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Title in the bag . . . now thoughts turn to Murrayfield

it is not often you find clubs wrapping up championships in January, but the thriving youngsters of Preston Lodge achieved that feat when they sealed the East League title,

it is not often you find clubs wrapping up championships in January, but the thriving youngsters of Preston Lodge achieved that feat when they sealed the East League title,

Nor were there any nerves or signs of pressure at Pennypit. In the last two weeks, they have unleashed a torrent of tries, racking up 183 points against hapless Hawick sides.

First, they cemented their achievement by embarrassing the Borders' Linden contingent to the tune of 129-0 prior to thrashing Harlequins 54-3. They are the sort of results, the former especially, which have become increasingly prevalent in Scotland this season and suggest that the much-hyped domestic restructure cannot start soon enough. Nonetheless, as Mark Steedman, the Preston Lodge coach, pointed out, you can only beat the opponents who are lined up against you. Yes, the Linden side was missing several of their regular first-XV personnel, which goes some way towards explaining why they conceded 19 tries, but the outcome merely emphasised the gulf in class between the combatants.

"These type of matches are never that enjoyable for anybody who wants to watch a hard-fought contest, but we did what we had to do and there really is a sense around the place that we have the potential to kick on," said Steedman, whose team will play in Scottish National League 3 in their next campaign.

"One of the most satisfying things was that we won the championship with a young squad of locally-produced players. Sixteen of the 19 who are involved every week went to the high school in Prestonpans and our back line is full of 18, 19 and 20-year-olds who, I am hopeful, can only get better in the future.

"We were a bit surprised to claim the title as quickly as we did, and we know that things are going to get tougher from here. But there are lots of positive developments happening on and off the pitch, so I am confident the lads will be up to the task of moving to the next level a few months down the line."

Any grassroots organisation with long-term aspirations needs decent facilities and Preston Lodge are flourishing in that regard too.

It has not happened overnight, but Steedman's charges now have access to new club rooms, a gymnasium, and the quality of amenities which can persuade their community to come through the door. They also have a strength and conditioning guru to prepare them for the future, and their captain, Blair Cowan - one of the few veteran members in the ranks - appreciates that anybody who stands still in sport risks becoming obsolete. But he also knows that life is only going to grow harder in the 2014-15 campaign.

"No disrespect to the sides we have met in the East League, but we will be up against stiffer opposition next season, and the lads had better accept they are not going to win titles every year," said Cowan.

"We still have a chance of getting to the final of the RBS Shield and, as someone who has played at Murrayfield in the past, [I know that] these tournaments still mean a lot to clubs such as Preston Lodge and we are determined to go as far in the knockout events as we can, because few people get the chance to play at the national stadium. So that will hopefully keep the guys motivated."

In the bigger picture, Scotland's clubs will soon be embarking on another brave vision of modernity, the fifth or sixth time they have done so in the last 15-20 years. Thankfully, all the tinkering and tampering has done nothing to extinguish the passion of such bastions of the game as the Pennypit personnel.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Howe of Fife needed a victory over table-topping Musselburgh to have any chance of catching them in the RBS Scottish Championship B League. And how they got it! Not just by a few points, but with a thumping 58-20 triumph over their rivals, which throws the league up in the air again.

TALKING POINT

Aberdeen Grammar were right to raise the issue of which players can and cannot turn out for their clubs in league games prior to playing for Scotland sides. Nobody wants to detract from the international set-up, but so many anomalies exist in the regulations that they badly need to be sorted out.

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