Heriot’s rugby coach Phil Smith has challenged his team to lay an opening day BT Premiership hoodoo when the Scottish Cup holders entertain the Glasgow Hawks team they beat to lift that trophy last April.
“It’s been three years since we got off to a winning start having lost to Gala (18-35) and Melrose (13-30) in successive seasons, but I feel as good going into a campaign as I’ve ever done,” said Smith, adding: “That’s because, for the first time, we have had a competitive outing, which was last weekend’s Charity Shield win at Melrose.
“Normally you don’t quite know where you are at the start, but that was a proper competitive fixture.”
An indication of Heriot’s strength is to be found on the bench, which includes Scotland under-20 cap Keith Buchan and Charlie Simpson, the ex-Ireland under-20s, who has only just pitched up in Edinburgh to play on the wing.
“By and large we are starting with familiar faces in hoping to carry on where we left off against Hawks in the Cup final,” says Smith.
It’s debut day for four players in Boroughmuir’s starting line-up at home to Stirling County – Iain Martin, Rory Scott and Chris Hardie in the backs and Mike Entwhistle up front – but coach Bruce Aitchison has no qualms about the newcomers quickly gelling.
“We have had a series of good hit outs and there is continuity in the coaching panel,” says Aitchison, who admits to devising game plans to capitalise on a very strong back row comprising Magnus Bradbury, Iain Moody and Mike Entwhistle.
“Andy Rose, Jonny Hair and Neil Rodger will also come into consideration shortly, so there is obviously depth.
“Andy was willing to cut short a holiday in the USA to play in the opener, but because he has had a lot of rugby recently as part of the Zimbabwe squad, it was important he got a break.
“For starters, though, we have to be wary of a Stirling side who are from a tight-knit community with a real sense of identity.”
Few have cast a wider net than Currie, who await Hawick with a side containing Cypriot international centre Fidias Efthymiou, who has been turning out for English side Dorking.
Matt Goodwin has arrived from New Zealand to hook and there are other debutants in Matt McPhillips, Chris Logan and Jamie Gray.
New Currie coach, Ben Cairns, says: “We have been largely happy with the way our pre-season has gone, but Hawick pose a big challenge for us with a new team of coaches in place.”
Nobody has a tougher opening assignment than Edinburgh Accies, who visit champions Melrose.
Turning out for ‘Rose on release from Edinburgh will be prop Ewan McQuillan and winger Damien Hoyland.
Accies have a new coach in Phil Leck (ex-Hawick) and that has not escaped the notice of Melrose counterpart, John Dalziel.
“Accies will be rejuvenated” claims Dalziel.
The other Premiership clash tomorrow sees Ayr entertain Gala.
•The Scottish Cup gets underway tomorrow for National League sides and all eyes will be on Preston Lodge, who open at home to Ardrossan after an unbeaten season.
Back row/development officer Jason Riley, from Johannesburg, says: “Last year was an amazing achievement but the coaching staff were quick to keep us grounded.
“Even before last season ended they were planning ahead and that will stand us in good stead.”
A few miles away, Musselburgh entertain Livingston with a new captain, Graeme Bowman, who says: “Craig Owenson has returned from Heriot’s to bolster us at prop and we have had ten youngsters move up from the colts.”
Elsewhere, Watsonians will have 66-times capped former Scotland star Simon Taylor in their line-up to face Biggar at Myreside.
Tomorrow’s other Scottish Cup ties include Stewart’s/ Melville v RHC Cougars, Lasswade v East Kilbride, Whitecraigs v Haddington and Aberdeen Grammar v Murrayfield Wanderers.