The celebrations to mark the opening of Violetbank and the 30th year
of the Club got off to an hilarious start on Friday night. A past and
present players' dinner was attended by a capacity 200 audience in the
Victoria Hall. Those present included Mike Coleman, all the way from
Hong Kong, and sixteen of the Club's eighteen captains. The assembly
was treated to a buffet prepared by Mary Graham, and then entertained
by four of the best speakers an the Rugby circuit. Ian Barnes, Bill
Nolan, Ian Landles and the Reverend Howard Haslett were a collective
example of the best of 'after dinner speaking', and they were ably
supported by Annan Captain Neil MacGregors vote of thanks. I personally only managed to get to the third speech, a dodgy pint causing memory loss and I woke up in my bed the following morning.
The Saturday afternoon match at Violetbank was preceded by a Young
Scotland Rugby Squad training session, organised by the SRU's Youth
Development Officers led by Graham Kilgour and attended by some 48
youngsters. The final of the Annandale Observer Touch Rugby
Tournament kicked off at 2pm, the "blacks" finally beating the
"whites", allowing Duncan Fisher to collect the trophy from Sara
Shannon of the Dumfriesshire Newspaper Group.
Meanwhile invited guests were entertained in the sponsors' lounge at
Violetbank, and heard Annan President Alan Robertson describe the
Violetbank project, and express his thanks for the valuable financial
Assistance given by the Lottery Sports Fund (Scotland) and the
Foundation for Sport and the Arts, represented by Gerry McKay and Mr Danny Cullington respectively.
The opening ceremony was performed by four of the five founders of the
Club (the fifth, Dave Purdon, being in Australia). These were Scott
Little, Dave Rae, Jack Thomson and Donald Watson, who were also given
Few rugby clubs can have played host to so many of Scotland's former stars as Annan did at Violetbank on Saturday. Greig Oliver and Shaun McGauchie had assembled a top class squad for the Scottish Legend XV, including six formers Scotland captains and the captains of both the 1984 and 1990 Grand Slam teams. It is unlikely that such a gathering will ever happen again. The Grand Slam captains were Jim Aitken and David Sole - the latter being Legends captain on the day. They were accompanied by Gavin Hastings, Peter Dods, Greig Oliver, Iwan Tukalo, Dougie Wyllie, John Beattie, Finlay Calder, Alister Campbell, Damian Cronin, Jim Hay, John Jeffery, David McIvor, Derek White and Peter Wright.
Backing up these greats of the past were several top club players in Alex Carruthers (Kirkcaldy and the North & Midlands), Kenny Sinclair (Glasgow Hawks), Richie Gray (Gala Captain), Jock Rae (Hawick) and Paul Minto (Selkirk). To further boost their squad, the Legends had the services of some up-and-coming players from the region in Stuart Little (Dumfries), Craig Hamilton (Wigtownshire), Euan Murray (Glasgow Southern), Steven de Luca (Dumfries) and Paul Swalwell and Donald Dunlop (Stewartry). If that was not enough for Annan to cope with, former All Black centre Bernie McCahill was a surprise addition to the Legends squad.
The Annan squad for this historic game were
G Carmichael, J Gracie, B Graham, E Hay, K Hogg, C Johnstone. K Jones, D Pagan, S Rae, A Render, S Williamson, P Buckley, P Carruthers, S Clanachan, R Currie, I Fenwick, M Forbes, W Henderson, N MacGregor (captain), M Newton, A Renwick, G Smith, I Thorburn, J Tinning, C Warrick and K Watret.
This combination of skills, old hands and young legs understandably proved too strong for Annan, and the final score of 81-19 to the Legends gives some idea of the feast of open rugby which they were able to put on.
There were some excellent tries shared by Tukalo, Oliver, Hastings, Calder, White, Carruthers, Sinclair and Dunlop, Tukalo in particular, along with former Annan scrum half Oliver, proved a real thorn in the Annan flesh, seeming to have lost little of his pace and guile on the wing.
Annan to their credit kept plugging away, also trying to keep the ball alive. If their handling and ball retention was not as good as the guests, that was to be expected, but they were rewarded for their efforts with a try from centre Andy Render in the first half, and two more from centre Jim Gracie and flanker Billy Henderson in the second. Replacement stand off Dougie Pagan converted the last two.
Our thanks go to all the Legends squad, old and young, for a sporting occasion to remember. Thanks, too, to referee John Steel from Dumfries.
Saturday evening saw everyone relax at the Victoria Hall, where a
celebration dance proved an appropriate ending to the day, as Annan
members were joined by friends and some of the players and guests from
Friday night and Saturday afternoon. So early Sunday morning brought an end to a memorable weekend for Annan Rugby Club, with Club Bar Manager Donald Watson left with the small task of clearing away the evidence of a great day.