THE last two weeks have provided a timely reminder that the BT Premiership is more of a Grand National type event, with all sorts of treacherous hurdles and unexpected challenges to be negotiated, rather than a flat five furlong cavalry charge in which the fastest starters usually have a clear run to the line.
Glasgow Hawks have now lost two games on the bounce, while Ayr and Melrose have also slipped up in recent weeks, meaning that the chasing pack of Heriot’s, Currie, Watsonians – and maybe even Gala – are now breathing right down their necks. All three of those early pace-setters are secure in their positions at the top of the table this week, but they know that any further slip-ups could easily see them fall back into the chasing pack.
Melrose have been struggling of late to reproduce their swashbuckling early season form. They lost to Heriot’s a fortnight ago and had to dog out a narrow victory at bottom placed Hawick last week, but that was still enough to see them recapture top spot on the back of Ayr and Hawks unexpectedly losing to Watsonians and Currie respectively.
It is not just about winning games when you are playing well, it is about getting something out of games which are not going your way, so last weekend was a big moment for Rob Chrystie’s team.
In fairness, the head coach has insisted from day one that it would be virtually impossible for his team to sustain their early season pace. He knew other sides would get stronger and smarter, and that the inevitable arrival of winter conditions would be a great leveller.
“This is almost exactly what I expected. There was no danger we could carry on taking opportunities at the rate we were taking them during those first three or four weeks,” says Chrystie.
“If I am being honest we have had a bit of dip and there is a whole load of reasons for that. We’ve had quite a few injuries in the last six weeks, and the guys who have come in have been great but that has disrupted our flow a bit, so it was a case of digging in and grinding out victories and I am really pleased with the way the boys have done that.”
“We’re now getting most of those injured guys back, including some longer term ones – Sam Pecqueur, who has been out since the start of the season should be back in the next couple of weeks – so training has been really competitive this week and I am hoping to see that transferred into our performance on the day, because we will have to be at our best to get a result against Boroughmuir.”
“They really need this win and they are going to come out firing.”
In contrast to the two games they have lost so far this season – against Ayr and Heriot’s – the Borderers will expect to secure the lion’s share of ball against a young Boroughmuir pack , but will be only too aware of the risk of being punished for any looseness against one of the liveliest back divisions in the league.
It was less than a month ago that Ayr arrived at Meggetland on a high after beating Melrose the week before, only to receive a bloody-nose from Peter Wright’s petulant pretenders.
While Boroughmuir have shown plenty of potential this season, they have failed to build a winning habit, and currently sit one place above the basement with just two victories to their name. However, they will view this as a golden and well-timed opportunity to get their season on track, having already shown that they are capable of producing exceptional one-off performances.
“You don’t beat a team like Ayr without being a very dangerous side,” says Chrystie. “And they were right in it for most of the game against Hawks as well. The only time they have really been well beaten was against us at The Greenyards at the start of the season, but that was a tough one for them because we’d already had a good run-out against Heriot’s in the Charity Shield the week before while they were starting from scratch with a new coaching set-up and a lot of new players. The real issue from our point of view is that they kept on fighting and finished strongly, so we know that they are going to be a handful.”
Across the city, Heriot’s are at home to their great rivals Watsonians in a competitive league match for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign, and will have revenge on their mind after losing out at Myreside on the opening weekend of the season.
An added source of confidence for the visitors will be their dramatic last-gasp victory over Ayr last week, while the hosts are now on a three match winning streak which has taken them to fourth in the table. With the Bill McLaren Trophy on the line and a bumper crowd expected at Goldenacre, this has the makings of a cracking encounter.
A third captivating encounter in the capital sees Ayr head to Currie. West Edinburgh has been a very unhappy hunting ground for Calum Forrester’s men so far this season with two defeats from two visits to Boroughmuir and Watsonians, and they will expect another titanic battle this weekend against an exciting young side which has really found its straps in recent weeks. The visitors are, however, bolstered by the return from injury to the starting fifteen of perhaps their three most influential players in the shape of captain Pete McCallum, stand-off Frazier Climo and centre Ross Curle.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
BOROUGHMUIR v MELROSE
VENUE: Meggetland @ 3pm
Boroughmuir: G Cannie; J Edmunds, R Kerr, M Hare, G McConnell; C Laidlaw, N Fowles; D Robertson, T King, D Winning, M Tweddle, J Ure, A Walker, M Walker, C Keddie©. Subs: S Clark, T Gracie, A Mncube, D Steele, A Cox.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, G Taylor, C Jackson ©, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; J Bhatti, R Anderson, R McLeod, J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, R Knott, I Moody. Subs: R Ferguson, D Elkington, A Grieve, N Godsmark, R Taylor.
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmuir: Greg Cannie and Ronan Kerr come in at full-back and outside centre, respectively, with Dougie Steele and Alex Cox dropping to the bench. Tristan King starts at hooker after a number of weeks out injured and Andy Rose comes back into the back-row in place of Edinburgh pro Jamie Richie, who has not been released this week.
Melrose: The return from injury of full-back Fraser Thomson and number eight Ian Moody will be a boost to as the visitors battle to get back to the free-flowing groove they were in at the start of the season. Hooker Russell Anderson also comes back into the starting fifteen with Richard Ferguson moving to the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Jordan Edmunds versus Ross McCann
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We’re bitterly disappointed with our performance at times last week. We did a huge number of good things then through a number of unforced errors shot ourselves in the foot. Having the league leaders visit us this week will certainly focus the minds. Another exchange ref this week will make it interesting … again …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
“Boroughmuir have continued playing an expansive and offloading game just as they did at the Greenyards in round one, where they scored some excellent tries. Therefore, a quality defensive display is key if we are going to get anything from this game …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
VERDICT: Visitors stay on top.
HERIOT’S v WATSONIANS
VENUE: Goldanacre @ 3pm
Heriots: C Simpson; J Rae, S Rasolea, J Semple ©, H Boisseau; A Hagart, A Simmers; M Bouab, G Turner, R Mitchell, C Marshall, R Nimmo, M Maltman, J McLean, S Dewar. Subs: M Liness, G Cameron, C Smith, E Fox, G Parker.
Watsonians: K Young; S McLeod, D Innes, T Hart, M McFraland; A Chalmers, R Cullen; M Christie ©, S Crombie, C Eastwood, M Poole, C Borthwick, K Beattie, A Duckett, E Dods. Subs: D Miller, N Borel, T Lapeyre, E McKirdy, A Harris.
TEAM NEWS –
Heriot’s: With Struan Cessford unavailable and Murray McCallum back in the Edinburgh squad, Ruaridh Mitchell comes in at tighthead prop. Cornell Du Preez has been called back to Edinburgh which means Struan Dewar returns after being rested last week. Gavin Cameron is on the bench after a lengthy injury lay-off, alongside and Ewan Fox who has joined from Dundee High.
Watsonians: Diarmuid Dee drops out of the squad through injury, with Kenny Beattie replacing him after impressing for the 2nd XV in recent weeks. Teenager Calum Eastwood retains his starting spot at tighthead prop after impressing against Ayr, with Nathan Borel on the bench. Frenchman Thomas Lapeyre –who was named as a new signing for Heriot’s at the start of the season – has jumped ship and is set to make his debut for the visitors off the bench. The only change in the backline after last week’s momentous victory over Ayr is the return from injury of Scott McLeod on the wing in place of Mark Bertram.
KEY BATTLE: Junior Rasolea versus DJ Innes
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“There has been a real bite in training as we look to turnaround the result from earlier in the season. Beating Ayr [as Watsonians did last week] is never easy and having to do it with the last kick of the game just shows the never say die attitude the coaching team have been able to instil into the ‘Gala-cticos’ squad they have assembled. With bouncy castles, professional dancers, a golden oldies touch game before the big match and a sell-out lunch, the club are making every effort to create a tremendous atmosphere for the oldest club rivalry in the City …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
“After a great win against Ayr last week we need to keep momentum going. We have no doubts how tough a game this will be against our local rivals …” – Marcus Di Rollo (Watsonians)
VERDICT: The Bill McLaren Shield stays at Goldenacre
CURRIE v AYR
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 3pm
Currie: H Elms; B Robbins, R Nelson, C Hutchison, C Gray; M McPhillips, R Snedden; J Cox, F Scott, G Carson, H Bain, S Ainslie, L Crosbie, T Gordon, R Weston©. Subs: A McWilliam, J Firth, S McGinley, M Bywater, C Shiel.
Ayr: G Anderson; R Dalgliesh, A Russell, R Curle, C Gossman; F Climo, D Armstrong; G Hunter, D Young S Longwell, R McAlipine, S Sutherland, R Mackenzie, W Bordill, P McCallum ©. Subs: D Young, C Stevenson, P McCallum, P Dewhirst, J Bova.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie: Luke Crosbie retains his place at blindside flanker, Thomas Gordon comes back in at openside after being given a minor break on the bench last week, and Scott McGinley drops out of the starting fifteen to accommodate. Prop Jarrod Firth is released by Glasgow so is also among the replacements. The only change in the backline sees Matt McPhillips start at stand-off for the injured Jamie Forbes, having played there for the majority of last week’s victory over Glasgow Hawks.
Ayr: The return from injury of Frazier Climo and Ross Curle, alongside Archie Russell, reunites an experienced and dangerous midfield axis. Captain Pete McCallum is at number eight after easing himself back from injury with an appearance off the bench last week. He is joined in the back-row by Will Bordill and Ruaridh Mackenzie, with Blair Macpherson rotating to the bench and George Hunter reverting back to loosehead prop.
KEY BATTLE: Ross Weston versus Pete McCallum
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“The boys have understandably taken a lot of confidence from recent performances and last week’s in particular. It was great to see them fight to the death and get their just rewards for that belief. Ayr will pose a formidable threat to the home record we have started to build and we will have to go up a gear again if we are to maintain our unbeaten run at Malleny. They will be hurting after their loss to Watsonians with the last kick of the game and we know they will come well prepared in a bid to stop our momentum …” – Ben Cairns (Currie)
“The Currie side that we play this weekend will be a different beast from the one we faced [and defeated 53-10] on the opening day of the season. A number of their younger players have grown in confidence which has culminated in their displays and results over the last couple of weeks. Our players can’t wait to get back on the pitch following last week’s disappointment so it is set to be cracker …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
VERDICT: Returning experience gives Ayr the edge.
HAWICK v STIRLING COUNTY
VENUE: Mansfield Park @ 3pm
Hawick: A Weir; J Coutts, G Johnstone, K Brunton, W Hamilton; L Armstrong, G Cottrell; S Muir, F Renwick, C Mackintosh, D Lowrie, B McNeil ©, R Gibson, S Graham, K Davies. Subs: M Landels, G Douglas, D Harlen, B Robertson, N Renwick.
Stirling: J Hope; J Cresswell, C Pringle, R Elliston, L Trotter; R Jones, M Donaldson; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, H Burr, C Hunter-Hill©, R Leishman, S MacDonald, A Taylor. Subs: M Emmison, F Bradbury, H Henderson, D Montgomery, C Turnbull.
TEAM NEWS –
Hawick: The highly experienced Greg Cottrell makes his first appearance of the season at scrum-half after returning from injury, allowing Ali Weir to revert to full-back. Shawn Muir is also fit again and replaces Matt Landels at loosehead prop, while David Lowrie and John Coutts are in the second-row and on the right wing respectively after impressing off the bench last week.
Stirling County: Matt Donaldson, Ryan Elliston, Jake Cresswell and Shaun MacDonald come in for Nemia Kenatale, Fraser Lyle, Matt Lamb and Harry Henderson. Fergus Bradbury and David Montgomery will both expect to make their competitive debuts from the bench, after impressing for the 2nd XV.
KEY BATTLE: Bruce McNeil versus Calum Hunter-Hill
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“After a very positive performance last week we need to again make gains in order to turn our efforts into league points in what will be a very important match for both teams. Stirling have been performing very well and have only been beaten narrowly in recent weeks so we expect another very tight affair. It will also be great to play in an evenly matched contest with zero allocated professional players meaning 40 amateur players battling it ou …” – Nikki Walker (Hawick)
“The only consistency we’ve been able to achieve so far this season is in being inconsistent. We have shown in twenty to thirty minute bursts that we can play some pretty decent rugby, and can put any team on the back foot, but it’s the other fifty minutes that lets us down. We’re pleased to be coming to the end of some fairly tough scheduling having been away four out of the last five weeks – which has been tough on both the team and potential earnings of the club. With this week in mind, we’ve gone back to basics, spent a lot of time analysing our previous performances looking and what’s gone right and wrong …” – David Adamson (Stirling)
VERDICT: Visitors have one of their good days.
GLASGOW HAWKS v GALA
VENUE: Old Anniesland @ 3pm
Hawks: J Steele; E Oag, R Beattie, B McGroarty, K Gossman; J Henderson, G Horne; S Findlay, P Cairncross, G Strain, A Redmayne, A Kirkland, M Fagerson, G Stewart, T Spinks©. Subs: B Cullinane, C Brodie, S Thomson, S Yacoubian, L Tyley.
Gala: R Scholes; A Northam, L Berg, P Hendry, C Robertson; G Hunter, C Adams; C Keen, M Carryer, D Brooker, R Louw©, O Palepoi, G Adams, S Cairns, H Borthwick. Subs: C Reynolds, C Pate, A Emond, G Mein, R Combe.
TEAM NEWS –
Hawks: Josh Henderson returns from illness to take over the nkmber ten jersey, which allows Jack Steele to slip back into his favoured full-back role, while Erland Oag replaces the unavailable Junior Bulumakau on the wing. Tommy Spinks is back to captain the squad at number eight after a speedy recovery from injury, while Paul Cairncross retains his place in the starting line-up after an impressive individual performance last week.
Gala: With captain Graham Speirs out injured, Rory Scholes moves across to full-back and will be hoping to carry on in a similar vein to his four try heroics of last week. That opens up a gap on the left wing for top try scorer Craig Robertson. Lewis Berg starts at 13 for Sasa Tofilau, who has not been released by Edinburgh. Chris Weir is also unavailable this weekend so Rob Louw moves ubto the second-row from the flank, and will lead the team. Gary Adams is at blindside flanker after missing last weekend’s game through injury, while Gregor Mein and Ross Combe both return on the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Josh Henderson versus Gregor Hunter
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We are still hurting after letting a 31-17 lead go and ultimately letting a very good Currie team fight until the end and win at the death. We have regrouped, had an excellent week of training and are ready for the challenge of Gala. Gala will be very physical and have some excellent individual performers throughout their squad. Gregor Hunter has been outstanding in the first half of the season and we know that we can’t afford to give him any space or time to release some very exciting outside backs …” – Finlay Gillies (Hawks)
“We travel to Glasgow in positive mood after an encouraging performance last weekend against a dangerous Boroughmuir side. Some aspects of our attacking play last week was very good but we know that defensively we need to be much better. Hawks are a very menacing team that have game changers littered throughout their side so a marked improvement in our defence is a must if we want to be competitive …” – Chris Dalgliesh (Gala)
VERDICT: Hawks stop the rot.
Image courtesy: Douglas Hardie