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Variety spice of life for new Currie coach

It wasn't so long ago that rugby players used to think about reaching their peak at 28 and continue performing for the next four or five seasons after that.

Cairns was a star in the making at Edinburgh
Cairns was a star in the making at Edinburgh

Nowadays, though, in the visceral professional realm, there's an increasing danger of elite athletes spending as much time in traction as in action and nobody sums up the situation better than the Currie coach, Ben Cairns, who is still two years shy of his 30th birthday.

Cairns was a star in the making when he rose through the ranks at Malleny Park, signed a professional contract with Edinburgh, and advanced into the Scotland ranks, as the prelude to making his Test debut against Argentina during his country's victorious tour in 2008.

He seemed to possess all the requisite qualities to flourish on the grandest of stages - pace, penetration, tenacity in the tackle and a canny knack for being in the right place at the right time. But although the centre gained seven caps, one injury was followed by another until Cairns could delay the inevitable no longer. He retired in February, having been denied the chance to parade his full repertoire.

It still rankles, which is perfectly understandable. But one senses he has the right attitude to prosper in his new career on the touchline, particularly at such a family-friendly organisation as Currie.

"I feel as if I've lost the chance to play in my prime and that is hugely frustrating, but the cumulative effect of the knee operations took their toll and put an end to things," said Cairns. "Even now, it hasn't healed up well enough for me to be able to think about playing again, but at least I've gained another opening in rugby and it was good to get the season started with a victory [by 18-16] against Hawick, because we've tended to be slow starters in recent seasons.

"Being involved with Currie has always been a privilege and I've learned from such stalwart figures as [former coaches] Ally [Donaldson] and Graham [Hogg] and also from the terrific community spirit which exists at the club. I missed that sense of everybody mucking in like an extended family when I was at Edinburgh, because I really feel there is something special about Currie and lads such as Ross Weston, John Cox and Richard Snedden, who come in here and gives their all year after year.

"Even when I was on the sidelines, they gave me jobs to do, whether it's working on the boys' skills and defence or taking an active role in coaching and the atmosphere is something special. Perhaps it's because most of us live in Edinburgh and travel out [to Balerno], but there is something unique about Currie and that is why I am so determined to take them forward."

The Hawick triumph was hard-fought, with the outcome in doubt until the last kick. Cairns is convinced that will be how things unfold as the shadows lengthen and autumn turns to winter.

"You can see the standard is rising and that there isn't much between a lot of the sides and there have been so many changes in terms of players and coaches that it will probably take some time to see how things are panning out," said Cairns. "It's definitely too early to make predictions, but we know we can improve on our display against Currie and the plan is to approach the Premiership in bite-sized chunks. I never like to look too far ahead, so let's see where we stand after our next match [away to Gala], and look at our position again after five games. I believe we will be competitive, but it is going to be a very tough league - for everybody - and it's good to start with a win."

He's an engaging fellow who was dealt a lousy hand by the fates as a player. That may be all the motivation Cairns requires to make a positive impact on the periphery.

Team of the week One might question the relevance of the Scottish Cup at this stage of the tournament, but on the basis you can only beat the opposition placed in front of you, Whitecraigs laid down an emphatic declaration of intent with their 102-0 win over Haddington. GHA and Howe of Fife both racked up 87 points and there were plenty of other thrashings, but the west of Scotland side were the only ones to score a century.

Talking point The losing side gained a bonus point in four of Saturday's opening five fixtures, reflecting the wafer-thin margins among the Premiership contenders. The most ominous aspect of the season's maiden weekend was the fact that Melrose were the only team to buck the trend [against Edinburgh Accies]. Already, after just one week, the rest are playing catch-up.

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