THE penultimate weekend of the Super Series Championship regular season saw three of the four semi-finalists locked in, while victory for Stirling Wolves over Southern Knights in the Friday night game means their destiny is in their own hands in the battle for the fourth semi-final slot going into the final round of games this weekend. And as the World Cup has just demonstrated, three one-point wins over the next three weekends makes the unlikely event of Wolves winning the overall title a viable possibility.
If they were to do so, Glenn Bryce will be a key player for them in that achievement. Returning to the game after a year’s retirement, the former Scotland 7s internationalist has improved week on week and was flawless on Friday night, in defence and attack. His try double made his selection at full-back this week an easy shout. Jack Hocking impressed for the Future XV with good passing off both hands, and with courageous defending against the significantly bulkier Jamie Shedden.
On the wings, three of this season’s most prolific try scorers stood out this week. Jack Blain looked at his very best in completing a hat-trick at Goldenacre, taking him to an impressive nine tries in just three games. Aidan Cross’s fine double for the Southern Knights against the Wolves put him onto nine also, and demonstrated both his ability as a try poacher and as a scorer of great tries. His continued development will surely keep professional scouts interested. Amena Caqusau scored his own double, taking him to eight tries this season, and was instrumental in the Future XV’s other try, so was unaminous choice as man-of-the-match at Millbrae. Each of these three deserves a place in the selection, but we can only accommodate two. You may or may not agree with our selection!
There was some anxiety around Goldenacre with Grant Hughes being out injured but George Barber moved into the No 12 shirt with effortless ease and as well as showing previously unheralded playmaking abilities, found time to score his fourth try of the season. He edges out his opposite number Lewis Berg, who became the 11th player to reach 50 games in Super Series fixtures (the third Watsonian), and was his usual solid self on Saturday. Outside Barber, it’s a close call between the Knights’ Patrick Anderson who has now made more appearances for the Knights than any other player, and his opposite number Ryan Southern who ran a typically inventive run to score a brilliantly incisive try. But, apart from his try, Southern had a relatively quiet game, while Anderson was busy all evening, showing up well with robust defence, and energetic attacking, so he wins our No 13 shirt.
Liam Richman got a rare opportunity to start in the 10 shirt for Heriot’s, and showed his all-round ability, orchestrating the talented backs outside him, and working hard off the ball at times (noticeably for Barber’s try) to distract Watsonians defenders, but on this occasion Isaac Coates just edges selection after a highly promising display for the Future XV. A succesful 50-22, a number of influential grubber kicks, accurate passing, and good game management all demonstrated the young playmakers potential, but perhaps most of all, his ability to keep his head up and focus on the next job in hand after a couple of his kicks were charged down demonstrated a resilience which will be key as he progresses through his career. Harris Rutherford had another cameo for the Knights that he can add to his show reel, with a couple of Russell-esque pieces of skill. It is to be hoped he and Aminio Bogidrau of Ayrshire Bulls, who is capable of similar creativity, continue to be given encouragement to play high-risk high-reward rugby as they both show rich promise as incisive running 10s.
Fergus Johnston came off the bench for the Bulls, and scored the match winning try for his side in the tight encounter at Millbrae, so wins the scrum-half berth ahead of Finlay Burgess who was solidly consistent for the opposition throughout the game.
The Future XV had a tough time in the scrum in the first half against the Bulls, but there was something of a shift in dynamic in the second half, and one of the reasons for that appeared to be the arrival of Tom Banatvala at loose-head at half time. He really has come back with huge energy this ‘Series’ after a long time out injured. On the opposite side of the front-row, the return of Marius Tamosaitis made a significant difference to Stirling Wolves according to his coach Eddie Pollock, while Dan Gamble put himself about to good effect for the Knights, but Euan McLaren seems to be peaking nicely as we reach the business end of the season and his muscular frame claimed a forwards try so that the Heriot’s backs didn’t get all the glory for their victory.
Between that pair, the hugely experienced Cal Davies of Watosnians claims the hooking slot not least for his solo effort from a tap penalty in which he surged over the line with half the Heriot’s pack clinging to him. His team-mate Fin Duraj and Alex McGuire of the Bulls both came off the bench to score tries for their respective sides, while 17-year-old Gordonian school boy Joe Roberts looked the part when he came on as early sub for the Wolves, and held his own in both the set-piece and the loose. After Ollie Blyth-Lafferty he is the second under-18 player to be given game-time this series, so is another clear indicator of the determination of SRU academy coaches to give their young charges early exposure to this level of rugby.
In the second-row we’ve opted for Tom Smith who had an unexpected start for the Wolves after Hamish Ferguson pulled out injured and continued the progress he has shown throughout this series from the bench with an energetic performance. Alongside him, his opposite number Allan Ferrie did enough to put himself in the selection mix, while Rauraidh Hart’s line-out steal against the Bulls led directly to the Future XV’s third try, but Ed Bloodworth was one of the few Bulls players who turned up ready to play with his usual 100 percent work-rate during his 40 minute on the park and he wins selection for our XV.
The Future XV back-row all made a claim for inclusion, with Freddy Douglas continuing to show huge attacking potential on the openside, Tom Currie winning a couple of turnovers through his impressive work at the breakdown, and Johnny Morris clearing up impressively at the rear of a retreating scrum for most of the game. But in the end they all lose out narrowly to players who had big games for other teams. Lewis McNamara dominated the line-out at Millbrae and showed why he has cemented his place as a key player for the Bulls this season across the back five forwards. Rauridh Knott set the Wolves on their way to their important victory with an early try double, but team-mate Connor Gordon, finally making his 50th appearance for his side after a delay for a couple of weeks because of suspension, edges him for the other flanker spot because of a hugely influential display that demonstrated exactly why Wolves may have struggled the last two weeks in his absence. Between them, Harry Borthwick completes our selection in the No 8 shirt after competing ferociously for the Knights for 79 minutes, before he was unluckily yellow carded in the final minute along with Ben Afshar, after Mikey Heron ran and barged into Borthwick from behind and a melee broke out among both teams as a result.
15. Glenn Bryce (Stirling Wolves)
14. Amena Caqusau (Future XV)
13. Patrick Anderson (Southern Knights)
12. George Barber (Heriot’s)
11. Jack Blain (Heriot’s)
10. Isaac Coates (Future XV)
9. Fergus Johnston (Ayrshire Bulls)
1. Tom Banatvala (Future XV)
2. Cal Davies (Watsonians)
3. Euan McLaren (Heriot’s)
4. Tom Smith (Stirling Wolves)
5, Ed Bloodworth (Ayrshire Bulls)
6. Lewis McNamara (Ayrshire Bulls)
7. Connor Gordon (Stirling Wolves)
8. Harry Borthwick (Southern Knights)
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