Duns join new competition

Duns will play Berwick three times next season
Duns will play Berwick three times next season

DUNS and Berwick will now lock horns in three derby fixtures next season after the creation of a new Borders rugby competition.

Both clubs have agreed to compete in the inaugural RBS Border Shield next season along with Langholm, Earlston, Hawick Harlequins, Hawick Linden and Gala YM.  Berwick and Langholm have opted to drop out of the Border League but retain their membership.

The new seven-team Border Shield competition, a level below the revamped Border League, will be played in a league format. The winners will then represent the Borders in the RBS National Shield semi-final. Discussions are now under way about the scheduling of the fixtures, with mid-August being pencilled in as a possible start date.

Duns and Berwick renewed their derby fixture in the season just finished after a long absence when a restructuring of the national leagues by the Scottish Rugby Union meant both ended up in East League Division 1.

The honours were even with one win each, Duns finishing one place behind runaway champions Preston Lodge and one place above third-placed Berwick.

With the new RBS Border Shield in place, the local rivals are now set to meet three times in 2012/13.

It also means Berwick will be playing against teams of a similar standard rather than coming up against the likes of Gala, Hawick and Melrose.

There was no appetite for either Berwick or Langholm to be on the receiving end of yet more big defeats by the top clubs in the area – something which did none of the teams or players any good at all under the Border League format.

Duns RFC hon president and fixture secretary Derek Simpson explained: “We are pleased the seven clubs in the Borders Shield have decided to have a pool rather than a knockout competition to determine the national semi-finalists, it gives the competition some sort of continuity and meaning. It means that the Shield fixtures will be spread over a period from October to February.

“It also means we get an opportunity to play Berwick an extra time which is always good for club funds and we get to play Earlston who we haven’t played for a couple of seasons.

“It is a real local competition which we are very pleased to be taking part in.”

Hawick YM replace Haddington in the new eight-team Border League and the new second-tier competition has been set up with the seven Borders clubs ranked below Hawick YM. The seven competing teams in the RBS Border Shield will play each other once, each playing three home and away games each.

The Border League has stated that the new competition is not a Border League Division 2 because there is no promotion and relegation, but it is not ruling out the possibility of this becoming a reality in the future. 

The door has also been left open for Berwick and Langholm to rejoin the Border League competition if they return to the top 40 in Scotland.

Unlike the Border League, the RBS Border Shield will see all clubs play each other, so the winner of the Shield will truly be worthy of representing the Borders in the National Shield semi-final.

The Border Shield will also give Berwick, Duns and the other five teams the ideal opportunity to play other Borders sides of a similar standard in a meaningful competitive format

While the Border League has stopped short of creating two divisions, this new mini league will be observed with a great deal of interest and, if it proves successful, the clubs ranked below the eight leading Borders clubs will surely have an appetite for developing the idea in the future.

Former Berwick president Colin Frame said: “Berwick remain committed to Borders rugby and are pleased that a sensible solution has been found to accommodate all clubs. The new format sees competitive rugby with plenty of local interest to keep the players and fans happy and interested.”

Maximising exposure will be key to attracting sponsors for the clubs involved and for the Shield competition itself, and there will be opportunities for the organisers to take advantage of this by sensible and careful programming of fixtures.

One idea that has already been raised is to schedule games one or two weeks before the main season starts in mid-August when the senior clubs are playing friendlies.