Southern discomfort as Melrose show S6 hand

The Greenyards has been home to Melrose since their formation in 1877. Picture  Christopher Furlong
The Greenyards has been home to Melrose since their formation in 1877. Picture Christopher Furlong
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Former Melrose captain Jamie Murray believes his beloved club will long outlive the new Greenyards-based Super 6 franchise, which was launched as the Southern Knights yesterday.

Murray, a stalwart centre for the famous Borders club through the early decade and a bit of the century, is sure that the name of Melrose RFC will live on long after the new part-time professional league, which starts in November and also includes Ayr, Heriot’s, Boroughmuir, Watsonians and Stirling County, has been and gone.

“The club means a lot to me, like it does a lot of people in Melrose,” said Murray. “It has been here well over 100 years and I hope it will continue to be there more than a hundred years in the future.”

Murray revealed that the town was split over the decision to forge on in the SRU’s Super 6 experiment with a new name and new strip, while a “club” team will continue in the second-tier of the national league set-up.

Melrose Rugby Ltd, the newly-formed body running the Super 6 operation, said in a press release yesterday: “Since December 2018 the rugby management team and the Board of Directors have worked to recruit a strong squad of players from the existing Melrose squad and from the whole of the Scottish Borders, to help rejuvenate rugby in the area. It was imperative to chairman Gordon Brown that the team name reflected this broader Borders 
outlook.”

Murray, however, has doubts about the viability of the project, which has been driven by the SRU management in a bid to bridge a gap between the club and professional game. “I haven’t been a member of the club for seven years, but I’m still a big supporter and have taken a close interest. I’ve jumped back and forward over it all but I think the time for ranting and raving is past,” he said. “It’s happening, but I don’t see it lasting. Some people are upset that the team isn’t going to be Melrose and be in the traditional yellow and black. For me, I’m actually quite happy for there to be a divide and, from a liability point of view, Melrose can keep going. The Southern Knights will be gone in a couple of years and things can return.”

Melrose are one of Scotland’s most successful clubs and, famously, the home of sevens rugby. Their golden age came in the late 1980s and 1990s when they dominated the club scene under legendary coach Jim Telfer and produced Scotland stars such as Craig Chalmers, Doddie Weir, Graham Shiel and Bryan Redpath.

There has also been anger in the town over the ripping up of the hallowed Greenyards pitch to make way for an artificial surface, which is due to be in place for the start of the Super 6 in November. The club team will start their season away from the Greenyards, playing around four fixtures at the Annay Road pitch.

Last month Grand Slam hero Chalmers told The Scotsman of his distress at seeing the pitch he described as “my home” being torn up and said his heart was broken.

Sentiment aside, the former Lions stand-off expressed concerns over the safety of 3G surfaces and Murray, who played under Chalmers when the legend was coach of his hometown club, agrees.

“I think we seem to be at the tail end of the curve on this rather than the head of it,” he said. “You see the views of the English players’ association on plastic pitches and moves in France and Wales to get rid of them. I think people in Melrose have been a bit shocked by the speed of it happening once the council got involved to help fund it with the SRU.”

Murray’s main thought, however, is one of confusion about how Super 6 is going to benefit Scottish rugby.

“I don’t think there will be any real improvement in the standard. The standard in the Premiership was already reasonable,” he said. “So they’re maybe going to do a couple more weights sessions? You’ll have 210 players taken out of the club game and a lot of them kicking their heels on the sidelines.

“There won’t be any international players. Some good future stars – but you got to see them play in the Premiership anyway.”

The head coach of the Southern Knights, Rob Chrystie, meanwhile, said: “The Southern Knights for 
2019-20 is a really dynamic and well-balanced squad with some local familiar faces.

“The management team are determined to create an environment that will challenge all players, while creating a platform for those with the ability and desire to progress into professional rugby.”

He added: “This is an exciting time in Scottish rugby and I’m thrilled to be a part of it as we look forward to the inaugural Super 6 season. We can’t wait to get started.”