The secret weapon behind Boroughmuir’s resolute battle to avoid dropping out of the Scottish Rugby Premiership is revealed today as a former club captain and stalwart.
Since Christmas, Ben Fisher has been helping tighten up the ’Muir defence to the extent that their last three league outings have brought a clear-cut win over fellow strugglers Dundee High, as well as a draw at third-place Currie and a one-point loss to second-place Gala.
They enter another stern test at home to Melrose, champions for the past two seasons, knowing that, depending on results elsewhere, back-to-back successes for the first time this season could move them out of the basement.
Malcolm Clapperton, who combines a director of rugby role with playing centre, says the decision of coaches Fergus Pringle and David Officer to turn to Fisher has been a masterstroke. “Ben has been helping us on the defensive side,” he said. “Fergus and him have been working closely on that and it has helped in terms of having a different voice and keeping things fresh.”
Fisher’s day job as regional academy manager saw him visit his native New Zealand on a fact-finding mission on behalf of Scottish Rugby last summer and his Murrayfield remit also includes helping Scotland Under-18s with their defence.
Clapperton adds: “Ben has been specialising in defence.
“He has complemented everything that Offy and Ferg have been doing, as well as Andy Muir on the fitness side, so we have developed a good [coaching] team backed up with Andy Knight and Neil McCallum, our second team coaches.
“Ben is keen and his work with the club aligned with what he was doing with his job at the Union. We’ve been seeing an effect since Christmas by going back to basics and it is bearing fruit, and although we didn’t win against Gala we stopped them scoring a try.”
As well as defensive solidity, other factors are coming into play in the Boroughmuir resurgence. “Three of our Scotland Under-20s were on the touchline when we beat Dundee High last week, having beaten Italy the previous evening,” said Clapperton.
“Doing well for them was another incentive and there was quite a bit of frustration in our performance having trained hard in the build-up to matches that were cancelled. Harry Leonard’s controlling influence at stand-off also helped.”
Even their opponents were impressed with Leonard, with Dundee website reporting: “From the off, Boroughmuir played with pace and purpose and with pro stand-off Leonard pulling some very classy strings.”
Clapperton’s Boroughmuir debut came back in 1998 and while 247 appearances and 68 tries have followed, he acknowledges tomorrow’s fixture could be one of the most important. “Melrose have outstanding threats in the form of the entire back three plus John Dalziel and Andrew Skeen, who I played with for the Scottish clubs’ international team,” said Clapperton.
“It is always enjoyable against Melrose and over the course of this season we have certainly kept our fans on edge with some close encounters. We’ve not always had the rub of the green, but hopefully a corner has now been turned.”
Meanwhile, Currie can do ’Muir a favour with a home win over Stirling County. The Malleny Park outfit, battling to consolidate a British and Irish Cup place, have John Houston and Chris Leck (sub) on release from Edinburgh, while James Johnstone returns from Scotland sevens duty. Prop Ross Merrilees is also back from injury.
Coach Ally Donaldson said: “From third to eighth, everybody is fighting for both B&I Cup qualification and against relegation.”
Stirling list second row Rob McAlpine from Edinburgh and scrum-half Sean Kennedy from Glasgow. Heriot’s face a trip to Aberdeen, with Edinburgh’s Perry Parker and Mike Penn in the starting line-up, which means demotions for Russell and Max Nimmo, while Brian Morrissey drops out altogether.
Edinburgh Accies visit Ayr with Alex Allan back from Edinburgh and with Ruairidh Young rested for the Scots under-20s Sam Pecqueur comes onto the wing and Nyle Godsmark moves to fullback.