On the eve of the new season, Jason Riley looks back at pre-season and discusses his hopes for the year ahead.
A good training stint and worthwhile pre-season hit outs with Lasswade and Premiership outfit Musselburgh have left the men’s 1st XV feeling good heading into their Tennent’s National League Division One campaign for 2022/23 which gets underway away to Gala on Saturday.
Post-Covid it took some time for a new-look, young 1st XV squad to get used to the rigours of National One rugby last term.
However, the team spirit never dwindled and heads never went down and that resulted in a first league win of the season in November at Meggetland against Boroughmuir.
After the mid-season break, home wins then followed against Cartha Queens Park and Highland and by the end of the season, the team had also beaten Ayr on home turf and drawn away to Stirling.
All of which meant that, after the final ball was kicked and passed in April, they had amassed 30 points to ensure their survival in National League Division One.
Staying up was a good achievement for the group of players, but now that they are a year older and wiser and are more used to playing with each other they expect to do better this term and feel they have only scratched the surface when it comes to their potential.
It is also important to note that the 1st XV squad that takes to the field on any given weekend is just part of a bigger ‘club’ training group that includes the 2nd XV and 3rd XV and all of the players work together under Head Coach Jason Riley and fellow coaches Conan Sharman, Nathan Borel, Sam Rowlands and Euan Robertson.
“I think that is something that is really helping us because having all the guys training together, learning from each other and pushing each other means that they are getting better as a group and are creating more competition for places at Watsonians,” Jason explains.
“It is great to have coaches working alongside me like Conan, Nathan, Sam and Robbo because we learn from each other too and push each other because we are all at different stages of our coaching careers.
“Coming into the 1st XV season there is a good vibe around and we feel like we are in a good place.
“Pre-season has gone well and the warm-up matches have been good, while there was the added bonus of the guys winning the Peebles Sevens.
“Before everyone came back to build into this season, we gave the players a longer break than they would normally have as last year took a lot out of them physically and mentally - now I feel they are raring to go.
“While we have lost a few players who are off to university and things like that, it has also been greatly encouraging to have a number of ex-Watson’s pupils joining us and others coming along to training because they want to be part of what we are building here.
“We know that with Aberdeen Grammar coming down and Stewart’s Melville and GHK coming up that National League Division One is going to be keenly contested, but we are looking forward to that challenge for sure.”
Back-row Stuart Allison will be Captain of the 1st XV again with centre Fraser Cousin acting as Vice-Captain.
“They are two experienced guys who are passionate about playing for Watsonians and helping the club move forward in a positive way while helping the young players progress, so it is great to have them in those leadership roles,” Jason adds.
“The 1st XV have Gala first up and we are looking forward to a trip to the Borders.”
To cheer on the 1st XV this Saturday head down to Netherdale in Galashiels for the 3pm kick-off or you will be able to see them at home to Stirling County on Saturday, September 10 at 3pm.
By Gary Heatly