AFTER last week’s frost disruption, it looks like a full schedule of matches in the BT Premiership is on the cards this Saturday.
It’s a huge game for Heriot’s at Goldenacre. After a couple of disappointing defeats to Hawick and Watsonians, it is vital they get their 2018 kick-started with a victory over play-off rivals Ayr. If results go against Phil Smith’s side this weekend then they could find themselves six points adrift in the race for a top-four finish, with just three games left to play.
Meanwhile, having played and won in the only game to get the go-ahead last week, Ayr were able to move up to second in the table – although they have played a game more than Currie Chieftains, who are two points behind. So, there is plenty at stake for the men in pink and black as well as they focus in on a home draw in the play-offs.
Chieftains travel to Bridgehaugh to take on Stirling in good fettle after that inspiring victory over Melrose a fortnight ago. They are missing their professional contingent from that game, but Charlie Shiel, Jamie Forbes and Robbie Nelson demonstrated whilst playing for the Club XV against Scotland Under-20s on Tuesday night that they are a potent midfield triumvirate.
With Fergus Scott and Hamish Bain both back in harness after lengthy injury lay-offs, and Thomas Gordon getting better and better with every game, the Chieftains pack has a bit of buzz about it too.
It is going to be a tough mission for Stirling County, but they have a few big match players in their side as well and player-coach Peter Jericevich reckons his charges are due a big performance.
Watsonians have built up a serious head of steam in recent months and will await with relish the arrival of a Glasgow Hawks outfit low on momentum after five straight defeats in the league.
It is out of the frying pan and into the fire for Peter Wright’s Boroughmuir. Having ground out a gritty – and perhaps slightly fortunate – victory away to fellow strugglers Marr in their last outing (which should see them steer clear of automatic relegations this year), they now head down to Mansfield Park to take on a rejuvenated Hawick, who they are vying against to avoid a second-bottom finish (which wold mean a treacherous relegation play-off against the second top team in National One). Boroughmuir start the weekend two points behind Hawick with a game in hand.
The visitors are missing Archie Erskine and Dan Marek – rested by Scotland Under-20s – while the home team are boosted by having three Edinburgh pros released, including Scotland star John Hardie (making his comeback after a three-month suspension for alleged cocaine use) and local hero Darcy Graham.
Top visit bottom with Melrose making their way through to Troon to take on Marr, but the Borderers will not be taking this expedition lightly. After a rip-roaring start to the season, they have lost their last two games on the bounce – against Ayr at home and Chieftains away – so are in desperate in need of a nerve-settling win. A few teams have come a cropper on the tight pitch at Fullarton Park already this season, and although Marr have not won in the league since the start of November, they demonstrated in last week’s Ayrshire derby that they still have the capacity to be ferociously competitive.
If they are going to drop back out of the top flight after just one year then you can bet your last dollar that they will go down fighting – and what better way to cause a stooshie than by beating the league leaders in front of your own, partisan crowd.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
HERIOT’S v AYR
VENUE: Goldenacre @ 2pm
Heriot’s: R Jones; C Simpson, L Steele, R Mulveena, R Kay; S Edwards (YCx1), T Wilson; E Millar-Mills, M Liness, S Cessford (YCx2), C Marshall, A Sinclair, I Wilson (YCx1), J McLean (YCx1), J Turley. Subs: A Johnstone, M Bouab (YCx1), R Carmichael©, C Robertson.
Ayr: G Anderson© (YCx3); R Nairn, D McCluskey, F Climo (YCx1), C Gossman; S Lyle, D Armstrong; R Hislop (YCx1), L Anderson, S Longwell (YCx1), B Macpherson (YCx1), S Sutherland (YCx4), T Spinks, G Stokes, P McCallum (YCx1). Subs: R Sayce, G Hunter (YCx1), J Agnew (YCx2), P Dewirst, M Davidson.
TEAM NEWS –
Heriot’s: At loose-head prop, Elliot Millar-Mills is released by Edinburgh which means Martin Bouab drops to the bench; at blindside flanker, Iain Wilson replaces Martin Hughes who is in the Scotland Under-20 squad; and Struan Dewar returns to the match day squad and will look to make an impact off the bench. Behind the scrum, Robert Kay moves to the wing so that Liam Steele can return to his preferred position of outside-centre.
Ayr: Stafford McDowall and Robbie Smith are away with Scotland Under-20. There is a reshuffle in the backline with Scott Lyle moving to 10, Frazier Climo pushing out to McDowell’s outside centre slot, and Robbie Nairn coming onto the wing. Robin Hislop swaps back in at loose-head for George Hunter and Lewis Anderson starts at hooker for Smith.
KEY BATTLE: Jack Turley versus Pete McCallum
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Ayr have hit a bit of form which means all areas of our game will be tested. I am hoping this will force the players into an 80-minute performance, as there is no doubt when they put it together they can compete with any team in the league …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
“We showed some good moments against Marr but will have to sharpen up in a number of areas against Heriots this weekend. Heriots will be disappointed with their last couple of outings but will be raring to go as the race for a top four finish heats up …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
VERDICT: With two dismal performances against Watsonians and Hawick since their Christmas break, Heriots badly need to get the show back on the road ‘tout de suite’ to have any chance of making the play offs – but they will need to play very well to get any change out of Ayr, who look solid up front, strong at half back and still pretty reasonable in the three-quarter line, despite losing Stafford McDowall to the under 20s.
STIRLING COUNTY v CURRIE CHIEFTAINS
VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 3.00pm
Stirling County: J Hope©; L Trotter, E Macgarvie, R Curle, K Gossman; G Hughes, P Jericevich (YCx1); R Chies (YCx1), R Kennedy, A Nicol, S Yarrow, J Pow, H Burr, S Macdonald, R Leishman (YCx1). Subs: B Gilchrist, A Wood, H Henderson, L Bonar, R Swan.
Currie Chieftains: B Robbins (YCx1); G Faulds, M Hook, R Nelson©, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; K Burney, F Scott©, A McWilliam, H Bain, V Wright (YCx1), M Vernel (YCx1), T Gordon, R Davies. Subs: G Carson, C Mackintosh, S Ainslie, S McGinley, M O’Neil.
TEAM NEWS –
Stirling County: Stefan Yarrow gets his first start of the season after impressing for the 2nd XV. No pro influence from Calum Hunter-Hill [Edinburgh] or Lewis Wynne [Glasgow Warriors] this week, but the availability again of tight-head prop Adam Nicol provides the pack with extra grunt, and the release of Logan Trotter by Scotland Under-20 is a major boost.
Currie Chieftains: With Richie Vernon not released by Glasgow Warriors, Mike Vernel is able to move to his preferred position of blindside flanker, Rhys Davies shifts to number eight, and Vince Wright returns to the side in the second-row., Adam Hastings is also unavailable so Jamie Forbes moves up from full-back to stand-off; while the absence of Ratu Tagive means Matt Hooks shifts from the wing to outside centre and Glen Faulds gets an opportunity on the wing, having played there in the Scotland Under-20s trial match during the week.
KEY BATTLE: Ross Curle versus Robbie Nelson
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We are really looking forward to the visit of Currie Chieftains this weekend, who will be confident after their defeat of Melrose in their last outing. It has been frustrating with games being cancelled of late, but training has been excellent so we are hoping that will transfer into a strong performance in front of our home support at Bridgehaugh. With a strong defensive effort in our last game against Ayr, ultimately individual errors cost us the game – so the players have been working hard to ensure we improve our accuracy this weekend …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County)
“Disappointing not to play last weekend. We were keen to keep our run going, however, it has given us a chance to refocus for a big challenge away at Bridgehaugh. Stirling have been on the wrong end of several close matches this season including their last match versus Ayr, and our previous encounter at Malleny where they nearly produced an outstanding comeback. Bridgehaugh is a great place to go and play rugby, it is likely to be pretty heavy due to the inclement weather, so we know we will have to scrap for 80 minutes if we are to get the result we desire to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
VERDICT: Ben Cairns is spot-on – Bridgehaugh is a great place to play rugby – and this should be a cracker. Last time out, Stirling stuck in really well against Ayr – but, symptomatically, got careless when the pressure came on and ended up being edged out of it. No Adam Hastings, Luke Crosbie or Ritchie Vernon for Chieftains this week, but they are on a roll – and, with Jamie Forbes and Charlie Shiel co-ordinating their game, it is very difficult not to see them consolidating their spot in the play-offs.
WATSONIANS v GLASGOW HAWKS
VENUE: Myreside @ 3.00pm
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, M Allen (YCx1), D Innes, R Steele; R Hutton, A Harris; F Hobbis, R Graham (YCx1), M Christie, E Dods, C Borthwick©, J Miller, G Nelson, M Fedo (YCx1). Subs: D Miller, J Gibson, R Drummond, E Miller, W Thomson (YCx1).
Glasgow Hawks: R Houliston; E Oag, B McGroarty©, D Milne, J Couper; L Brims, P Boyer; G Strain, P Cairncross, L Skinner, S Leckey (YCx1), F Hastie (YCx2), J Spence, C Kerr (YCx1), G Adams. Subs: S Findlay, J Gemmell, S Dow, J Steele, P Steele.
TEAM NEWS –
Watsonians: Scotland Under-20 squad member Finn Hobbis starts at loose-head, while his age-grade team-mate Jamie Hodgson is rested this week. Martin Christie comes in at tight-head for Nick Fraser. Rory Steele is on the wing in place of Edinburgh pro Jason Harries. Rory Drummond made his comeback after suspension playing for the Club XV against the Under-20s on Tuesday night, and will be desperate to make up for lost time off the bench in this game.
Glasgow Hawks: With Ross Thompson, Kyle Rowe and Sam Yawayawa retained by Scotland Under-20s this week ahead of the start of the Six Nations next Friday, the door opens for Pete Steele, Jack Gemmel and Struan Dow to make their BT Premiership debuts this weekend. Some old timers also come back in to the fold in the form of the evergreen Davie Milne, Erlend Oag and Bobbie Houliston.
KEY BATTLE: Ali Harris versus Paddy Boyer
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“It was a good result a fortnight ago and the players showed excellent heart to put away a strong Heriot’s team in the end. On reflection, our set piece and some of our accuracy in attack needs to improve and we have had a focus on these areas at training. Hawks are a well-coached side who have a robust pack and an exciting group of backs. We will need to be focused in our efforts in order to overcome the challenge they present …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
“Watsonians have been in outstanding form lately and they have excellent players throughout their squad. Stevie has them playing a really exciting brand of rugby and we look forward to competing with them at Myreside this Saturday. Rory Hutton was instrumental in Watsonian’s bonus point victory at Goldenacre and we will have to watch the mercurial stand-off very closely …” – Finlay Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
VERDICT: Watsonians are the ‘form’ team in the league just now – and, with Rory Drummond making a welcome return, they must be hot favourites to extend their high-scoring four-game winning run against a Hawks side who have still not won a game since October and have been hard hit by Under-20 calls.
MARR v MELROSE
VENUE: Fullarton Park @ 2.00pm
Marr: T Buchanan; S Bickerstaff, R Dalgleish, C Bickerstaff, T Steven; C Kolarik (YCx2), G Baird; G Jackson, S Adair, F Watt, E Bulger (YCx1), R Miller (YCx1), M Pearce (YCx1), A Johnston© (YCx2), B Johnston. Subs: C Nisbet, F Ferguson K Hatherall (RCx1), F Grant, G Ness.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, N Godsmark, C Jackson, G Taylor; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Anderson (YCx1), N Beavon, A Runciman (YCx2), R Knott, I Moody, G Runciman© (YCx1), A Miller. Subs: R Ferguson, R McLeod (YCx3), J Head, R Darge, G Wood.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: Ali Miller is released by Edinburgh to start at number eight and Fraser Thomson returns from a recent health scare to provide a steady hand of experience and an innate sense of adventure at full-back. Austin Lockington starts on the wing after recovering from his broken hand and Scotland Under-18 backrower Rory Darge takes his place on the bench
KEY BATTLE: Fraser Watt versus Grant Shiels
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Marr away is going to be a huge challenge and I am sure Craig Redpath [Marr coach] will have them fired up and desperate to get the victory. We are excited to go to Fullarton Park for the first time and we understand the physical battle that we are going to face …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
VERDICT: Losing for the first time this season to Ayr had to be disappointing for Melrose – and losing their next game to the Chieftains was maybe more harrowing – but losing a third game on the trot would be an unmitigated disaster. That, however, is not going to happen – because no matter how difficult a place Fullarton Park is to go and play – no matter how pumped up Marr might be – good players do not become bad players – and when the chips are down, they will do what they need to do.
VENUE: Mansfield Park @ 3.00pm
Hawick:D Graham (YCx1); R Combe, K Davies (YCx1), D Buckley (YCx1), G Munro; L Armstrong, G Cotterill; S Muir, M Carryer, N Little, D Redpath, C Hamilton, S Graham (YCx2), J Hardie, B McNeil© (YCx1). Subs: F Renwick (YCx1), K Bryce, A Baillie, R Gibson, A Weir.
Boroughmuir: C Whyte (YCx1); M Brown, R Kerr, G Cannie (YCx1), J Edmunds; C Laidlaw©, J Adams; D Robertson, J Matthews (YCx4), T Gracie, J Ure, F Field, A Mncube (YCx1), M Walker, C Keddie. Subs: A Nethery, R Montgomery, R Ure, E McKirdy, M Hare (YCx1).
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmuir: Tom Gracie comes in for the unavailable Paul Richards, Matt Walker replaces Dan Marek, who has been rested by the Under-20’s set-up. Rob Ure comes onto the bench for what could be his first team debut.
KEY BATTLE: John Hardie versus Matt Walker
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Another huge game for both clubs. Our players know how tough this is going to be with Hawick on a great run and playing at home We have trained pretty well this week, with an extra session on Monday – but you don’t play the game on the training field …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
VERDICT: The pro draft does Boroughmuir no favours this week, accentuating what was already a stiff test into a mammoth challenge by sending them in bare at Mansfield Park against three full time pros and two Stage 3 Academy players. They can, however, take some stoical comfort from knowing that their easier end of season run-in means that a likely defeat would not necessarily condemn them to the relegation play-off.