As Aberdeen and Stirling prepare for Division One, Kevin Ferrie looks at the new season

With both newcomers facing derby clashes and two of the other matches a repeat of last season's opening day, it could have all felt very familiar, yet there is a sense of freshness about this BT Scotland Premiership first division.

In particular, the promotion of Stirling County and Aberdeen GSFP has given the top flight a new look this season, embraced the whole country, and introduced a greater sense of unpredictability.

As Jim Hay, the international hooker now carving out a new television career as Scott Hastings' commentary box sidekick observed following Thursday's official Murrayfield launch of the new club season: ''Aberdeen and Stirling are very much unknown quantities and it will be fascinating to see how they perform.''

The Scott 'n' Jim show will be on your screens this afternoon as STV breaks new ground with live coverage of a Scottish league match and having turned down the tempting prospect of the Meggetland meeting of Boroughmuir and Melrose, who produced a cracking match this time last season, they will be desperately hoping that the old dogs at Hawick and Currie - the last side to beat them in a league match some 21 games ago - have learned new tricks since a repeat of the try-less 12 all draw with which they began that campaign.

Though he has had a stint coaching the hated enemy at Gala, it is likely that Hay's Green roots will show through at some stage this afternoon and he believes that Hawick have added some pace and confidence to their back play over the summer which could add a new dimension to the champions' game.

Then again, as Hay also observed: ''Any way you win the championship is winning it in style.''

While Hawick's launch of their defence fully merits the attention it is receiving from the telly boys an occasion of even greater potential significance will occur at Kirkcaldy's Beveridge Park.

Some 60 years have elapsed since, in the days of the old unofficial championship, Aberdeen GSFP used to lock horns regularly with the nation's leading sides and as they take their bow in the BT Scotland Premiership first division so a great opportunity is presented to Scottish rugby to assess the third city's interest in the sport.

Their chances have been boosted for today's game by the availability of Matt Taylor, the Scottish-qualified Australian whose performance two seasons ago effectively earned him the contract he now has with Edinburgh Rugby.

Taylor shone for Caledonia Reds in the opening match of their amateur District Championship winning campaign in 2000 and was selected that night as man of the match by Ian Rankin, Edinburgh's manager who is now hoping Taylor will prove his fitness at Kirkcaldy's Beveridge Park today in what is considered a north-east derby even though 100 miles separate the clubs.

The flanker's success has seen him followed to Aberdeen by Damian Reidy, the club's new coach who replaced John Fleming, the All Black who guided them to promotion, and three more Aussies Reidy brought with him from Brisbane, Rod Seib, who has made nine provincial appearances for Queensland, Tim Dinnen, and Mark O'Brien, who misses today's game due to an ankle injury.

As he re-joined Aberdeen for training on Thursday Taylor reported that his former countrymen have been very much caught up in the excitement of the sense of something special taking place.

''I'm pretty good friends with Damian and he said it's just been fantastic, the whole club atmosphere and the way the locals seem to be really getting into it especially now they are first division,'' he said.

Taylor was, too, dismissive of complaints that have been voiced this week that club players should not be mixing with full-time professionals.

''It is a lot more physical in the standard we're playing just because everyone's professional and are doing weights every day and speed training,'' he acknowledged. ''However, the Premier One players especially, do their own weights and there's not as much of a gulf as you might think and I think we can hopefully pass on things we've learned and hopefully bring something else to the team.''

Since the voice of Finlay Calder, Gala's coach, was once again the most strident on the subject of that gulf, the fact that Edinburgh have released Gordon Ross, arguably the most influential player in club rugby over the past three years and who earned his pro contract because of that, to travel to Netherdale with Heriot's FP might almost be seen as a bit provocative.

That, though, is perhaps a charge best laid at Calder's door, since any attempt at serious consideration of his comments is rather undermined by the context of his close confidant Ian Barnes, the Hawick coach, having used a similar platform to claim last season that his men would beat the then Edinburgh Reivers.

Given Calder's opposition to the current domestic rugby structure, perhaps the fairest interpretation then is that he is indulging in mischief making, something for which he has been famed dating back to his time as Lions captain in 1989 and particularly in his goading of England's back-row during the 1990 Grand Slam.

Those for whom he would now make life difficult, Jim Telfer, the national director of rugby, and Ian McGeechan, the national coach, were his mentors then and know him too well to be wrong-footed as they attempt to create a modern club scene geared towards aspiring internationalists and professionals, who should only be motivated by any suggestion that they cannot compete with those they hope to join or perhaps even replace.

Nowhere is the need for such an avenue more evident than at Stirling County, where the famed youth system could now be about to move into its own with Eddie Pollock, their coach, having openly stated his intention to make the club into an academy-style set-up.

Their young pack may have some difficulties in coping with the more nuggety individuals in the first division, but their line-up exudes long-term promise both from the club's point of view and Scottish rugby's.