Influx of professionals boosts Capital rugby contenders

ALL SET: From back left, Angus Johnston (Marr), Hamilton Burr (Stirling County), Craig Hamilton (Hawick), Sean Corrigall (Boroughmuir), Callum Harvey (Watsonians), Martin Hughes (Heriots). Front left: Fergus Scott (Currie), Nick Beavon (Melrose), Paul Taylor (BT), Pete McCallum (Ayr), Paddy Boyer (Glasgow Hawks)
ALL SET: From back left, Angus Johnston (Marr), Hamilton Burr (Stirling County), Craig Hamilton (Hawick), Sean Corrigall (Boroughmuir), Callum Harvey (Watsonians), Martin Hughes (Heriots). Front left: Fergus Scott (Currie), Nick Beavon (Melrose), Paul Taylor (BT), Pete McCallum (Ayr), Paddy Boyer (Glasgow Hawks)
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With clubs in the BT Premiership bolstered by an influx of players who have experience of the professional ranks, a keenly fought title race is on the cards when the new league season kicks off on Saturday.

On the face of it, the coaches of all four Capital sides have stronger squads than they had at their disposal last season and the standard of rugby on show is set to move up a further notch from the impressive levels attained in that engrossing campaign.

Deposed champions Heriot’s look set to be contenders once again, with coach Phil Smith adding a mix of experience and emerging talent to his squad. Former skipper Jack Turley, who led the side that landed the domestic treble in the 2015/16 season, has returned to the Goldenacre club after a year south of the border with Fylde.

Another new arrival with professional experience is Adam Sinclair, who played in France with Perpignan and Albi before a spell with Rotherham Titans 
and latterly a season with 
Stirling County.

Behind the scrum, full-back Ross Jones also turned out for Rotherham, and had several seasons with Ospreys in his native Wales for whom he earned international honours at Under-20 and sevens levels. And Smith has added pace to the back division with the acquisition of Craig Robertson, the former Gala winger who is an accomplished athlete and previous winner of the New Year sprint.

A new face in Heriot’s technical area will be former Scotland prop Bruce Douglas who has taken on the role of Smith’s assistant after the previous incumbent Steve Lawrie was appointed head coach at Watsonians.

Lawrie, too, has added professional experience with the signing of former Edinburgh winger Mike Allen. The Irishman, who will be vice-captain to Craig Borthwick, was released by Edinburgh. Another key arrival is likely to be classy stand-off Rory Hutton, a man who has been capped by Scotland sevens and played for Edinburgh Rugby, and who has made the switch from Hawick.

Currie Chieftains coach Ben Cairns has admitted that his side were guilty of aiming for the play-offs in each of his three previous seasons in charge and perhaps regarding the job as being done when they achieved that. This year he is targeting the title and he has bolstered his pack with the acquisition of front row trio Kris Burney from Falkirk, Duncan Fergus, who is a member of the Edinburgh Academy, and Callum MacKintosh from Hawick, as well as bringing on board Vincent Wright, a Netherlands internationalist.

Those arrivals should help offset the loss of experience caused by the retirement of inspirational skipper Ross Weston, Scotland club internationalist Alastair Hamilton and long-serving scrum-half Richard Snedden, who has moved into coaching as assistant to Lawrie at Watsonians.

Boroughmuir played some scintillating rugby last season but were undone on too many occasions by defensive frailties. The Meggetland men’s coach Peter Wright will be encouraging his players to continue with the style that made Muir great to watch, but will be hoping that the additions he has made to the squad will make them more difficult to beat.

Among the new arrivals are Johnny Matthews, a combative hooker who has professional experience from a spell with Rotherham Titans and lock Fin Field, who returns to Meggetland after a year playing in Hong Kong. Wright, who expects the race for play-off spots to be even tougher than it was last season, has shopped locally to bring in back row men Dan Marek from Currie and Tom Drennan from Edinburgh 
Accies.

With the professional draft potentially adding further quality to all of the top-flight teams, and at least one of the four Edinburgh-based teams playing at home every week of the league programme, neutrals looking for rugby entertainment over the coming months appear to be spoiled for choice.