BT Cup final: County quietly confident of upsetting the odds

Peter Jericevich in action for Stirling County
Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

MELROSE may be firm favourites to win the BT Cup final, but there are several reasons why Stirling County can go into the game with realistic hopes of upsetting the odds.

For a start, whereas the new league champions put many teams to the sword home and away in the Premiership, County did not too badly at either Bridgehaugh or the Greenyards, losing 27-40 at home and just 20-7 away. The latter game took place only last month, and, having been without a few key players thttp://Melrose muscle past Stirling in gritty contesthat day, player/coach Peter Jericevich is confident that a stronger line-up can at least be even more competitive in this third meeting of the season.

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Certainly, County at their best are capable of being more than a match for anyone. They showed as much in the semi-final when they beat Hawick 51-19, and the scrum-half, who is also assistant coach to the national women’s team, believes they are in the right frame of mind to put in a similar performance this afternoon.

“The problem with us this year has been the consistency with the teams we’ve been putting out,” Jericevich said. “I think we’ve used 49 players in the league. At the same time, that gives exposure to our 2nd and 3rd XV players to a good level.

“But to be successful we have to have our strongest teams on the pitch. In the cup, especially in the semi-final, we had a strong team out and it’s the same for Saturday. That’s exciting for us.

“Melrose have been the form team this year and for the past couple of years. It has been them and Ayr fighting it out at the top. We haven’t been fighting it out in the league recently and it’s the first time we’ve been in the cup final, so it’s a really exciting challenge for us to play against the best team in the country. Hopefully we’ll rise to it.

The Bridgehaugh match in the first 14 minutes they scored three tries. The last 66 we ‘won’ the game. Nineteen-nil down was a big ask to come back from; it finished 40-27. We can take confidence from that.

“Down at the Greenyards we were missing a lot of our first team. We’ve given them a good performance both times but not with our strongest team. So hopefully on Saturday we will pose challenges.”

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Greater Expectations

In his first season as player/coach after moving on from being head of performance at GHA, Jericevich has arguably exceeded expectations already by reaching a national final.

Stirling were in mid-table for most of the league season, ensuring safety with a bit to spare. They have been frustratingly inconsistent in some games, but when given adequate time to prepare – as was the case in that semi-final at home to Hawick – they have proven themselves capable of putting in some impressive performances.

“Our league position in terms of being safe was wrapped up after the Hawks game in mid-February,” Jericevich reflected. “From then to the end of March we had a lot of preparation time for the Hawick semi.

“Same from then until now: we’ve had four weeks, and it’s given guys with niggles to get back to full fitness again. Also as a coaching team to have a really in-depth look at the opposition.

“Melrose have more layers to their game than Hawick. They’ve had the Premiership final and their Sevens, but we’ll have freshness and intensity.”

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County Heritage

County  may never have won the cup since its inception in 1996, but they were the most successful club in the country a couple of years before that, winning the league in season 1994-95 with a team which included Scotland internationals such as Kenny Logan, Ian Jardine and Kevin McKenzie. At 29, Jericevich may not remember that far back, but he is very conscious of the legacy of those days, and of the desire within the club to emulate them.

“From a personal point of view, as a player and coach it’s been my reasoning to go to Stirling – to win silverware. I saw the potential: there’s that great youth section, but it’s never transferred to the senior side since 1995.

“The aim of the whole squad is to win. Ian Jardine is our second XV coach. There’s a lot of guys still around the club who were involved in that ’95 team, on the committee or Ian in coaching. We’ll use the experience we have at the club to give the guys an insight into how to win trophies and realise the opportunity we have.”

Stirling County (v Melrose at Murrayfield, Saturday 4.30pm): J Hope; N Matawalu, E Macgarvie, L Bonar, K Gossman; R Curle, P Jericevich; R Chies, R Kennedy, G Holborn, J Beech, H Burr, L Wynne, S Macdonald, R Leishman. Substitutes: M Emmison, A Nicol, J Pow, S Yarrow, G Gilliland, C Robertson, A McLean.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1412 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.