THESE are trying times for the Southern Knights Super6 franchise, with last weekend’s 62-12 demolition at the hands of the Ayrshire Bulls highlighting the vulnerability of a young team that lost nine key players to other franchises during winter vacations, plus more than half. dozens more who retired or returned to club play.
It was his fourth loss in a row since this Super6 Sprint series began last month, but Rob Moffat – the former Edinburgh and Melrose head coach who has shared the role of Director of Rugby at The Greenyards with lean colin since the summer of 2020- insists he has a ‘glass half full view of the current situation of the team.
It does not pretend that everything in the garden is in full bloom. Finances are sure to be a concern after Covid paid for two money-making Sevens tournaments, and a lot of work is needed to encourage support for [or at least reduce opposition to] the Knights concept both at Melrose and among the wider Borders rugby community, but the ever-optimistic Moffat believes the tide can be turned.
“These are interesting times … and it was hard to accept,” Moffat acknowledges, with brilliant understatement, when asked to reflect on last Saturday’s loss. “We lost some players [during the winter break] and the team is probably younger than we want it to be, but the way we see it is that we’re here to develop players. While no one wants to see results like that because it doesn’t help anyone, we believe that these young people can learn from their experiences and come back stronger.
“Sounds like an excuse, but there were a lot of guys who didn’t participate against the Bulls, we had about a dozen players out, so we were really light and young,” he adds. “In the three weeks before that, we didn’t win, but there wasn’t much to it. So I think the circumstances were against us, and that could happen again because we don’t have the experience that we were able to have last season, which means if we lose two or three of our older guys, it becomes very difficult with quite a bit. speed. .
“I will also point out that we were up against a good Ayrshire Bulls team who played very well that day. We have to take our medicine and come back stronger against Boroughmuir Bears next weekend, although there are no easy games in this league.
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From the Knights game day team that faced the Bulls in the final last year. Euan McLaren (gone to Heriot’s), loose head props shaun gunn (Watsonians), second row Angus Runciman (Melrose Club XV), No. 8 Iain sulky (Watsonians), scrum halves Murdo McAndrew (Heriot) and cam jones (Ayrshire Bulls), showdown jason baggot (Watsonians), center Nyle Godsmark (Heriot’s), extreme sam peter (Heriot’s) and backup winger/center Andrew Mitchell (Hawick) are no longer involved.
With injuries, suspensions and other unavailability representing the second rows Dan Suddon Y Dalton’s Red Trailback rows allan ferry Y harry bourthwickand side jacob henryonly seven of the 22 Knights who took the field in that final at DAM Health Stadium were available for last Saturday’s game against the same opposition. [Patrick Anderson, Billy Wara, Cameron Scott, Grant Shiells, Fraser Renwick, Russell Anderson and Ruairidh Knott].
Moffat admits that a lack of clarity about what the future might look like was the key factor behind the player exodus leading up to the tournament, but stresses that stopping to take stock at that point was the responsible approach.
“I think the players will tell you they weren’t happy with the way the club handled it,” he says. “When [former head coach] Rob Christie he left, we didn’t want to put together a squad before we had a coach, and the club was thinking: ‘Where are we here financially?’ So we wanted to seriously think about whether we could do this, and obviously that was unsettling for players, but it’s a reflection of where we were at the time, and I think it was the right thing to do.
“It didn’t take long to go through the process, the finance guys went through everything and we came up with a plan, but we lost 10 or 12 players. We offered them contracts on pretty much what they had before, but they had had that period of uncertainty and made the decision to go elsewhere.
“Good luck to them, that’s the modern game, I’m not going to criticize anyone for doing what’s best for their career. It’s made my life difficult this year, but I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, so I see it as a great opportunity. We’re here to develop players to go to the next level and having 60 to 70 per cent of our team 22 and under means there are a lot of guys who can do that.”
Forward and upward, Moffat says the club have come out of that period of introspection confident they are doing the right thing.
“We would do it again,” he confirms. “I remember when [Super6] was first mentioned, I wasn’t actively involved with the club at the time, but they asked me and a few other veterans to find out what we thought, and I immediately said: ‘If Super6 is there, then we want to be in it’. That’s the mentality at this club: we want to be the best we can be, play at the highest level we can.”
However, there has been a shift in philosophy towards a more ‘one club’ approach incorporating the youth section, club teams and the Super6 entity, which seems like a sensible first step to give the new structure real roots.
Moffat acknowledges that gaining buy-in from the wider Borders rugby community is a much bigger and more complicated challenge, and believes actions will speak louder than words on this front.
“I’ll talk to anyone, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it and I’m not going to waste my energy going over the same old conversations,” he says with a shrug. “There are good people in all the Borders clubs, and we know they are working hard to keep their club going, so I respect that that is their total focus, but what matters to me is the player.
“Andrew Mitchell is a good example. I don’t think they handled it well, and I think it’s a shame if that means the door is now closed for him to prove himself at a higher level. If he wants to play the next 10 years for Hawick in the Premiership then that’s fair enough, because he’s a good standard and he’s going to be a great player for them, but he’s the kind of guy we should look at and push. . to see how far he can go.
“One of the criticisms of Super6 in general is that there are a lot of guys who don’t play, but that’s not going to happen here. There’s no way the Southern Knights are going to put out their best team every week, and that’s tough because bettors want to see their team at their best every week. But that is not what we are here to do. That was not in the original Super6 document. So any young player who is here will play. He will not be sitting on the bench or in the stands. Some may not cut it, but everyone will have a chance
“The other thing I will say is that we are not looking to grab players without contacting their club to say: “We evaluated this guy and would like to give him a chance.” And if someone from Selkirk comes to Southern Knights and it doesn’t work out, then Melrose shouldn’t be looking to keep him, he should go back to Philiphaugh. It has to be a two-way process.
“Likewise, if this year’s Southern Knights best player is good enough, we’ll push him, and if Edinburgh or Glasgow don’t want him, we’ll look for a championship team in the south or a team in France. , because that’s what it’s all about… giving the players opportunities”.
First things first, a Boroughmuir Bears team buzzing after his first win of the season outside Stirling County in their most recent outing they will host the Knights next Friday night. A win won’t exorcise the demons of last weekend’s painful beating, but it could start the process.