Heriot’s will start the new Premiership rugby season at Gala tomorrow as the only team in the competition never to have been out of the top flight.
But, according to club official Neil Meikle, maintaining that record is far from the only target. “Having experienced the inaugural British and Irish Cup to finish in the top four and qualify once again is very much an aim,” says Meikle, a former hooker who was part of the squad that tackled the likes of Bristol, Nottingham and Munster A in the B&I but who has finally lost out to a persistent knee injury and moved on to the administrative side of the club.
Meikle added: “On and off the field there is a buzz.
“For example, Iain Milne has agreed to become involved as a vice president and his strength of personality is evident in the way he is throwing himself into organising fund-raising lunches and other events alongside president Donald Gray.”
Milne is the 44-cap cornerstone of Scotland’s 1984 Grand Slam team who toured with the Lions at prop a year earlier. Meikle continued: “There’s a recognition that we sailed a bit close to the wind last year in having to fight our way out of the Premier B group to stay in the main league, and nobody wants to cut it so fine again.
“To that end, Iain is also at the heart of an attempt to bolster membership.
“Every home match will coincide with a themed clubhouse lunch; for example, one will be dedicated to the junior section, past internationalists etc.
“Also, we have designated a fixture later in the season as ‘Fill The Stand Day’ and by scheduling it for February we are hoping to tap into Six Nations interest.”
On the field, much attention is sure to focus on the return of Marc Teague after the one-time club captain and ex-Edinburgh pro signalled his intent following extensive shoulder damage by claiming four tries from a wing berth as Watsonians were dispatched in the final warm-up fixture.
“In the past we have tended to head into England for pre-season or tackle Edinburgh development teams,” said Meikle.
“This year, under new coaches Phil Smith and Steve Lawrie – there is also a fresh second team coach in Luis Arola, from Madras FP – the plan has been to stay closer to home.
“There were run-outs against Dunfermline and Melrose before a trip to Howe of Fife, and then the meeting with Watsonians.”
Along the way, there was also an arduous team-bonding session at Penicuik Barracks courtesy of the Army, and Meikle continued: “Teaguey is looking really sharp and he could be joined in Saturday’s line-up by Robert Alexander, a 6ft 3in full-back who has arrived from England and looks a real athlete as well as Harry Boisseau, a centre from Stewart’s Melville.
“Elsewhere, Craig Owenson has returned from Musselburgh and will spice up competition in the front row where fellow props JP Ward, Struan Cessford and Gavin Cameron will be determined to grab a place vacated by (clubs’ internationalist) Alan Dymock, who has moved to London.
“Returning from the injured list are Jamie Syme, who has missed nearly two years with a groin/hip complaint and fellow back-rower Jamie Parker.”
Parker has been handed the vice-captaincy in support of scrum-half Graham Wilson, who is preparing for a fourth consecutive season at the helm.
As well as giving a lead on the field, Wilson is expected to continue with goal-kicking duties.
“With Graham having been so heavily involved for so long, it is easy to forget he is still just 25 years old,” added Wilson.
The bulk of last season’s squad remains intact, so continuity is at the core of the team. However, one new face likely to figure is teenager Chris Mulligan, a real pocket-rocket on the openside flank.
Mulligan, who was part of the Heriot’s squad which won a sevens tournament in Serbia over the summer, has much to live up to bearing in mind the same No. 7 shirt has been worn with distinction in recent years by the likes of future professionals Struan Dewar, Chris Fusaro and Mike Maltman as well as highly-rated age-group cap Joffy White, while, going further back, Simon Taylor, twice a Lion, occasionally appeared there. Appropriately Maltman, who has returned from Moseley on an SRU sevens contract, is one of Heriot’s professional draft picks along with Struan Dewart, Geoff Cross, Perry-John Parker, Andy Titterell and Mike Penn.