MARK DODSON claimed this week that the BT Premiership is the “weakest amateur tier of rugby in the UK”.
Didn’t provide any evidence. Doesn’t have to. It’s Mark’s way or the highway in modern Scottish rugby.
But … it might just be that he is talking complete cobblers. Why not make your own judgement? All you need to do is head along to The Greenyards or Malleny Park this Saturday afternoon when there is some do-or-die rugby on the cards involving the top four clubs in the country.
If it is as crap as the SRU’s chief executive says it is, then at least you’ll know. But maybe – just maybe – it might be worth supporting.
And a pint in the clubhouse bar afterwards to anyone who spots Mark Dodson there!
THE LOWDOWN –
MELROSE v WATSONIANS
VENUE: The Greenyards @ 3.00pm
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, G Taylor, C Jackson©, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Anderson, N Beavon, J Head, A Runciman, I Moody, G Runciman©, A Miller. Subs: R Ferguson, D Elkington, R McLeod, R Knott, B Colvine, G Wood, P Anderson.
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, M Allen, D Innes, E Miller; R Hutton, A Harris; N Fraser, S Crombie, N Borel, E Dods, C Borthwick©, J Miller, G Nelson, M Fedo. Subs: D Miller, F Hobbis, K Whyte, A O’Neill, W Thomson, E Fox, R Steele.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: The Club XV players who missed last weekend are back. Grant Runciman returns from injury to lead the team. After a couple of weeks away, Ali Miller is once again released by Edinburgh to start for the 14th time this season, while Ruaridh Knott will be desperate to make an impact off the bench. Patrick Anderson is on the bench after returning from injury last weekend.
Watsonians: Nathan Borel comes in for Kyle Whyte at tight-head prop and Mark Bertram comes in for Rory Steele on the right wing. Playmaker Ewan Fox is back from injury and on the bench.
KEY BATTLE: James Head versus Craig Borthwick
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Excitement has been building all week. It is sure to be a cracking game with both teams playing exciting brands of rugby. Watsonians have some really dangerous attackers spread throughout their squad and have scored a massive 582 points throughout their Premiership campaign to date. We have prepared well this week and hopefully the large crowd that is expected will be treated to a high level and entertaining game of rugby …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
“Following a disappointing performance against Ayr in which we were dominated up front, the squad have been working hard over the last fortnight to address this area and consolidate a lot of what has been going well for us since November. Melrose away in the play-offs is certainly no easy task. However, I believe it to be a task that the Watsonians boys will relish. Melrose have a formidable driving game and a potent set of backs with ball in hand. Only our best will do in order to reach the Grand Final …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
VERDICT: Melrose have not been quite so dominant since the turn of the year, although last week’s embarrassing 38-3 defeat at Hawick should be viewed in the context of seven players being away on Club XV duty. Despite those mitigating circumstances, that result will have stung – and Rob Chrystie’s men will be desperate to put things right in this match.
Not that any extra motivation will be needed. Melrose know from bitter experience what it is like to dominate the regular season then fall short at the knock-out stages. Last year it was in the Grand Final to Ayr, and it would surely be even more painful to suffer the same fate in the semi-final this time round.
Watsonians embarked on an impressive run of seven straight wins in the league after losing to Melrose in a Friday night game at Myreside last November, before coming unstuck against Ayr in their final match of the regular season, which cost them third spot and left them with the unenviable task of this visit to the Greenyards.
The Edinburgh side are missing the suspended Rory Drummond, but still have a formidable back five in the scrum and a player who can change the game in the blink of an eye in Rory Hutton,
Melrose should edge it, but it is not a sure thing.
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v AYR
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 3.00pm
Currie Chiefains: H Elms; R Tagive, R Vernon, R Nelson©, B Robbins; J Forbes, C Shiel; K Burney, F Scott, A McWilliam, H Bain, V Wright, M Vernel, T Gordon, L Crosbie. Subs: G Carson, C MacKintosh, S Ainslie, S McGinley, R Davies, M O’Neil, C Gray.
Ayr: G Anderson; R Hughes, R Fergusson, F Climo, C Gossman; S Lyle, D Armstrong; R Hislop, L Anderson, S Longwell, G Hunter, R McAlpine, B Macpherson, T Spinks, P McCallum©. Subs: D Young, J Agnew, Michael Badenhorst, G Stokes, H Warr, P Dewhirst, M Davidson
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: Ratu Tagive [on a partnership contract], Luke Crosbie and Richie Vernon are all released by Glasgow Warriors, and Vincent Wright returns from international duty with Holland, to start in the 2nd row.
Ayr: Pete McCallum and Tommy Spinks return from injury to start in the back-row. Behind the scrum, Rory Hughes is released by Glasgow Warriors and Robbie Fergusson is released by the Scotland 7s squad to play on the wing and at outside centre respectively. Retiring stalwart Scott Sutherland drops out of the squad through injury.
KEY BATTLE: Robbie Nelson versus Frazier Climo
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“With almost a full squad to pick from and a few pros released there have been some real selection headaches and some difficult conversations this week. Having not played for a few weeks we have made the most of the preparation time and we hope this pays dividends on the day. Ayr are a side who have a track record of performing in big games and have already beaten us on our own patch this season, so I am sure they will travel with every belief they can make another play-off final. For us, it’s great to be in another semi-final and even better to be at Malleny, but the aim is to make history and reach our first Grand Final. These days are usually pretty special occasions at Malleny, the pre-match lunch sold out in record time, the weather forecast is good and I am sure Ayr will bring a vocal travelling support. It’s set up to be a cracker so hopefully the whole rugby community turn out and we can put on a worthy show …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Cheiftains)
“Currie have been in great form this season and are deserving of their home semi-final. The two sides have enjoyed three tough encounters so far this season, with the last two going down to the final play. Malleny Park is a tough venue to go at the best of times but we will take confidence from our outing there earlier in the season and know that we have to put in an 80-minute performance in order to progress to the BT Premiership Grand Final …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
VERDICT: Chieftains have home advantage by virtue of finishing higher in the league, but Ayr have a 2-1 record in the head-to-head contests this season, and they also came out on top in the one game they played at Malleny Park – although that 15-24 victory was back in September and an awful lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.
The Chieftains have grown immeasurably over the course of this campaign, and although there has been an odd hiccup along the way – such as Marr at home in their penultimate league match – they have developed into a very efficient and well-rounded side under Ben Cairns. Their performance in beating Melrose at Malleny in January was mesmerising.
It has been a frustrating old season for the men in pink and black, as they have lurched from triumph to disaster like disorientated drunk on a disco dance floor. When the tune has been right, they have burst into form in spectacular style, as Melrose, Watsonians and indeed the Chieftains have discovered. But it hasn’t taken much to knock them off their rhythm, as shown by Glasgow Hawks, Hawick and Heriot’s, as well as by Melrose and Watsonians when inflicting heavy defeats at Millbrae.
The fact that they are away from home should not be regarded as too great an obstacle by Ayr given that eight of their 13 wins in the league this season have been on the road – but they will have to play better than they have done all year to get a result here.