Hawick and Kelso chase milestones as Border League final makes welcome return
Covid has conspired to disrupt the competition in recent seasons but, as befitting the oldest established rugby union league in the world, there remains plenty at stake for both sides.
A toss of the coin saw the Greens win hosting rights and they will go into the match as warm favourites. Hawick have dominated the Border League since its inception in 1901, winning the first title and a further 48, but you have to go back to 2015 for their last success.
Kelso, by contrast, have won only five – three in the 1930s and another two during their golden period in the 1980s when they briefly reigned supreme in Scottish rugby with a team comprising talents such as Roger Baird, John Jeffrey, Eric Paxton, Alan Tait, Andrew Ker and their former captain Gary Callander, who passed away in December.
A victory over Hawick would be a fitting tribute to Callander but the National League 1 side will be the underdogs against opponents who finished third in the Premiership before losing out to Marr in the play-offs.
“It’s been a disjointed season, to be honest, and Covid has hit it pretty hard but we’ve got a final and we’ll take on Kelso at Mansfield Park,” said John Thorburn, Hawick’s stalwart secretary whose association with the club extends beyond 35 years.
“We’ve got a young coach in Matty Douglas, just 27, and it’s his first season really so we have to compliment him and his coaching staff. He’s installed a feelgood factor at the club and has some good young players coming through.
“The record books show that we’ve won it 49 times and the players are keen for us to try to get this 50th if we can, but we’re not taking anything for granted.”
Just to add some spice, Kelso's coach is Bruce McNeil, a former Hawick captain who still lives in the town.
Rugby’s changing landscape means the days of Hawick and Kelso fielding sides packed with Scotland players are long gone but Thorburn is rightly proud of the local talent developed at the club.
In the men’s national team, captain Stuart Hogg, winger Darcy Graham and prop Rory Sutherland are all Hawick products, while women’s counterparts Lana Skeldon and Lisa Thomson also came through the club.
“Our development structure has to be spot on to have the talent coming through,” said Thorburn
“They’re all local and they’re still connected to here. It’s not like they’ve run away and are never back here. All their pals are here and they’ve got property here and it’s still very much their home.
“If you read Hoggy and Darcy’s instagram accounts, the first thing they say is ‘Hawick boy’. That’s just the way they’re made, it’s part of their upbringing.
“We’re definitely a rugby town. There are plenty kids playing and Graham Hogg has just come in – Stuart’s brother – as a development officer and he’s got some visionary ideas. It’s positive and that’s what you want. If every town in Scotland had this structure we’d be doing all right.”
Hawick v Kelso, Border League final, Mansfield Park, Wednesday, 7.30pm
Hawick: 15 Bailey Donaldson; 14 Morgan Tait, 13 Andrew Mitchell, 12 Glen Welsh, 11 Roman McKean; 10 Kirk Ford, 9 Gareth Welsh; 1 Shawn Muir, 2 Matt Carryer, 3 Ruaridh MacLeod, 4 Rory Smith, 5 Sam Frizzell, 6 Ross Graham, 7 Connor Sutherland, 8 Stuart Graham.
Replacements: 16 Tom Hope, 17 Robbie Linton, 18 Tom Huggan, 19 Deaglan Lightfoot / Jack Chelley, 20 Cian Riddel, 21 Elliot Stanger, 22 James Delaney.
Kelso: 15 Mark Wilson; 14 Ross Combe, 13 Dwain Patterson, 12 Frankie Robson, 11 Angus Roberts; 10 Murray Hastie, 9 Andy Tait; 1 Reece Wight, 2 Euan Knox, 3 Allan Frame, 4 Angus Common, 5 Keith Melbourne, 6 Greg Cessford, 7 Kevin Dryden, 8 Bruce McNeil.
Replacements: 16 Morgan Thompson, 17 Colin Arthur, 18 Kenny Gibson, 19 Jack Walker, 20 Cammy Thompson, 21 Gregor Millar, 22 Ben Lyall.
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