THE regular BT Premiership league season reaches its conclusion this weekend (Saturday afternoon) with the final two postponed matches from earlier in the campaign being played with early kick-offs so that they don’t clash with some other event which is going on down at Twickenham at 4pm.
Melrose will need to pick up a solitary bonus point and also avoid losing by 42 or more at Stirling County in order to secure a top of the table finish, which will not only give them home advantage in the play-off semi-final, but also in the Grand Final if they get that far.
It would be a major surprise if the Borderers failed to achieve this objective given the strength in depth they have shown during the second half of this season when continuing to field highly experienced, well-drilled and talented sides despite having several of their first choice personnel unavailable.
Stirling have five players away with the Scotland under-20 squad, and several more influential regulars such as second-row Adam Sinclair, scrum-half Matt Donaldson, utility-back Alex Black and exciting wing prospect Logan Trotter are also not around this weekend – so this will be a big test of their squad depth.
Meanwhile, Currie make the short trip to Meggetland to take on West Edinburgh rivals Boroughmuir in a match which they really need to win with a bonus point in order to squeeze into the play-offs.
Heriot’s are currently four league points ahead in the race for that fourth spot and have a vastly superior scoring differential. Boroughmuir have nothing left to play for except pride; but assistant coach Jonny Else, who is running the team tomorrow because Peter Wright is at Twickenham, says that training has gone really well this week and there is a real buzz within the squad at the prospect of finishing the season on a high.
“I think there is a sense of unfinished business after last weekend’s defeat to Stirling in the Cup. Having come back from 22-0 down to get ourselves ahead with just a few minutes to go, only to lose it to an avoidable penalty try at the very end, was tough to take – but some of our rugby during that second half was exceptional and we’re fortunate to have this opportunity to go out there and put it right,” he said.
“We’ll take confidence from the way we played for most of that second half, and we’ve learned a few lessons about composure and keeping switched on at the end. We respect Currie and respect the integrity of the league – which is why it is vital that we put in a good performance.”
“We’ve had to make a few changes in the pack because of unavailability but that means some young players get an opportunity to show what they can do – which is ideal in a game like this because it is the hungrier team which will win it.”
“Stuart Cark gets a rare start at hooker. He has been an exceptional club man this year in terms of attitude and commitment. He has not had a lot of playing time for the 1st XV and thoroughly deserves this chance.”
“We know Currie will be up for it, and with Ross Weston leading the charge they will be right in our faces and really physical, so our forwards are going to have to be ready to fight fire with fire. If we can secure some decent front-foot ball then we have shown already this season that we have an attack which can cause any team in this league problems.”
“It’s been a roller-coaster year. We’ve played some great rugby at times but perhaps not consistently enough. In the end, it is the bonus points we have picked up that have kept us out of the relegation mire and I think that says a lot about the kind of rugby we have been trying to play – and we want to finish it off on the right note.”
“The boys are playing for pride, but they are also playing for next season. This is a chance for them to go out there and show what they can do, and look ahead for once rather than back over their shoulder at the threat of relegation.”
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
BOROUGHMUIR v CURRIE
VENUE: Meggetland @ 1.30pm
Boroughmuir: D Steele; J Edmunds, A Cox, G Cannie, R Cairns; C Laidlaw©, S Johnson; M Henry, S Clark, T Gracie, M Tweddle, C Atkinson, A MacLeod, D Coulter, C Keddie©. Subs: T King, P Richards, O Davidson, R Kerr, A Purewal.
Currie: H Elms; R Smith, M Hooks, R Nelson, B Robbins; J Forbes, M O’Neil; J Cox, G Carson, A McWilliam, S Ainslie, M Vernel, S McGinley, R Davies, R Weston©. Subs: C McEvoy, R Patterson, D Marek, C Smith, R Young.
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmuir: There are first starts of the season for Stuart Clark and Michael Henry in the front-row, and Ali McLeod at blindside flanker.
Currie: Ratu Tagive is not released by Glasgow Warriors which means Matt Hooks starts at outside centre and Ruaraidh Smith comes onto the wing. Dan Marek returns to the bench after illness. He will be alongside Ruairidh Young, who is making is long-awaited return to the squad after injury.
KEY BATTLE: Greg Cannie versus Robbie Nelson
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Both teams have players away on international duty which gives an opportunity to some fringe players to take their chance. From a Boroughmuir point of view, we’re looking to get over the disappointment of last week’s cup defeat and finish the season with a win at home against one of our Edinburgh neighbours.…” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
“Although a five-pointer at Boroughmuir in our last match of the season is a huge challenge there is no doubt we would have taken this scenario after losing to Heriots back in January. It is great for the league that the fight for the play-off positions has come down to the wire and we are ready to give it everything we’ve got. I’m sure Boroughmuir will be hurting badly from the events of last weekend and will use this to fuel their performance. They have a number of individuals who can make things happen from nothing and the fact they can play with total freedom makes them very dangerous …” – Ben Cairns (Currie)
VERDICT: Visitors get what they need … just!
STIRLING COUNTY v MELROSE
VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 2pm
Stirling: L Bonar; S MacDonald, J Hope©, C Mundell, O Jarvie; R Jones, C Turnbull; M Hunter, R Kennedy, C Black, H Burr, R Leishman, A Taylor, A Grant-Suttie, H Henderson. Subs: M Emmison, C Hutton, R Bundy, C Fail, K Gammie.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, N Godsmark, G Taylor, S Pecqueur; J Baggott, B Colvine; D Elkington, R Anderson, R McLeod, J Head, A Bresler, R Knott, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: C McKay, C Crookshanks, N Irvine-Hess, M McAndrew, G Wood.
TEAM NEWS –
Stirling: Craig Mundell at inside centre and Craig Black at tightead prop come in for their first starts of the season, while Ross Bundy and Kieran Gammie from the successful under-18 team earn spots on the bench.
Melrose: Anton Bresler has been released by Edinburgh and starts in the second-row in place of fellow pro Lewis Carmichael, while back-rower Neil Irvine-Hess makes a return to the match-day squad after a number of months out injured. Bruce Colvine starts at scrum-half with Murdo McAndrew dropping to the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Ross Jones versus Jason Baggott
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“With Melrose looking to secure top spot in the league, we expect a tough encounter right from the first whistle. But with the pressure off and little expected of us, we are thoroughly looking forward to the game, and to putting down a marker for the cup semi final in two weeks time. …” – David Adamson (Stirling)
“Playing away to Stirling is always a challenging fixture and with them having an excellent result last weekend they are sure to be on a high. The squad are excited about playing the last league fixture before the play-offs and are working hard to keep improving. With this being the first of back-to-back fixtures against Stirling it is sure to be a fascinating encounter.…” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
VERDICT: Melrose at a canter.