Following their promotion to Premiership 3, the Dumfries Saints’ rising status in Scottish Rugby circles is confirmed by the quality of their pre-season warm up games throughout August. And as part of the celebrations surrounding the opening of their new changing rooms, fitness and training suite at Park Farm, they will be going head-to-head with the best of the best – the Scottish Club Champions.
“The three opening games will be a huge challenge for the Saints players,” admitted Saints Head Coach Shaun McGauchie. “But we decided we needed to challenge ourselves early to ensure we are ready to do the business when the league season starts.”
First up are away fixtures for the Firsts and Seconds against Biggar RFC on Saturday 8th August, kick-offs at Biggar at 3 o’clock. Biggar are a young club who built their first clubhouse in 1989, and then enjoyed a meteoric rise through the leagues – taking them to Premiership 1 in the season 2004/2005. Like the Saints who have built on home-grown talent, the majority of Biggar’s squad will have been with their club since they were at primary school. It’s hoped that plenty of Saints supporters will be there to shout on their teams.
Next up, challenges don’t come any harder than that facing the Saints at home on 15th August, kick-off at 4 o’clock, when they take on Ayr RFC, the Scottish Premiership Club Champions. The teams will be playing for the Dumfries Octocentenary Invitation Cup, which was presented by Nithsdale District Council to Dumfries Rugby Club on 23rd April 1986: “for the spread of the Spirit of Rugby Union Football in Dumfries and District”.
It’s a fantastic compliment to the Saints that Ayr RFC were delighted to include this game in their preparations for the new British and Irish Cup.
The game will be the highlight of a Festival of Rugby at Park Farm on Saturday 15th August to celebrate the opening of the superb new changing rooms, treatment suite and strength and conditioning facilities. There will be an Invitation Marquee Lunch for those who contributed financially to the building of the new facilities – at a total cost of £280,000.
Dumfries Saints President, John Steele, explained why it was necessary to make this huge investment. “The club had outgrown its playing facilities some years ago. It was therefore imperative we upgrade to provide our playing members with modern changing and conditioning amenities. We currently run 2 senior sides and 9 junior sides, which makes for a very high usage during the season, both for training and playing. Conditions prior to the development often resulted in cramped changing rooms with hot water at a premium – not ideal for a club looking to grow the game. With the new facilities, we will attract more players to the game and at the same time develop players physically in the conditioning suite, to ultimately benefit the club’s performance. We are indebted to our many sponsorship partners, both public and private, who have contributed to the development and in particular to the immediate past President, John Miller, whose drive and energy ensured its successful completion.”
Among other attractions, all supporters and friends of the club will be able to enjoy a Hog Roast alongside the players immediately following the game, and live music in the marquee with the hugely popular band Grumpy Old Men. It promises to be a great day out for all the family, so make a note in your diary to be there.
Alongside the main game, and entering the spirit of the Homecoming Events taking place throughout Scotland, a Dumfries Select of expatriate Doonhamers will be taking on the formidable Saints Seconds. “We are hoping plenty of supporters will turn up early to watch us and the ‘homecoming’ players,” said the Seconds Manager, Andy Ferguson. “Whilst this is a fun game being played to support the big event, it will nevertheless give an opportunity to build on the successes of last season, and allow some of our young players the opportunity to showcase their skills and hopefully catch the eye of the 1st XV management team.”
At the same time, Dumfries Colts (Under-18) will be in action against Ayr Colts. “This is shaping up to be a fantastic opportunity for the Club to showcase its local talent against top class opposition,” said Dougie Murray, one of the Colts’ coaching team. “Although many of this year’s Colts squad will be stepping up two age groups from the Under-16’s, they will bring a lot of confidence from their last very successful season, and will be keen to carry on from where they left off, alongside experienced campaigners from last year’s Under-17s. The coaches are excited about the prospects of maintaining and building on that success.”
Both supporting games – Seconds and Colts – will kick off at 3 o’clock, playing half an hour each way in order to finish at 4:00pm before the main game.
In the last of their pre-league season warm up games, the Saints will welcome Gala RFC to Dumfries on Saturday 22nd August. Gala will be bringing their full senior squad, so there will be games for Saints’ First and Second teams – kick-offs at 3:00pm. As usual, hot and cold food will be served in the clubhouse bar both before and after the games.
Again, it reflects Dumfries Saints’ status as the Premier Rugby Club in Dumfries and Galloway that Gala were keen to accept this fixture. Founded in 1876 – the same year that Rugby Union started in Dumfries – the club from Galashiels remain one of the biggest names in Scottish and Border Rugby, having produced 44 Scottish international players over the years, some of who went on to play for the British and Irish Lions. In recent times, they have provided Scotland with the likes of Gregor Townsend, Chris Patterson and Nathan Hines.
With the warm up games out of the way, it will be down to league business in Premiership 3 for Dumfries Saints. Their first fixture is at home to Hillhead Jordanhill on Saturday 29th August, kick-off at 3:00pm.
Saints Director of Rugby, Russell Marchant, said: “It’s an exciting time for everyone involved with Saints – players, coaches and supporters. We have tough warm-up fixtures, and a tough opening league fixture, but hopefully all the work everyone is putting in will be rewarded with a good result. It would be great to see a big crowd cheering on the team at Park Farm for the warm up games and the first Premiership League fixture.”
Summary of Dumfries Saints Opening Fixtures
8th August: Firsts away to Biggar.
15th August: Firsts home to Ayr, Kick-off 4:00pm.
15th August: Colts home to Ayr Colts.
15th August: Seconds home to Dumfries Select.
22nd August: Firsts home to Gala.
22nd August: Seconds home to Gala.
29th August: Firsts home to Hillhead Jordanhill (league fixture).
All kick-offs 3:00pm, unless otherwise stated.