It is all change in the RBS Premiership this season and Kevin Wyness, Aberdeen Grammar's new coach, is certainly determined to avoid the early-season fortunes experienced by the Rubislaw club 12 months ago. At one stage, the club were in serious relegation trouble, following a series of agonising, last-gasp losses, but that was the prelude to a terrific recovery, which almost enabled them to claim a British & Irish Cup place.

With Wyness having replaced Alex Duncan at the helm, there is already a buzz of anticipation around the team as they prepare for an opening-day joust with newly-promoted Hawick in the Borders.

"We are in a transitional period with a new coaching team and some fresh faces, while we have a fairly young squad, so I would be delighted to make the top four [one place better than last time]," said Wyness. "We are keen to expose the younger lads to the pressures at this level and players such as Angus Rennie, Calum Gordon, Luke Earle-Wright and Cameron Turner will all get their chance to compete."

As the north east's sole representatives in the tournament's highest tier, Wyness and his players have the ideal opportunity to prove their mettle on Saturday. In the past, the trek to Mansfield Park might have been regarded as a mission impossible for the Aberdonians, but if their pack can maintain their improvement and their backs can shine as much in defence as they do when moving forward, there is no reason they cannot be optimistic.

Their squad features several new faces, including Harry Duthie (formerly of Dundee HSFP), Struan and Rob Cessford (from Heriots), Tom Preece (from North Harbour Marist) and Jamie Metcalfe (from Manurewa Premiers), the latter of whom should be easy to spot, given he is a 6ft 7in lock with a reputation for tackling as if his life depended on it. Yet, they will be equally reliant on such stalwarts as their new captain, Greig Ryan.

"The appointment of Greig is another building block, which has been put in place, on top of the new signings," said Wyness. "I am delighted to be working alongside someone with his experience and enthusiasm. Indeed, we are fortunate to have a squad with a number of natural leaders."

Realistically, it might be asking too much for the city side to mount a sustained title charge, although they claimed several notable scalps in 2012/13 and have a potent mix of innate flair and in-your-face aggression.

However, their coach is rightly cautious of making any grand predictions and anticipates the reigning champions setting the pace again. "I expect Ayr to continue to set the standard," said Wyness.


Peter Laverie has big shoes to fill at Millbrae. But if the long-time assistant to Kenny Murray, who has moved on to Glasgow Warriors, is apprehensive about the coming months, he is keeping it well concealed.

Ayr might have been one of Scotland's most successful clubs in the last five years, having secured a brace of league titles while enjoying significant success in the Scottish Cup and British & Irish Cup, but Laverie's approach is that grassroots organisations only thrive by constantly reinventing themselves and nurturing the next generation. He recognises that his team could hardly have been given a stiffer test this weekend than a trip to Bridgehaugh to tackle Stirling County. But the coach is clearly relishing the opportunity to march into the spotlight and continue the excellent job done by his predecessor.

His priorities accentuate the importance he attaches to the work being done behind the scenes at the club. "My hopes are that we can build on last year's achievements by performing well in the B&I Cup, that we can all rise to the challenge of maintaining our standards in the league, and, most importantly, that we continue to be a close-knit and committed squad with an excellent team spirit," said Laverie.

"It's difficult to assess who the main threats will be this time. Last season's campaign was so tight all the way that I think most of the sides can cause problems and beat anybody else.

"I'm sure that, as defending champions, the rest will all be trying to knock us down, so we need to be ready for that. It will be interesting to see Melrose under John Dalziel's direction [he has replaced Craig Chalmers], and Kevin Wyness will be raring to go up in Aberdeen. George Graham will definitely have his Gala troops fired up, Currie will be competitive, and I expect Stirling County to be stronger, too."

Ayr have recruited a few fresh faces, including James Malcolm, the Scotland Under-20 hooker; Fergus Scott, the younger brother of Scotland centre, Matt; Callum Templeton, who originally came from Dumfries RFC; David Armstrong, a scrum-half from Castle Douglas, who has joined Ayr after completing his studies at Glasgow University; and Robin Shirra-Gibb, a winger, who has taken up a teaching post at Ayr Academy.

They have also retained the bulk of the squad which swept all before them last winter.

"We have a good crop of youngsters who have come through from the Under-18s, and guys such as Gavin Lowe, Danny McCluskey, Finlay McMillan and Stewart Penny will be doing their utmost to get into our first XV squad," said Laverie. "I think Fergus [Scott] will be worth keeping an eye on, as will [stand-off] Finn Russell, who has returned from his visit to New Zealand as part of the John McPhail Scholarship. Robbie Fergusson is continuing to impress and he has been training pre-season with the Warriors. So this is an exciting time."