Chalmers relishes Borders skirmish with old foe Gala

After their last league triumph way back in 1997 it took Melrose 14 years of dogged hard work before they eventually emerged victorious again in last season’s title race. Now the Border club will discover the truth in the old saying – getting to the top of the pile was the easy part of the equation, the hard part is staying there.

The league campaign kicks off next weekend with the champions asked to make the long trek up to Aberdeen to face one of the newly-promoted clubs, Grammar. The other new boys, Edinburgh Accies, have a tricky trip to Ayr while Gala open their account with a visit to Malleny Park. The champions’ coach, Craig Chalmers, is delighted to have a local derby back on the agenda in Premier 1, even if he has to wait until the all-too-appropriate 5 November before the sparks fly.

“It’s great to have Gala back in the top division,” said Chalmers, “but then it great to have any Border side in Premier 1. It means another local derby and another good gate when they visit the Greenyards.”

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Melrose will be fighting to hold on to their crown but their task has been undermined by losing playmaker Scott Wight to Glasgow over the summer Andrew Skene, a one-time favourite at the Greenyards, returns to his former club, however, and will go some way to filling the hole left by last season’s skipper. Furthermore, barnstorming hooker Alun Walker arrives from Currie and lock Peter Eccles joins from Heriot’s, bucking the trend that all too often sees Borders boys enticed up to the city.

One man going in the opposite direction is former Selkirk coach Graham Marshall who takes over at Heriot’s after spending years, both as player and coach, at Selkirk.

“Selkirk is still my club,” says the former flanker. “I will look for their result first on a Saturday evening but, while I am still getting to know them, the Heriot’s boys have responded very positively to me so far.”

“I was sold the club on there being a core of players who were passionate about playing for Heriot’s and that much has been borne out. They are a good group of guys with an amateur ethos who all work really hard for the club. Hopefully we can taste some success this season.”

Success for the newly-promoted trio of Gala, Grammar and Edinburgh Accies will be extending their stay in the top flight beyond one season, a doubly-difficult proposition as the leagues are reduced from 12 to just ten teams from next season. While the Premier leagues split into eight-team divisions around Christmas after one round of matches, just as it did last season, only the top two teams in Premier B (rather than the top four) will be promoted back into Premier 1 rugby for the start of the following season (2012/13).

With the British and Irish Cup in mind, the four middle-of-the-pack chasers, Hawks, Heriot’s, Boroughmuir and Dundee will be hoping to close the gap on the three clubs that have dominated the club scene for the last few years.

Melrose, Currie and Ayr have all earned their right to play against the best of the English Championship which now includes London Scottish and that won’t be easy if Ayr’s pre-season 53-15 humbling on Friday night is anything to go by. The Scottish clubs have the skills and the aptitude but struggle to match the muscle that the best of the English second division can field.