Departing Kelso head coach Kevin Utterson leaves the club “in a much better” place than when he joined four years ago.  

The former Scotland international initially returned to his hometown club as backs coach in May 2020 with the club fourth from bottom in National League Division 1.  

Under his guidance, and with support from forwards coach Bruce McNeil and director of rugby Neil Hinnigan, the club finished fourth in the Premiership in the season just finished.  

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Hinnigan praised Utterson for his efforts during his time in charge.  

He said: “When Kev came back during Covid we were looking to find our identity and get a bit of pride back in the jersey. He is a Kelso legend so he was the ideal man to rally the troops. 

“He had the players’ respect from really early and he was dynamite on a game day. He always said the right things and the players really took to him.  

"We really needed him these last few years and we will miss him, but he feels it’s the right time to go.” 

Hinnigan said family commitments were behind Utterson’s decision to step aside. He will be replaced by McNeil, who will share the co-head coach role with former Scotland wing Nikki Walker.  

Walker is currently an assistant coach at the Watsonians franchise in the soon-to-be scrapped Super Series.  Hinnigan said attracting the 24-times capped Scotland international is a real coup for the club.  

Scotland Rugby News: Nikki Walker celebrates scoring one of his six tries for ScotlandNikki Walker celebrates scoring one of his six tries for Scotland (Image: SNS)

He added: “We knew Kev was leaving from the end of March so we went through a bit of a process.  

“We looked at different options, then about three weeks ago we realised Nikki wasn’t applying for the Watsonians club [head coach] job, we went to speak to him and he was quite impressed.” 

Hinnigan expects an influx of former Super Series players into an expanded 12-team Premiership next season.  

He believees that will improve the standard of the top flight, and said Walker’s appointment will help Kelso “bridge the gap” from the current campaign.  

"We know we might need to upskill players quickly and we felt Nikki would be able to do that given he’s been in the Super Series environment, but also with his experience from the Scotland under-20s as well.  

“He’s got good experience and he can give us a bit more professionalism. We’re absolutely delighted to have him on board.

“He’s been in the Scottish Rugby pyramid and he can bring some new ideas around what we need to compete in the Premiership.” 

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The club have recruited former Southern Knights flanker Harry Borthwick, and Hinnigan expects more new faces at Poynder Park before the start of pre-season. 

He added: “We probably need to recruit one or two players to help with that, as well as continuing to bring on the young players because that has been paying dividends for us.  

“The likes of Ayr, Melrose, Heriot’s and Watsonians have all been in that semi-pro environment – the level won’t be quite as high as Super Series, but it’ll be somewhere between that and where we were last year.  

“We need to take a big step forward if we’re to be competitive in the division and Nikki is a big part of that.” 

McNeil will combine his coaching role with continuing to play, while another ex-professional player, former Edinburgh man Grant Sheills will assist with front row and defence coaching, and Kenny Gibson is the club’s strength and conditioning coach.  

Utterson signed off by helping Kelso to the Kings of the Sevens title and Hinnigan said that was a fitting way for the three-times capped Scotland centre to bow out.

Scotland Rugby News: The Kelso squad celebrate winning the Kings of the Sevens titleThe Kelso squad celebrate winning the Kings of the Sevens title (Image: Kelso RFC)

 “He deserved that,” the director of rugby said.  

He added: “I had to convince him to get involved four years ago but he’s so glad that he did. At that point, it would have been an easy sell if I’d said ‘we’ll win National 1 and we’ll win all these sevens tournaments.’ I’m sure he would’ve jumped at it.  

“That wasn’t the case. It was about picking Kelso back up from where they were and trying to get respect that. Kev took the plunge and he’s had a great time of it for the past four years. 

“I understand why he wants to step aside now – we’d have loved another year out of him, but he’s left on great terms.”