Edinburgh Accies coach Phil Leck is confident that his men are equipped to make an instant return to the BT Premiership. But he knows there is little room for error in what promises to be a desperately tight promotion race.
Accies have lost eight players who Leck regarded as first-team members last season. However, his men have worked assiduously over the summer and the coach is in no doubt that those at his disposal are capable of bouncing back from BT National Division One.
To counter the departures, he has added three key men in the shape of prop Conor McGrath whom Leck knows from his days at Sale Sharks Academy, Josh Swanepoel, a South Africa teenager, and Argentinian full back Facundo Beltramino who spent last season with Italian outfit Cavalieri Prato and is renowned for his goal kicking ability.
“The lads that are here want to be here. The lads that want to be here are fighting for places. There is great competition and there is a great buzz around the place at this moment in time so we are really looking forward to the season,” said Leck, whose side will open the campaign away to Musselburgh on Saturday (kick-off 1.15pm).
With only one team guaranteed to win a spot in the Premiership, the Accies players have been left in no doubt as to what is required of them.
“There will be no foot off the pedal because the only way to win this league is to be remorseless,” added Leck.
Saturday’s opponents entered the division from the opposite direction, earning promotion as Division Two champions.
Musselburgh coach Grant Talac has bolstered his squad with the signing of talented teenagers Arthur Sinclair from Dunbar and Alex McKay from North Berwick, as well as former professional and Scotland sevens international Michael Maltman, now a police officer, who has returned to his rugby roots.
“He just wants to be back at the club and playing with his mates,” said Talac, who insists his men will not be overawed this season, adding: “Some people get hung up on the names they are up against. Nobody expects us to do much but we are definitely not just there to make up the numbers.
“It will be good going to places like Myreside and Inverleith, and we’ve also got other big teams in the league, so there will be some hard games. But it’s only 15 boys in front of us and we are really looking forward to that challenge.”
Stewart’s Melville have been knocking on the promotion door for the past two seasons, finishing third last season after losing the promotion play-off at the end of the previous campaign.
With a new coaching team at the helm, headed by Bruce Ruthven, the Inverleith club has brought in experienced campaigner Colin Phillips, who returns to StewMel after a spell in professional rugby south of the border, and will be bidding to go one step further and secure a return to the top flight.
Ruthven will look to make a winning start when his new charges kick off at home to newly promoted Howe of Fife (kick off 1.15pm).
However, the first local club in action will be Watsonians, who get their season underway tomorrow evening when Peebles visit Myreside (kick-off 7.30pm).
Watsonians have flattered to deceive over recent seasons, and coach Marcus Di Rollo will hope that the arrival of former pro and Scotland A international David Blair will bring the stability needed to bolster the Sonians challenge and create a solid half back pairing with promising scrum half Reiss Cullen.
• THE LOTHIAN CLUBS EYEING A SPOT IN IN THE BT PREMIERSHIP
Head coach: Phil Leck
Captain: Greg Campbell
Last season: Relegated from BT Premiership
New signing to watch: Facundo Beltramino
Head Coach: Grant Talac
Captain: Craig Owenson
Last season: Champions BT National Division 2
New signing to watch: Michael Maltman
Head coach: Bruce Ruthven
Last season: Third BT National Division 1
New signing to watch: Colin Phillips
Head coach: Marcus Di Rollo
Captain: Martin Christie
Last season: Fourth BT National Division 1
New signing to watch: David Blair