These are tough 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 side who have lost nine key players to other franchises. during the winter break, plus more than half a dozen others who retired or returned to club play.
It was their fourth loss in a row since the start of this Super6 Sprint series last month, but Rob Moffat – the former Edinburgh and Melrose head coach who shared the role of director of rugby at The Greenyards with Skinny Pollock since summer 2020 – insists he has a ‘glass half full view of the current situation of the team.
It does not claim that everything in the garden is in full bloom. Finances are sure to be a concern after Covid paid out two profitable sevens tournaments, and a lot of work needs to be done to foster support for [or at least reduce opposition to] the Knights concept both in Melrose and in the wider Borders rugby community, but the ever-optimistic Moffat believes the tide can be turned.
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“It’s an interesting time…and it was a tough time to take,” Moffat admitted, with brilliant understatement, when asked to reflect on last Saturday’s loss. “We lost a few players [during the winter break] and the team is probably younger than we like, but the way we see it is that we are here to develop players. Although no one wants to see such results because it doesn’t help anyone, we are confident that these young guys can learn from their experiences and come back stronger.
“It sounds like an excuse, but there were a lot of boys who weren’t involved against the Bulls – we had about a dozen players – so we were really light and young,” he adds. “In the previous three weeks we hadn’t won, but there wasn’t much in it. So I think the circumstances were against us, and it could happen again because we don’t have the experience there that we could call on last season, which means if we lose two or three of our senior guys, it gets really tough pretty quickly. .
“I should also mention that we came up against a good team from Ayrshire Bulls who played very well that day. We need to take our meds 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 squad that faced the Bulls in last year’s Finals, a tight-fisted prop Euan McLaren (passed to Heriot), loose prop Shaun Gunn (Watsonians), second row Angus Runciman (Melrose Club XV), No. 8 Iain Moody (Watsonians), scrum-half Murdo McAndrew (Heriot) and cam jones (Ayrshire Bulls), stalemate Jason Baggot (Watsonians), center Nyle Godsmark (Heriot’s), winger Sam Pequeur (Heriot’s) and replacement winger/center Andre Mitchell (Hawick) are no longer involved.
With injuries, suspensions and other downtime representing the second rows Dan Suddon and Dalton Redpathrear rows Allan Ferrie and Harry Borthwickand back Jacob Henrythere were only seven of the 22 Knights who took the field in this final at DAM Health Stadium 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 a lack of clarity about the future was the main driver behind the exodus of players ahead of the tournament, but stresses that stopping to take stock at this stage was the responsible approach.
“I think the players will tell you that they were unhappy with the way the club handled the situation,” he said. “When [former head coach] Rob Chrystie left, we did not want to form a team before having a coach, and the club thought: ‘Where are we here financially?’ So we wanted to think hard about whether we could do that, and obviously it was confusing for the players, but it reflects where we were at that point – and I think it was the right thing to do.
“We didn’t take long to go through the process – the finance people looked at everything and we came up with a plan – but we lost 10 or 12 players. We offered them contracts on pretty much what they were doing before, but they had had that period of uncertainty and made the decision to go somewhere else.
“Good luck to them – that’s the modern game – I’m not going to criticize anyone for doing the best for their career. It’s made my life difficult this year, but I’m one to see the glass half full so I see this as a great opportunity we are here to develop players to take them to the next level and having 60-70% of our squad aged 22 or younger means there is a lot of guys out there who can do it.
Increasingly, Moffat says the club have emerged from this period of soul-searching reassured that they are doing the right thing.
“We would start again,” he confirms. “I remember when he [Super6] was first brought up, I wasn’t actively involved with the club at the time, but they asked me and a few other worthy elders to find out what we thought, and right away I said : “If Super6 is there, we want to be part of it”. This is the mentality of this club: we want to be the best possible, to play at the highest possible level.
There has however been a shift in philosophy towards a more ‘one club’ approach incorporating the youth section, the clubs and the Super6 entity, which appears to be a good first step towards actually entrenching the new structure.
Moffat acknowledges that securing 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 that front.
“I’ll talk to anyone, but I won’t lose any sleep over it and I won’t waste my energy repeating the same old conversations,” he shrugs. “There are good people at every Borders club, and we know they work hard to keep their club going, so I respect their goal, but what interests me is the player.
“Andrew Mitchell is a good example. I don’t think he was treated well, and I think it’s such a shame if that means the door is now closed for him to test himself at a higher level. If he wants to play the next 10 years for Hawick in the Premiership, that’s fair enough because he’s a good level and he’ll be a great player for them, but he’s the kind of guy we should be looking at and pushing. . to see how far he can go.
“One of the criticisms of Super6 in general is that there are a lot of boys not playing, but that’s not going to happen here. There’s no way the Southern Knights are bringing out their best team every week, and that’s hard because bettors want to see their team at their best every week. But that’s not what we’re here for. It wasn’t in the original document for Super6. So any young player who is here will play. He won’t sit on the bench or in the stand. Some may not cut him, but they all will have a chance
“The other thing I will say is that we are not looking to attract players without communicating with his club to say: “We are evaluating this guy and we would like to give him an opportunity.” 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.
“Equally, if the best player for the Southern Knights this year is good enough, we will push him, and if Edinburgh or Glasgow do not want him, we will seek a championship team in the south or a team in France. , because that’s what it’s all about… giving players opportunities.
First, a Boroughmuir Bears team abuzz after their first win of the season at Stirling County in their last outing 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.
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