Fitter, happier and more productive, Berwick have been rewarded this season for playing with a spring in their step and a smile on their face.
Having achieved their primary objective by securing promotion back to East League 1 at the first attempt, the Blacks now have a chance to show that they are already primed for a higher division.
Captain Gareth Black has no doubts. Singing the praises of head coach Colin Young for transforming the club’s fortunes, he is confident the team will more than hold their own in East League 1 next season.
“We’re young and fit, and there’s a lot of pace in the team, so we’ll be a different team next season, going up,” says the hooker. “I certainly don’t see a problem with us reaching the top half of that table.”
Black and his teammates will have a taste of it over the next few weeks when they play four Borders Regional Shield pool matches. The first three, starting with this Saturday’s Hawick Linden clash at Scremerston, are against East League 1 sides.
“We put in good performances against Hawick Linden and Hawick Harlequins last year. Even though they are in the league above, I don’t see any reason why we can’t do that again,” reasons Black. “We have already had a good result against Duns this season.”
Indeed, Berwick hammered their local rivals 56-3 in a Regional Shield pool match in November. Duns are also in the league above, but given the wide margin of Berwick’s victories throughout the course of this season it was perhaps not a huge surprise.
Berwick averaged 56 points a game in East League 2, winning 16 of their 18 fixtures to finish second.
“The boys wanted to get back up,” Black explains. “I think we all know we can play at that standard. We feel that’s where we deserve to be.
“We’ve worked hard to get there and that’s where everyone feels the club should be – at least.
“For the last three or four seasons we’ve always been saying we have a young team. We’ve just come of age. It seems to have clicked this year, especially the sort of rugby Youngy has us playing.”
Young’s appointment as head coach last summer after Berwick were relegated has proved to be a popular one.
“Youngy coming in as coach has made a massive difference to the boys,” explains Black. “He is a huge inspiration. He’s been around and done it at Melrose. The boys all look up to him.
“I think we’re fitter than we’ve ever been and it’s helped us enjoy our rugby. I think the crowd can testify to that. We’ve definitely played some exciting rugby this year. When we’re playing with a smile on our face it makes a difference. We’ve been enjoying what we’re doing and certainly we’ve run in some big scores.
“It’s allowed us to play the sort of rugby that we wanted to play this year. Without that we couldn’t have been running it about and passing it the way we have been.
“Getting 20 to 30 lads down at training has made a big difference. When we have had injuries, we’ve had good young players to step in. Pre-season started back in June and we’re still seeing the rewards now. It has helped us keep going.”
Although the league season is complete, the 26-year-old knows Berwick have a lot to play for over the next few weeks. The winners of the Regional Shield pool advance to the semi-finals of the national competition, which means a final at Murrayfield is a realistic goal. And that is not all.
Black adds: “We’re also in the semi-final of the Northumberland Cup, so hopefully we’ll get success on both sides of the border.”