The 10 things you need to know about the National League Cup Final

Dumfries Saints and Kelso battle to become first name on the new trophy

Dumfries Saints full-back Sam Hiddleston could be a key man in the National league Cup Final this weekend
Dumfries Saints full-back Sam Hiddleston could be a key man in the National League Cup Final this weekend ***Image courtesy: Dumfries Saints

Who?

Dumfries Saints

v

Kelso

What?

This is the first ever final of the National League Cup – which is a 28-team tournament contested on a knock-out basis by almost every club in the three National Leagues.

The missing sides are the top six clubs in National One based on last season’s final rankings, who compete instead in the National Cup alongside the ten BT Premiership clubs.

Where?

Hawthornden in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, nine miles south of Edinburgh – the home ground of Lasswade RFC

When?

Saturday 21stApril 2018 @ 3pm

Why?

This competition was introduced this year at the behest of the National League One and Two forums to create a real cup focus for mid-level clubs in Scotland. It replaces the old system whereby National League sides played two qualifying rounds before the introduction of the Premiership big boys, who then tended to dominate the battle for silverware.

The final is not part of next weekend’s ‘Silver Saturday’ extravaganza at Murrayfield, mainly because of the logistical challenge of fitting another fixture into a schedule which already involves seven matches at the same venue. The Men’s Bowl Final kicking off on the international pitch at 10am next Saturday and it is in almost constant use through to the 1872 Cup match which kicks-off at 7.45pm.

As the newest kid on the block, it was decided to make a virtue out of a necessity by giving this match an opportunity to flourish in its own right at a venue suited to the size of crowd expected, and on a day when there is less distractions.

Which team is which?

The home strips of both clubs are very similar – black and white hoops. Having been drawn as the home side, it is the Saints who will wear their alternate strip, which is all black.

“Zeke Dyson, our kiwi hooker, is very excited about that,” joked coach Rudi Urbach.

Are Kelso favourites?

Yes, but it is not a certainty.

The Borderers play in the higher league so have been exposed to a better standard of rugby over the course of the whole season, which should stand them in good stead. But they have not had it all their own way since winning promotion straight back into National One this year, with player availability and a lack of depth in the squad an issue at times. They ended up eighth in the table with a record of nine wins, eleven losses and one draw.

What Kelso do have is resilience. A week after a humiliating 85-0 loss away to league-leaders Edinburgh Accies, they battled their way to a gritty 7-0 victory over Stewart’s Melville in the semi-final of this competition.

The Borderers are without top points scorer Craig Dods (son of former Scotland full-back Peter), who moved to Budapest a couple of weeks ago to coach the Hungarian national side.

It is 20 years ago, almost to the day, that Kelso reached the first of back-to-back finals in the main Cup event – coming up short in both matches, against Glasgow Hawks (36-14) and Gala (8-3). Not many of this current team will have clear memories of those occasions, but they know their history and will be desperate to get the job done this time.

So, Dumfries Saints have a chance then?

They absolutely do.

Promoted into National Two this season, the initial target was to consolidate their position in that division, but they confounded expectations to race to the top of the table with five wins in their first five games of the campaign; and although they did not quite manage to sustain that breakneck speed they are in second place at the moment with all their matches played – well in the frame for of a second consecutive promotion if third placed Hamilton fail to pick up two wins from their two games in hand against Peebles and Whitecraigs.

The average age of the side is 22 and the Saints go into this match with nothing to lose and everything to gain. They are up against a higher seeded team, and are already guaranteed a best ever league finish, so one way or another this will go down as an historic season for the men from Park Farm.

The nucleus of the team harbour fond memories of playing at the same venue in the only other national final the club has reached – when the colts team defeated Hawick Wanderers 22-5 in the National Youth League Bowl Final just over four years ago. Hopes are high of a similar performance and result.

Which players should we keep an eye out for?

Dumfries Saints full-back Sam Hiddleston made his 1stXV debut for the club when he was 16 in 2008 so has a decade of experience to draw on. Big, strong and pacey, he has seen the highs and lows of Dumfries rugby and is making the most of the good times being experienced at the club at the moment.

Kelso centre Greig Mein is a big, intelligent player, who gives his team valuable go-forward with his powerful midfield bursts.

What are the coaches saying?

“I know it sounds cheesy, but this team has developed as a family and that will be the key to any success we have in this game. We have watched the videos so we know Kelso are an awesome side – and they have a long history of playing in big games, they were the champions of Scotland back in the 1980s and that pedigree doesn’t just disappear – so this is a huge challenge for us. But when you have a group that doesn’t focus on results, but is dedicated to the learning process of rugby, then you have always got a chance. The boys have already made their own history this year – this is a chance for them to finish in style …”– Rudi Urbach (Dumfries Saints)

“In cup rugby, every team is capable of getting a result, and it comes down to players performing to the best of their ability at an individual level. If our guys can step up to that challenge and do their job to the best of their ability within the framework of the team then we are good enough to win it, but the same applies to Dumfries. So, it really comes down to who wants it most …”– Gary Stevens (Kelso)

The line-ups?

Dumfries Saints: Sam Hiddleston; Andrew Whiteford, Jack Steele©, John Carlisle, Keagan Jones; Jordan Kerr, Jack Johnstone; Craig Goldie, Zeke Dyson, Scott Goodwin, Lee Scott, Mark McClatchy, Ali Jackson, Gavin Wilson, Michael Scott. Subs: Tom Martin, Dougie Boyd, Paddy Coupar, Ian Carlisle, Alan Birdsall, Jack Currie, Kenny Henderson.

Kelso: Ross Cooke; Robbie Thomson, Phil Hume, Gregor Mein, Angus Roberts; Andrew Skeen, Andy Tait©; Sam Karlsen, Ross Henderson, Blair Robertson, Paudie Lawlor, Heino Gaiser, Josh Irvine, Kevin Dryden, Kris Mein. Subs: Charlie Marshall, Kieran Cooney, Kieran Dunbar, Angus Common, Cam Brown, Kevin Wilson, Mark Wilson.


Dumfries Saints on the march under coach Urbach


 

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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1321 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.