, said Frankie.

“The boys are looking in really good physical condition. We’ve had a lot of young lads come through from the Kelso Harlequins so it’s a case of getting them up to speed but they really add to the training. Having 40 odd boys at training every night makes a big difference.”

Looking ahead to their Premiership debut, Frankie says his side are eager to get going.

“I expect it to be tough, very physical. I know a few of the Musselburgh lads, the likes of Colin Arthur played at Kelso, so we know that they’re strong, physical players. We won’t make any predictions, we are just looking forward to chucking the ball around and getting stuck in.”

Selkirk v Currie Chieftains, KO 3pm – Philiphaugh

Selkirk narrowly missed out on a play-off spot last season, sitting behind Marr in fifth place. It was a huge improvement on the previous season when they came in nineth place.

Selkirk captain Scott McClymont said: “Last season was really positive. We were more competitive in all our games, after the New Year we struggled a bit with our depth of squad, but we felt like we could take on anyone and this season we’ll try to improve on that once more.”

Over the preseason period, Selkirk have been working with their new head coach, Gordon Henderson.

“Working with Gordon has been tough but good. He’s trying to bring a more physical side to our game. He’s really settled in well and the boys are really backing him.

The Borders outfit will be hosting last season’s runners up at Philiphaugh this weekend. Looking ahead to the challenge, Scott said: “Currie will be tough, they always are. I think we’ve only beaten them once in the new Premiership so it will be a tough ask but we’re looking forward to it.”

And of course, much like Selkirk Currie Chieftains had a strong run in last year’s competition.

Reflecting on their achievements from last season Chieftains, captain Jamie Forbes said: “I think the final was incredible. When you look at the occasion, the amount of fans who came from Hawick and Currie, it was an excellent day. Obviously, it didn’t go our way, I think the majority of people would say Hawick deserved to win the league after being the best team all year, so from that perspective we were gutted but all credit goes to them.”

Looking ahead to this season, Jamie added: “I think overall, we enjoy playing our brand of rugby, the style hasn’t changed in a while. We have a really good core group within the team, and we’ll keep knocking at the door this year and hope that trophy is there for the taking.

Mark Cairns, Ally Donaldson and Alistair Hamilton continue to head up the coaching team at Currie, and Jamie feels the team have worked hard to create an enjoyable preseason style, saying: “In preseason we’ve been working a lot of understanding the new tackle height laws, but there has been a real focus on enjoyment and a fitness element to that as well. We’ve been doing a lot of conditioned games and fitness for fun rather than military style running so that’s been a really positive move for us.”

Last season’s runners up are raring to go this weekend, but anticipate a tough challenge from their hosts.

“It’s going to be tough. Going to Selkirk, or really any time in the Borders, it’s tough”, said Jamie.

“We’re expecting a physical game, they’re obviously going to be up for it. It’s the first game of everyone’s season so I imagine they’re just as excited as we are. They did really well last year and we had a couple of tough challenges against them. We’re going to try and focus on ourselves and play the brand of rugby we enjoy playing. Hopefully we can get off to a good start with a good win but we know it’s going to be tough.”

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