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Former Scotland Out-Half John Rutherford
Inpho/Billy Stickland
Borders Making A Special Effort
2 February 2007, 1:17 pm
By Pat Geraghty
THE Borders' efforts to drive up support for professional rugby in the region will take another step forward tonight with 30 former 'South' and Scotland stars taking to the pitch before the Magners League match with Munster to show their support for Steve Bates' side.
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Players from the 1950s to the 1990s have agreed to come together in a show of backing, including John Rutherford, Keith Robertson, Craig Chalmers, Roger Baird, Colin Deans, Peter Dods, Peter and Arthur Brown, 'Eck' Hastie, Drew Gill, Christy Elliot and George Stevenson.

They are to meet the current players late this afternoon before joining supporters pre and post-match in the clubrooms. It will represent a stunning array of international talent, but, more significantly, the Reivers hope this latest attempt to link the new team in with its glorious past will help take crowd figures from the financially-worrying thousand to the 3,000-mark Gordon McKie, the SRU chief executive, has set as the team's average target this year.

The attraction of Munster, the current Heineken Cup champions with ex-All Black star Christian Cullen restored tonight, would be considered great enough for many, but attendances at Netherdale this season have pointed to a worrying malaise in the region famed for its love of the sport.

Borders rugby has suffered like many areas of the Scottish game in the past decade, but with the new pro teams costing over £3 million to run, an SRU now headed by more businessmen and accountants that at any time has agonised over the investment and lack of return.

However, all the rhetoric and hyperbole was eschewed last month in favour of clear policy-setting at a summit meeting of the Scottish Rugby Board and Steve Bates, the Reivers coach, told The Scotsman yesterday that he is now more confident that the Borders have a future.

He said: "There has been a clear indication that we can be positive about a three-team Scottish professional game from Gordon McKie and the board since that meeting. The problem we have got is financial, of course, and that will remain a concern until we start getting more people in and more sponsorship, and, on the playing side, we're now trying to get the nuts and bolts of budgets clarified, but it is a positive message."

He has managed to bring back Stuart Moffat, the former Scotland full-back, after a disappointing period for the player at Castres in France, and while exploring what is available overseas, Bates is keen to hand young Borderers the chance to step up from the new academy this summer.

The Borders players have also been working overtime with 105 community visits since August ranging from sheepdog trials to drug and alcohol awareness initiatives, from serving healthy breakfasts in 25 local schools to helping recruit volunteers for the local Citizens Advice Bureau.

This is the kind of work lacking when the team was launched in 2002, the SRU misguided in their belief that plonking a new team in the rugby-mad region would alter local loyalties and commitments.

Bates acknowledged: "It is tough and it takes time to build things, but I see the picture changing this season. And the value of the professional set-up goes further than just Netherdale. We saw a great team effort by Scotland against Wales on Saturday, and we might fill the stadium against Italy on the back of that, but the whole of the professional game in Scotland will have played its part, and we have to recognise that. We're providing the players, the competition, development and environment to play to help Scotland improve.

"Yes, we've got to be patient with the development of facilities and our young guys coming through the Borders academy, but I see no reason why the Borders can't follow a similar road to Munster."

With only one win in 12 games, the Reivers need to start reaching their potential quickly, and overturning this season's 9-8 defeat at Munster would help. It will be tough up front without Scotland prop Gavin Kerr and injured internationals Stuart Grimes, Craig Hamilton and Ross Beattie, but this may allow younger talent to show the many older heads in the ground tonight that there is real passion and ability now coming through the Netherdale ranks.

(David Ferguson, The Scotsman Newspaper).


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