TOMMY SPINKS has informed Glasgow Hawks that he will be playing for Ayr next season, which is certain to add an extra edge to this weekend’s BT Cup semi-final clash between the two sides at Millbrae [kick-off at 3pm on Saturday].
An indication of what Hawks think of this news can be gleaned from the fact that captaincy of the side has been shifted from Spinks to prop Stephen Findlay, although the number eight has retained his place in the starting fifteen.
Spinks has been a key man for Hawks since returning to Scotland at the start of the season after a year playing for Jersey Reds in the English Championship.
Ayr are losing Will Bordill (who has taken a job in London) next season, so the arrival of the former Scotland Under-20 cap will ensure that head coach Calum Forrester continues to have serious strength in depth at his disposal in the back-row.
Hawks were left feeling short-changed after centre Brendan McGroarty was sent-off early in the second half when the two sides met at Millbrae back in mid-October. That red card was later rescinded, which came as little comfort to the wronged team, who ended up losing the match 39-13.
The return match at Old Anniesland at the start of February was not as controversial but even that 7-36 defeat could not dent Hawks head coach Finlay Gillies’ belief in his side.
“I’m extremely confident. We didn’t play well in the first half against Ayr when we went down there earlier in the season, but we had a few chances and we were still in it before the sending off killed us. Ayr are a really good team, but we genuinely believe we can compete,” said Gillies.
“We’ve trained hard for this game for the last three weeks and we’ve talked a lot about how we are going down there to play a game of rugby, and we are not going to let emotion get in the way of what we are trying to do,” he added.
Over at The Greenyards, Melrose host Stirling County this weekend in the other BT Cup semi-final. The Borderers ran out 7-30 victors when the two sides met a fortnight ago in a re-arranged league fixture at Bridgehaugh, and their form over the course of the season entitles them to start the match as clear favourites – but County have been boosted by the return of a raft of Scotland Under-20 players as well as the release from Glasgow Warriors of three full-time professionals.
Whether that is enough to upset the odds against a team which has also been bolstered by the availability of several key men who have been missing in recent weeks remains to be seen. Jamie Bhatti is back after providing prop cover at Glasgow Warriors during the Six Nations window; while Neil Irvine-Hess (starting at blindside flanker), Nick Beavon and Craig Jackson (both on bench) return from injury.
In the BT National Shield semi-finals, Murrayfield Wanderers make the long trip north to take on Gordonians, while Carrick will look to take another step towards retaining the trophy they lifted last year when they host Hawick Harlequins.
In the BT National Bowl, Blairgowrie host Strathendrick and Moray welcome Portobello to Morriston Park.
THE LOWDOWN –
MELROSE v STIRLING COUNTY
VENUE: Greenyards @ 3.00pm
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, N Godsmark, G Taylor, S Pecqueur; J Baggott, M McAndrew; J Bhatti, R Anderson, R McLeod, J Head, R Knott, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: C McKay, D Elkington, N Beavon, A Grieve, B Colvine, C Jackson, G Wood.
Stirling: J Hope©; S MacDonald, S Johnson, A Black, L Trotter; R Jones, N Kenatale; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, H Burr, A Sinclair, A Taylor, C Fusaro, R Leishman. Subs: M Emmison, F Bradbury, M Hunter, A Grant-Suttie, C Pringle, L Bonar, A McLean.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: Jamie Bhatti is back at loose-head prop after a successful six weeks with Glasgow Warriors as cover during the Six Nations window. Neil Irvine-Hess will look to put an injury ravged few months behind him with his first of the calendar year at blindside flanker. On the bench, Nick Beavon is released by Edinburgh and Craig Jackson is back from injury.
Stirling: The visitors are bolstered by the return of props Adam Nicol and Fergus Bradbury, centre Craig Pringle and winger Logan Trotter from Scotland under-20 duty; but Callum Hunter-Hill – who captained the age-grade side throughout the Six Nations – is not available. Chris Fusaro, Sam Johnson and Nemia Kenatale all start after being released by Glasgow Warriors.
KEY BATTLE: Jamie Bhatti versus Adam Nicol
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Stirling will be at full strength and desperate to prolong their season with a final at Murrayfield. We have prepared well and understand the challenges of playing a semi-final. The squad is totally focused on putting in a performance that we and our home supporters can be proud of. With the Greenyards looking excellent and a big crowd expected, Saturday’s game is sure to be exciting …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
“We are pretty much at full strength and the team are excited for this weekend’s game and are determined to put in a performance against a very good Melrose side. With the weather looking good, and the team having trained well the past two weeks in preparation for the game, the whole club is looking forward to this trip to the Greenyards …” – David Adamson (Stirling)
VERDICT: That winning habit is crucial for the hosts
AYR v GLASGOW HAWKS
VENUE: Millbrae @ 3pm
Ayr: G Anderson; D McCluskey, A Russell, R Curle, C Gossman; F Climo, D Armstrong; G Hunter, L Anderson, S Longwell, R McAlipne, S Sutherland, B MacPherson, W Bordill, P McCallum©. Subs: D Young, D Sears-Duru, A Prentice, G Henry, H Warr, S McDowall, R Dalgleish.
Hawks: H Schulte; J Bulumakau, J Steele, B McGroarty, K Gossman; J Henderson, A Lowry; S Findlay©, G Stewart, G Strain, G Peterson, A Kirkland, R Miller, S Leckey, T Spinks. Subs: S Rodgers, C Barnes, A Linton, T Uainivi, E Oag, S Yacoubian, D Milne.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: The hosts are at full strength. Will Bordill has relocated to London but is flying north at weekends in order to see out the season with the club.
Hawks: Josh Henderson returns from Scotland Under-20 duty to start at stand-off but back-rower Bruce Flockhart has pulled out with an injury. Glasgow Warriors have released Greg Peterson, Tijuee Unainivi and Junior Bulumakau.
KEY BATTLE: Pete McCallum versus Tommy Spinks
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“There will be a few disappointed individuals who have not made the match-day 22 but the attitude and effort from the entire senior squad to keep the quality of training high over the last few weeks is testament to the spirit plus strength and depth we have at the club. The teams know each other well and Fin will have done his analysis and have his side well-drilled going into this weekend. Hawks are a dangerous side and pose threats throughout their team so our defence is going to be key…” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
“We are now into the business end of the season and play our first of two back-to-back semi-finals against Ayr over the next two weekends. Ayr have beaten us twice already this season so we know the enormity of the task that faces us this weekend. Ayr are an extremely physical team and have no real obvious weaknesses in their squad or game play. We do believe that we are more than good enough to beat Ayr and look forward to challenging our best against their best.…” – Finlay Gillies (Hawks)
VERDICT: Ayr make it a hat-trick