Lasswade aim to continue rise up rugby ranks

Lasswade were crowned BT Division Three champions for season 2014-15

Lasswade were crowned BT Division Three champions for season 2014-15

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Fresh from claiming the National League Division Three title with a match to spare, Lasswade rugby club are already setting sights on further promotions.

Club president Ian Barr insists there is potential to climb higher based on a development structure linked to the local High School, with facilities at the Hawthornden ground now the envy of many more established outfits.

“We suffered last year through lack of a settled side due to injuries and had to take a step back due to league reconstruction in order to progress, long term,” said Barr, “but coaches Bernie Hennessey and Craig Adam have really been able to drive a smaller squad forward.

“With the exception of Neil Clark and Bernie himself, all our players have come through the youth ranks and are benefitting from not only quality coaching but good conditioning programmes since we were able to install our own gym.

“There is very definitely a community aspect to our club, which helps.

“A key factor has certainly been integration with Lasswade High School, where the headmaster, Alan Williamson, is a former referee from Hawick and the rugby programme is delivered by Boroughmuir’s Iain Moody and Jamie McCarthy from Edinburgh Accies.

“Having our captain Mark Billingham supported by Neil Sutherland conduct rugby sessions at local primary schools has also been crucial and on the day we were claiming the title by beating Dumfries last weekend an age-group Lasswade side travelled to Galashiels Academy, with all its outstanding tradition, and won.”

Around the time Lasswade were winning back-to-back Shield finals at Murrayfield in 2010 and 2011, a fair amount of criticism was directed at their recruitment policies.

Barr acknowledges the flak, but claims it was misguided.

“Yes, we brought back Gavin Brown from Watsonians and his connections helped us land Bernie Hennessey and Carl McWilliam,” said Barr.

“But it was done through networking and when Jamie Blackwood joined from Watsonians he was returning to a club which started him out; Gav Sharp and Nick Wood also had local connections.

“I defy any ambitious club to say they are not interested in trying to acquire the best possible talent, but it has to be done in a balanced way.

“We would never undermine the players who have worked so hard to get us to where we are today. But returning from Dumfries last weekend players were coming up to me and saying they didn’t want the club to stand still or even drop back down a level.

“Like every other club in the country we have a wish list comprising a big tight head prop, a rugged second row, a classy stand off and a finisher out in the back division.

“Whether we can locate and persuade them remains to be seen, but there is certainly a desire to ensure that this latest promotion – and captain Mark BIllingham has won three championships, four promotions and two national shields – really is a springboard at last.”

This season Lasswade, who wind up their league campaign at home to Hawick YM on March 28, have overcome five teams who have previously competed in the top flight of Scottish club rugby in one guise or another – West, RHC Cougars, Murrayfield Wanderers, Dunfermline and Preston Lodge.

Next season’s rivals are likely to include demoted Hillhead/Jordanhill and Biggar as well as the progressive Falkirk and Hamilton.

Barr said: “We know it will be tough, but one of the biggest plusses to come from the season about to end is that when we played Boroughmuir in an early Scottish Cup tie they paid us the compliment of sending their first choice side.

“They’ve now reached the final (against Hawick) and there is every chance we gave a decent account of ourselves against a Boroughmuir team who turn out to be competition winners.”