Tennent’s Men’s Premiership Final 2023 | Preview
After 18 rounds and two semi-finals, we now have our two contenders for the Tennent’s Men’s Premiership title, as Hawick host Currie Chieftains at Mansfield Park this Saturday (11 March).
Scottish Rugby caught up with the two sides to preview the game.
Whilst they have 12 Championship titles under their belt, it has been over 20 years since Hawick have lifted the Premiership trophy.
This season has been something of history making for the Borders outfit after they finished the regular season in top spot, winning 17 games in a row after drawing their opening fixture. This is the first time any side has gone unbeaten in a men’s Premiership season since 2001, since Hawick last did it themselves.
The men in green secured their spot in the final in last weekend’s semi-final play-off, beating title defenders, Marr 18-6 at Mansfield Park.
Reflecting on their victory over last year’s champions, Matt Carryer, captain of the Hawick side said: “It was a good semi-final, it was hard fought as we always thought it would be. Marr are a very good side. The score line was maybe a bit tighter than we thought it was going to be but our defence kept them out. It was great to get the win.
“We’ve got a lot of belief in the squad. Getting to the semi-finals last year gave us that, and we’ve carried that through to this season. That’s given the boy’s a lot of confidence.”
Adding to their history-making season, Hawick finally ended a 12-year long string of defeats at Malleny Park against this weekend’s opposition, Currie Chieftains. Looking ahead to facing them this weekend, Matt added: “If we can play the way we want to, put in a good performance, enforce ourselves onto Currie then I think we’ll come out on top.”
At the helm from a coaching perspective for the Borders outfit is Head Coach, Matty Douglas.
At just 27-years-old, he could become the youngest Head Coach in Scottish rugby history to win a Premiership title.
“It’s been a great season in terms of the league campaign, to go unbeaten that’s a massive success for the team but it all comes down to this weekend”, said Matty.
“On a personal note, it’s been a great journey with Hawick. I’ve been here six years coaching and an extra five playing so it means a lot to me. I’ve always felt Hawick should be at the top of club rugby in Scotland so it’s great to be there and have a crack at a Premiership title.
“The club has been in the relegation battle for a number of years but the last two seasons we’ve made it to the play-offs. We know how big a game this is on Saturday and how much of a challenge it will be but having a home final is a massive incentive and the town is really behind us and that showed on the Saturday past in the semi-final.”
The Borders side have been fortunate in their team selection this season only using 36 players across the 18 rounds of the league.
Matty believes this has been one of the keys to their success, adding: “Consistency has been massive. Each week we’ve been able to put the same players out, and a part from a couple of injuries it’s been great to work with such a dedicated squad with such a good mix of young players and more experienced ones. I think that’s one of the reasons we have been so successful in the league campaign, as it builds that consistency in performance.”
One of their consistent stars has been full-back, Kirk Ford, who has featured in the starting line up for every single game this season.
The 27-year-old has amassed over 137 points from the boot alone for his hometown, making him the golden boot of the tournament.
It’s been an equally pleasing Premiership campaign for Currie Chieftains. Currie finished second in the regular season winning 14 games and losing four. They amassed 72 points, with 14 try bonus points and two losing bonus points, and a points difference of 223.
In the semi-final last weekend, Currie eclipsed Edinburgh Accies in a 35-7 victory at Malleny.
Reflecting on the final, Number 8, Rhys Davies said: “I think we had a good understanding of how Accies play and what to expect. We did a lot of homework to understand what our opposite man does, and I think that played a part in helping us play free-flowing rugby and it allowed us to raise our game in comparison to some of the other performances we’ve played against them.”
This is the second year in a row that the Chieftains have made it to the final, and they’ll be hoping to go one better this year.
For Head Coach Mark Cairns, who missed out on attending last year’s final due to having the coronavirus, he is looking forward to being there for his squad this time round, saying: “I’m really happy for the guys, I’ve hopefully got time left as a coach, the end of my coaching life isn’t so imminent as some of these players so I’m really happy for those guys to experience a final. Hopefully having their coaches pitch-side this year rather than at home with covid might make it a bit easier for us to get the win.”
Looking at his squad for this weekend, Cairns believes every single player will have the ability to make an impact adding: “We have real depth to our squad, even the guys who won’t start they will come on and make an impact. As a coach, I’m really lucky to have such talented guys in my team.
“Jamie Forbes (stand-off) ran the show last Saturday. We really stuck to our game plan and Forbes was a really big part of that. We’ll have a plan for Saturday, and he is going to be instrumental if we are to upset to odds and beat Hawick.”
For Currie’s Graeme Carson, it’s been a bittersweet year of rugby.
The loose-head prop started out the season with the captain’s armband until he sustained an Achilles injury in Round 2, and has been out of action since, only now returning to training.
Despite this, Graeme has continued to rally the troops and show his unwavering support to the squad.
“We’ve had to face a lot of challenges this year, we’ve had a few injuries which has meant other players have really had to step up, but week on week we’ve been improving and driving those standards”, said Graeme.
“I’m massively proud of the boys, and I’m excited to see how they go on Saturday down at Hawick.”
To name just a few of the players who have stepped up and greatly contributed have been Rhys Davies, who has taken over the on-field captaincy; 19-year-old lock, Ally McCallum; and Kody McGovern, who has scored 14 tries in the regular season, the second highest personal tally across all 10 competing teams.
Speaking about McCallum and McGovern, Davies said: “Kody has been an amazing addition to our line-up. We pride ourselves on having a competitive environment at training and Kody always brings that. He’s an electric player. Playing on the wing, you have to find those opportunities and I think he’s really good at that, and the back line that we have allows him to show his skills.
“Ally has been, in my opinion, one of the best players of the season. Watching him come into the senior set up and develop, he’s like a sponge, he absorbs everything. I think he’s just going to get bigger and more important for Currie, and he’s one to watch for the future.”
Currie’s last trip to the Borders was only in January, where Hawick secured a solid 43-7 win over their visitors. Earlier in the season, they had also suffered a defeat in their home park of Malleny, 25-46.
Carson feels that his team shouldn’t dwell on those losses, adding: “I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but Saturday’s final is just a one-off game now. What happened in the regular season has been and gone. What happens on Saturday, happens, as we found out last year. We beat Marr twice in the regular season and then they pipped us up here in that Final.
“We know that Hawick are a great team, they’ve gone undefeated this season. We know Mansfield is a tough place to go but I think we are all confident that if we can get everything right, play to the fullest of our ability then we should be able to go down there and get a result.”
Davies equally has confidence in the team to go the whole way, adding: “I think we’ve turned it round since we were last at Mansfield. We took that defeat hard and that’s sort of galvanised us to move forward. We’ve done a lot of off-field homework and I think we’re quietly confident for this one.”
The Currie local has had quite the season himself, joining the centurion’s club after amassing his 100th cap for his boyhood club against Selkirk just two weeks ago.
He added: “Currie is a big part of my life so to have reached this accolade, I’m massively proud. When I came back home after university overseas, returning to Currie was a no-brainer and it’s an honour to be part of this club.”
The Tennent’s Men’s Premiership final will be broadcast for worldwide viewing on the Scottish Rugby website, with coverage starting at 2.50pm.
Commentary will be led by Stuart McFarlane, who will be joined by guest co-commentator, Dale Clancy.
In addition to the worldwide coverage, a highlights show with the best of the action and captain’s interviews will be available on the Scottish Rugby website and social media channels on Saturday evening.