HERIOT’S enjoyed a near-perfect anniversary season last term but scrum-half Graham Wilson insists the Goldenacre club’s appetite for success remains voracious.
The Edinburgh side defeated Melrose 22-20 with a last-gasp try in a thrilling inaugural BT Premiership Grand Final at Goldenacre in April just days after hosting the Barbarians in a special match to mark the club’s 125th anniversary. The only slight blemish was the tight 6-3 BT Cup semi-final loss at Hawick.
It can be difficult to go out and retain a title but that’s what we’re aiming to doGraham Wilson
The new BT Premiership season was launched at the sponsor’s Edinburgh Park Scottish HQ yesterday and Wilson reported that Heriot’s were fired-up to defend their crown.
“It had been quite a long time since Heriot’s had last won the league and it was such an amazing finish to the season, winning it in the play-offs like that,” said the 29-year-old son of former Scotland B cap Duncan Wilson.
“There has been a lot of excitement getting back into it, pre-season’s been good. We’re at the stage now where we’re just looking forward to getting started.”
The core of the championship-winning side remains, though the man who scored that dramatic title-clinching try, back-rower Jason Hill, has earned a partnership contract with Glasgow Warriors.
Wilson said: “I think Phil Smith and Stevie Lawrie found it the easiest summer in terms of recruitment. A lot of people have been keen to join with us doing well.
“We’ve lost a few with Jason going to Glasgow and Dave McGregor and Jono Armstrong moving on to clubs down south. But we’ve brought in some good players and should be strong again.”
Last season will be hard to top but Wilson said it should now be the benchmark the club aims for.
He said: “Winning the title was massive for the club but now we want to kick on. With the likes of Phil and Stevie there as coaches there will be no resting on our laurels.
“It can be difficult to go out and retain a title but that’s what we’re aiming to do.
“The whole season was great to be part of and that week leading up to the BT Premiership final when we had the game against the Barbarians was just a great celebration.
“Then to finally get the job on the Saturday was the icing on the cake. I don’t think anyone could begrudge us the title after finishing well clear at the end of the regular season.”
Despite then facing the prospect of all that season’s work being undone in a one-off game, Wilson is more than happy to see the play-off system continue.
“Play-offs seem to be the way most leagues in rugby operate now,” he said.
“When it was brought in we actually welcomed it because of late we’ve been a pretty good cup team but a bit inconsistent in the league.
“Then, as it turned out we ended up about ten points clear at the top. But everyone knew going in that is how it was going to be and, with the excitement the play-offs produced, I think it has to be a good thing.”
Stiff competition is expected this term and Wilson said: “I think the standard of the BT Premiership over the past few years has been getting better and better. You hear snippets of players the other teams have recruited so I don’t think there will be any easy games this season.
“It’s vital to get a good start to give yourselves the best chance of being in that top four come the end of the season.”
Heriot’s coach Smith added: “We’re very excited for the new season to get under way, and, first and foremost, to defend our title. There’s a lot of pressure and challenges that will come with being champions, but we’re looking forward to it.
“Playing in the play-offs and Grand Final was a great experience. Everyone bought into the concept and I think it’s safe to say the Grand Final, with that last-minute try, was the spectacle everyone had hoped for.”
This season the BT Premiership welcomes back Borders club Selkirk, who return to the top-flight for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
The men from Philiphaugh completed an undefeated league season in 2014-15 to gain promotion to the country’s primary competition, and will host local rivals Gala in their first round of games. Last season’s runners-up Melrose will welcome Hawick to The Greenyards in the second Border derby of the weekend.
Ayr, two-time winners of the BT Premiership, will travel to Old Anniesland to face their west-coast rivals Glasgow Hawks in the third derby.
The final game of the round will be played at Malleny Park, where Currie will play host to Stirling County, who featured in last season’s regulation play-off.
Reigning league champions, Heriot’s, and BT Cup holders, Boroughmuir, will not feature in the first regular round of games, as they play for the BT Charity Shield on Saturday 29 August.
The game, which will take place on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield, will form a curtain raiser for Scotland’s Summer Test match against Italy.
After the introduction last season of video match analysis the ten BT Premiership clubs will be able to access national-team levels of individual player analysis through support from Scottish Rugby’s high-performance department.
SRU director of domestic rugby Keith Russell said: “The BT Premiership is the pinnacle of club rugby in Scotland, and we look forward to the league commencing next weekend. There has been a lot of work in the pre-season to continue to increase the level of support the clubs receive so their players can develop their skills and performance levels in this, and the seasons to come. Through the BT sponsorship, we have injected consistent levels of investment into the domestic scene this year, which will help clubs continue to develop in Scotland.
“We would once again like to thank BT for their continued sponsorship.”