Bill Lothian previews this year’s BT Premiership

Players from the top men and women's sides take to the pitch at Murrayfield ahead of the domestic season's big kick-off
Players from the top men and women's sides take to the pitch at Murrayfield ahead of the domestic season's big kick-off
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Charlie Simpson, a 22-year-old winger raised in Ballymena, could be set to take the BT Premiership by storm this season when he lines up for Heriot’s.

A former Irish Schools cap, winger Simpson has arrived at Goldenacre from French side Aurillac, where recent opponents included Lyon coupled with the presence of iconic French back row, Sebastian Chabal.

Now, a job opportunity with accountancy firm Ernst and Young has brought Simpson to the Capital, with Heriot’s being his preferred choice of club.

“So far it’s a one game, one trophy record I’ve got” jokeD Simpson in a reference to how he debuted for 60 minutes in last weekend’s BT Charity Shield victory at Melrose.

He added: “I didn’t really know what to expect, but Heriot’s threw the ball around the scored some nice tries.

“When I was at Ballymena Academy I also played Ulster under-18s and under-20s before going to university in Cardiff where I turned out for Newport and Ebbw Vale.

“[Former Ireland second row] Jeremy Davidson coaches at Aurillac and through him I got a development contract which led into games against La Rochelle and Lyon.

“The club offered to extend, but my preferred option was the job in Edinburgh and having played for a few clubs with a proud heritage, people I respected told me I’d be extending those links that by joining Heriot’s.”

While Simpson arrives along with the likes of Struan Cessford (ex Aberdeen), Ben Cogley (ex-Ayr and Stuart Edwards (ex-Stirling) Scotland clubs’ captain Murray Douglas is heading to Australia in mid-September.

Coincidentally, Boroughmuir, back in the Premiership, will be fielding a couple of Ballymena men in their back row.

Mike Entwhistle has arrived from across the Irish Sea having previous been at Currie, which was the domain of Adam Best before he decided to move down Colinton Road to ’Muir last season.

Best – middle name George but no relation to the footballing wizard – believes new strength and conditioning coaches will help ’Muir compete favourably.

“We’ve got nothing to worry about back in the Premiership, I’m quite sure” he said.

“We have also been doing some judo to assist our grappling technique and it was so successful there are plans to do more.

“In pre-season we have drawn with Tynedale 24-24, beaten Dundee and had a 3x30 minutes hit out with Gala.

“Preparations have been first class.”

Under-20 cap Ben Cooper’s departure for Coventry created a void at stand off which has been filled by Chris Laidlaw.

This son of Roy, former Lion and Scotland grand slammer, has been turning out for Jed-Forest, where he was not only Championship B player-of the-season, but his tally of 256 points was unprecedented in the Borders last season.

Laidlaw can benefit from operating alongside not only ex-Edinburgh midfielder Malcolm Clapperton, but the highly-rated Alex Cox, who had a training stint with Leeds during the summer.

Captaining Currie for the first time will be back row Ross Weston, with Ben Cairns, formerly of Edinburgh and Scotland, taking over the coaching reins.

Weston said: “Ben’s involvement with Scotland means he brings a lot of ideas from there and he is technically very good.

“There is new hooker from New Zealand, Murray Goodwin and hopefully we will have another Kiwi in Joe Reynolds injury-free this season.”

Reynolds will help offset the loss of the highly talented George Horne to Hawks as Currie bid to carry on where they left off in winning six of their missed.last eight games in 2013-14.

Edinburgh Accies found themselves flirting with relegation in a play-off last term before their greater intensity saw off Stewart’s/Melville in an engrossing contest.

Since then, Phil Leck has moved from Hawick as head coach and his arrival has coincided with prop Lewis Niven returning from the professional game with Edinburgh.

Niven can be a driving force in the pack and similarly a fully fit Alex Blair has lots to contribute from stand off.

Nobody shows greater commitment than second row Greig Campbell and his experience will be vital as Accies, along with the other Edinburgh sides, chase one of the top four spots which will see them enter a play-off system, innovatory this season.

Saturday’s opening fixtures for the Capital quartet: Heriot’s v Glasgow Hawks, Currie v Hawick, Melrose v Edinburgh Accies.