Rugby: Edinburgh to take on Newcastle in Hawick

Edinburghs Nikki Walker, left, meets up with Scott MacLeod of Newcastle Falcons. Picture: SNSEdinburghs Nikki Walker, left, meets up with Scott MacLeod of Newcastle Falcons. Picture: SNS
Edinburghs Nikki Walker, left, meets up with Scott MacLeod of Newcastle Falcons. Picture: SNS
EDINBURGH have taken a step towards re-connecting Scottish professional rugby with the Borders by announcing next month’s pre-season friendly against Newcastle will be played at Hawick’s Mansfield Park.

The SRU have been invited by clubs and coaches across the Borders, and Caledonia, to take a pre-season or league game north or south, but regularly declined despite marketing themselves as the pro team for the entire east coast of Scotland. The SRU’s success in staging Scotland A and age-grade matches at Galashiels showed the interest that remains in the Borders and after Glasgow attracted more than 1,000 people to a pre-season game with Exeter in Ayr last summer Edinburgh are following suit and branching out.

Hawick beat off competition from other Borders clubs for the game on Friday 30 August – the week after Edinburgh play at Northampton and a week before the league season kicks off – and the move was warmly welcomed by new Edinburgh winger Nikki Walker, who grew up in Hawick. He was joined at Mansfield yesterday by another product of the “Green Machine”, lock Scott MacLeod, who now plays for Newcastle but lives back in his hometown. The duo came through the Hawick ranks together before turning pro and MacLeod will be best man at Walker’s wedding in the ­Borders on Saturday.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Walker said: “It’s great news that the game is heading for Hawick. Edinburgh Rugby have a lot of fans outside of the city so it’s good to repay that support by taking a game out to one of our rugby regions.

“I’ve so many great memories from playing there before I turned professional so to go back and play against Scott [MacLeod] and all the other Scottish boys will make for a cracking match. Newcastle are an ­ambitious club. They were the strongest Championship team over the course of last season and totally deserved their promotion to the Premiership, so will be a good test for us.

“Hopefully, the Borders rugby fans will come out in force to support the match and get a taste for what’s on offer at ­Murrayfield every other week.”

Both players left the Borders for Welsh rugby, Walker ­joining the Ospreys and MacLeod the Scarlets, as the axe began to hover over the Reivers pro team.

For MacLeod, who scooped three of Newcastle’s Player of the Season awards last term, this will be his first match on his old stomping ground since season 2002, and after spells in Wales, Japan and England, he admitted it may be an emotional return.

“Like Nikki, there are so many memories wrapped up in this place for me,” he said, “as a kid and a player before I turned pro, so I’ve been looking forward to this game ever since I heard about it.

“We won the Scottish league and cup here before I joined the Borders, and I was released back to the club in 2002 while I was putting weight on, and it’s amazing to think that this will be my first game back in over a decade, and against Nikki rather than alongside him!

“It will be strange coming here to play for an English side too, but it will be the shortest distance my family have had to travel to watch me play and I’m sure I’ll get a good support from my Hawick friends.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It will be a serious game because although it’s pre-season it’s part of a big build-up for us heading back into the Premiership, and there is a real determination at the club to make sure we don’t just come back and make up the numbers, but really kick on, and so I’d hope that we’d see some quality rugby from both sides at Mansfield.

“And I’m sure there will be a good crowd up from Newcastle, because we have a fantastic support on the road, and with the Borders interest and Edinburgh supporters this could be one of the biggest crowds seen at Mansfield for years.”

Newcastle now boast a phalanx of Scots, including former Edinburgh players Ally Hogg, Rory Lawson, Phil Godman and Mike Blair, as well as Grant Shiells, Michael Tait and Eyemouth prop Scott Wilson, a member of the recent World Junior Championship-winning England side.

It is ironic Newcastle are the opposition for Edinburgh in their first match in the south as Falcons owner Semore Kurdi has been developing relations with Borders clubs, and discussed the creation of a Newcastle youth academy in the region to funnel youth talent south of the border.

How much playing one game in the Borders persuades the rugby-mad population to turn their attention to Edinburgh remains to be seen, but if followed up with community work and games both south and north of the Forth, Edinburgh’s claim to represent the entire east of Scotland might become credible.

Match tickets are priced at £10 and £5 for concessions, and Edinburgh will run a free bus from Murrayfield, leaving at 5.30pm and returning around 11.30pm.