Rugby: All change for Currie coach Ally Donaldson

Currie head coach Ally Donaldson.  Picture: Ian Rutherford

Currie head coach Ally Donaldson. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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Currie coach Ally Donaldson admits that the integration of a clutch of new players into his squad means that Saturday’s opening RBS Premiership fixture against Gala at Netherdale will be a journey into the unknown.

Donaldson has sought to offset the departure of several key men with a batch of burgeoning talent that features a host of age group caps. He is confident that, over the longer term, the club’s youth programme will provide a steady flow of future talent. However, in the meantime, he is looking to integrate several newcomers into a squad that still has an experienced spine despite the loss of four of last year’s side to the professional ranks while Jamie Forbes and Mike Entwhistle – prolific points scorers over recent seasons – have recently graduated and are now furthering their rugby educations in Australia.

“Our pre-season has been positive,” said Donaldson. “We have had a huge turnover of players and we are rebuilding. We have lost a lot of guys and have freshened things up a bit and hopefully we have added a bit of depth and quality and we can start to build a team.”

He is happy to see his players progress to a higher level, adding: “We’re not thinking for a minute that a player like Johnny Gray is coming to us for any other reason than to use us a springboard to get a contract. Every young guy is the same. And if the youngsters we’ve brought in come through the same way, we’ll be delighted.”

Donaldson is happy with the quality of the new arrivals at the club and has particularly high expectations for hooker David Cherry, who has returned to the Capital after graduating from Newcastle University. Another player with the potential to create a buzz among the Malleny Park supporters is pacy age group international wing or full back Ruaraidh Smith from North Berwick, who is back in Scotland after completing a two-year scholarship at Oakham School.

The club’s preparations for the new campaign have been aided by the input of Edinburgh lock Sean Cox and international centre Ben Cairns, who played with Currie before joining the professional ranks.

“Ben is keen to cut his teeth at coaching. His remit is defence and skills but he’s been putting in much more than that,” explained Donaldson. “He has been excellent although he has found some things difficult, such as players not being able to make it to training. Ben is a bright guy with a good rugby brain and it has been good for the players just to have a chat or bounce ideas off him.”

Last year’s league programme was a nerve-shredding affair for Currie, with the tightness of the league meaning their survival was only confirmed on the final day, although the club had also been challenging for a British & Irish Cup slot. Donaldson has pointed to a set of extreme circumstances that conspired to cause those issues, saying: “We had a good first half of the season but a lot of factors made it difficult in the second half – we didn’t play well, we had a horrendous list of injuries and others such as the fact that we didn’t expect Dougie Fife to be playing such a big part for Edinburgh.”

With that tense campaign now consigned to history, Currie will be raring to go in a difficult opening that pits them against last season’s top trio on the next three Saturdays.

The inexperience of Donaldson’s side is mitigated by the presence of the steadying influence exerted by Mark Cairns, who retains the captaincy.

“He has done the job well, he is respected by the players and he is totally committed. He was also keen to do it again,” said Donaldson, who nevertheless concedes that he is unsure of what to expect from the clash with Gala.

“We will set our goals individually and as a team for the season and we want to see an improvement. Everything has gone well so far,” he said. “We will definitely start as underdogs against Gala. I will have a better idea how things are looking by 4.30 on Saturday afternoon.”