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There is a real buzz around Lochaber Rugby Club’s Banavie ground this week, as it gets ready for its first game of the new season in the uncharted territory of BT West League Division 3.
It means the bulk of Lochaber’s opposition teams are now based in the Glasgow area, as opposed to the Caledonia North league which previously saw the Lochaber players making mammoth away journeys to grounds in Shetland, Aberdeen and Stornoway.
Moffat will provide what should be a stiff test on Saturday and with it being not just the season opener but also the first home game, the fixture against the ‘Rams’ will certainly be targeted for a win by the Banavie players and coaches.
‘A lot of the boys were feeling quite jaded. It was a big ask to travel four hours to somewhere like Aberdeen, play a game of rugby, and then travel four hours back,’ said Lochaber senior first XV coach Stewart Sandison this week.
‘They were needing a change – they asked for it and now they’ve got it. So there a a wee bit of a buzz about the place, with some new faces and new teams to play.
‘Everyone is looking forward to it. Some of the players who are students in Glasgow and Edinburgh won’t be available until further into September, but once they back will be up to full strength.
‘It is exciting times. Realistically I think we can maybe look at a mid-table finish, although the hope would be to end up in the top five.
‘But we don’t really know these teams and it will only be when we start playing them and seeing what standard we are up against, will we have a better idea.’
Club president Alastair MacKinnon agrees: ‘Going into BT Division 3 is new territory for us. We’ve not played many of these teams before – with maybe Mull as the obvious exception.
‘But it was a change the club needed to do, more from a player-wise point of view than anything else. We were in Caledonia North before and that made it fairly difficult when it came to away games.
‘The boys were asking about a change, so we really went for it this year and in the end only two teams voted against us joining.
‘A lot of the teams are in the Glasgow area so makes away games a lot easier.
‘We have a very young squad, with an average age of 19/20, and a hard working committee and everyone is looking forward to the challenges of a new league.
‘Our pitch is looking better than it ever has and there’s a really good feeling around the club. Our youth set up is also doing well.
‘I’d hope for a finish in top four or five at end of season, but it’s unknown territory. We will be without six or seven of the college boys for the first game, but if we have a squad of 17 or 18 players each week for away games, I’m hopeful we can do well.
‘At the end of the day it is winning games that attract people through the gates to support you. If you are not winning games then you’re going to struggle to get folk out every Saturday.
‘So if we can win our first game, especially being at home, that would be fantastic and will help set the tone for the rest of the season.’