THE BT PREMIERSHIP is a marathon not a sprint and, as with any endurance race, it is how the competitors perform during the hard grind away from the excitement of the start and the finish that sorts out the heavyweight contenders from the lightweight pretenders.
It is those long lonely yards battled through when all the elements are against the competitor, and all but the most hard-core of fans are looking elsewhere, that will define the ultimate outcome.
This weekend’s round of fixtures is one of those situations when the teams in action will feel the loneliness of a long-distance runner. While excitement levels are going through the roof about the national team kicking off their Six Nations campaign in Cardiff, eight teams have been pressed into action to fulfil fixtures which were postponed due to frozen and water-logged pitches earlier in the season.
Boroughmuir have perhaps drawn the shortest straw, with Edinburgh Leisure renting out their Meggetland base to a university American Football match, meaning that they have had to decant to Lasswade for their vital clash against Stirling County. Both teams are battling to avoid the relegation play-off – automatic relegation is also still a possibility – and it is a crying shame a match of such import has been turned into such a marginal sideshow.
Similarly, Glasgow Hawks [looking down towards the bottom of the table] and Currie Chieftains [battling for a favourable top-four play-off draw] have the potential to produce a cracker at Old Anniesland; and it will be fascinating to see which one out of hosts Watsonians or visitors Hawick manage to keep their respective five match winning streaks going at Myreside.
Meanwhile, Fullarton Park should have dried out enough for the Marr versus Melrose game, which was postponed last weekend, to go ahead. It is bottom hosting top, but the underdogs are a formidable force at home while the high-flyers do not look quite as invincible as they did during the first half of the season, having lost two games on the bounce in the New Year before kicking their heels for a fortnight while the weather has wreaked havoc on the fixture schedule.
Four exciting, and important, matches to contemplate – they deserve better.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
BOROUGHMUIR v STIRLING COUNTY
VENUE: Lasswade @ 12.30pm
Boroughmuir: G McConnell (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), R Ure, C Keddie. Subs: R Montgomery, D Marek, M Walker/T Drennan, E McKirdy, R Scott.
Stirling County: J Hope©; L Trotter, A McLean, R Curle, K Gossman; G Hughes, P Jericevich (YCx1); R Chies (YCx1), B Gilchrist, G Holborn (YCx1), J Beech, J Pow, H Henderson, S Macdonald, R Leishman (YCx1). Subs: R Kennedy, A Wood, S Yarrow, L Bonar, R Swan.
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmuir: Grant McConnell comes back in after injury in place of Ciaran Whyte, who is best man at his brother’s wedding; while there is one change in the forwards with Rob Ure starting his first game after impressing off the bench against Hawick last week.
Stirling County: The value of the club’s excellent youth academy is evident with centre Andrew McLean and back-row Harry Henderson coming in to the starting XV, alongside fellow teenager Logan Trotter on the wing. Second-row Joe Beech and prop Gary Holborn return to the pack, whilst Blair Gilchrist is promoted to hooker from the replacements. Holborn (39 years young) alongside centre Ross Curle, wing Kerr Gossman and scrum-half/coach Peter Jericevich ensure that there is a fair sprinkling of experience in the side to complement the youthful element.
KEY BATTLE: Logan Trotter versus Jordan Edmunds
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Another big game – they all are at this time of the season – ahead. Both teams looking for a valuable win to help ease the pressure …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
“After a string of disappointing results, we are determined to improve our game this week and put in a strong performance that will end our frustrating run of games. With Boroughmuir having to host the game away from home at Lasswade, we are hoping for a strong support to come down and get behind the team …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County)
VERDICT: Peter Wright takes Boroughmuir back to his Lasswade roots looking for a win to prolong their prospects of sidestepping the relegation play-off. It should be a good game between two teams who have played pretty well all season – with one of them not having had much luck – and the other continually shooting itself in the foot. It will be tight – with the greater need and ‘home’ advantage maybe shading it Boroughmuir’s way.
GLASGOW HAWKS v CURRIE CHIEFTAINS
VENUE: Old Anniesland @ 2.00pm
Glasgow Hawks: R Houliston; E Oag, R Beattie (YCx1), B McGroarty©, S Peffers; C Harrison, J Couper; S Findlay, P Cairncross, G Strain, S Leckey (YCx1), A Linton (YCx1), J Spence, C Kerr (YCx1), J Steele. Subs: E Rintoul, J Gemmell, S Dow, D Milne, L Brims.
Currie Chieftains: B Robbins (YCx1); A Paton, D Hall, R Nelson©, A Maclean; 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, C Smith.
TEAM NEWS –
Glasgow Hawks: With a raft of players either involved with Scotland Under-20’s or away to Cardiff to enjoy the national team’s Six Nations opener, there is a few new faces and a few interesting positional switches – including James Couper moving from his familiar position of wing to scrum-half and Jack Steele from centre to number eight.
Currie Chieftains: The pack and forward replacements are unchanged. A couple of changes in the backs due to unavailability and injury. David Hall, Angus Paton and Archie Maclean all come in to the back-line, while Cameron Smith takes the last spot on the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Callum Kerr versus Thomas Gordon
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Another tough weekend against a very clinical Watsonians team who managed to take every opportunity that was presented to them. Even although the score-line looked awful it didn’t quite reflect our performance which was brave and workman-like but just unfortunately missed a cutting edge and clinical finishing. Chieftains are flying high and are chasing a home semi-final so they will be coming to Old Anniesland with intentions of cementing a top four finish. We know we need to stop this rot and putting in a huge performance this weekend will be the perfect start to that …” – Fin Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
“Having weathered the storm in the first 40 minutes versus Stirling, I was really pleased with how the players started the second half. There were still some clear areas to work on, however, the application and attitude of the players could not be faulted. More of the same will be required this weekend in another tough away match. Hawks play a great brand of rugby and can score from anywhere on the pitch. I am sure they will be hurting from last week’s result and we know Fin will get a reaction out of the boys for this weekend. It looks as though the play-off spots will go down to the wire – we are in a good position at the minute and it’s important we continue that momentum with only three league games to go …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
VERDICT: A welcome return to Old Anniesland for Glasgow Hawks – but they were looking up the barrel of a loaded shotgun well before their team was decimated by the Under-20s or the lure of a social weekend in Cardiff supporting the national cause. The relegation play-off now features on the horizon as an authentic hazard, and they are not likely to get much joy out of this contest against the in-form team in the league.
WATSONIANS v HAWICK
VENUE: Myreside @ 1.00pm
Watsonians: R Steele; M Bertram, M Allen (YCx1), D Innes, J Harries; A Chalmers, A Harris; N Fraser, R Graham (YCx1), N Borel, E Dods, C Borthwick©, R Drummond, G Nelson, M Fedo (YCx1). Subs: D Miller, F Hobbis, R Wilson, J Miller, W Thomson (YCx1).
Hawick: K Brunton; R Combe, C Ritson, D Buckley (YCx1), L Ferguson (YCx1); G Munro, G Welsh; S Muir, M Carryer, R Macleod, D Redpath, C Hamilton, R Gibson, A Baillie, B McNeil© (YCx1). Subs: F Renwick (YCx1), M Landels, D Cowan, R McKean, A Mitchell.
TEAM NEWS –
Watsonians: Nick Fraser, Nathan Borel and Rory Drummond make a return to the starting team, with Finn Hobbis and James Miller moving to the bench, while Martin Christie, Jonny Gibson and Ewan Miller drop out the squad altogether. Ruairidh Wilson comes onto the bench following his switch from Gordon rugby club in Australia. With Rory Hutton unavailable, Andrew Chalmers moves to stand off and Rory Steele to full-back. Jason Harries is released by Edinburgh Rugby and starts on the wing.
KEY BATTLE: Andrew Chalmers versus Gary Munro
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“It was a bit of a turgid affair last week with a strong wind playing its part in an error strewn game. However, we showed glimpses of what we are capable of and we will look to build on these areas moving forward. Hawick are in fine form and have shown a lot of grit in recent weeks. Their pack is functioning very well and they have a well organised defence that pressures teams into mistakes. We look forward to welcoming them for what should be a cracking match. With a 1pm kick off we hope that supporters of both teams decide to make it a Super Saturday at Myreside by staying to watch the 6 Nations matches that will immediately follow our own …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
VERDICT: The Hawick team sheet is further manifestation of the nonsense of designating an away international weekend as a stand-by date – though in reality the effect will be minimal. The way Watsonians are playing this was always a home banker.
MARR v MELROSE
VENUE: Fullarton Park @ 2.30pm
Marr: D Steele; 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: O Rossi, C Nisbet, K Hatherall (RCx1), F Grant, T Buchanan.
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), J Head, I Moody, G Runciman© (YCx1), A Miller. Subs: R Ferguson, R McLeod (YCx3), R Knott, S Hutchison, G Wood.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: Only one change to the squad selected to play last weekend, with Struan Hutchinson coming onto the bench for Rory Darge, who is on the bench for Scotland Under-20s against Wales tonight [Friday].
KEY BATTLE: Conor Bickerstaff versus Craig Jackson
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Hopefully playing conditions will allow the game to go ahead this weekend and we are well aware of the physical challenge Marr will pose. We have prepared well over the last few weeks and are looking forward to putting in a performance that we can all be proud of …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
VERDICT: As was the case last week, losing to Ayr must have been disappointing for Melrose – and losing their next game to Chieftains was bad news – but losing a third game on the trot would be an unmitigated disaster. But it is not going to happen – because no matter how difficult a place Fullarton Park is to play – and no matter how pumped up Marr might be – good players do not become bad players – and when the chips are down, they do what they need to do.