THERE is everything to play for at both ends of the BT Premiership table this weekend. The fact that we are now well into the second half of the season and have not yet set sight on a match which might be described as a dead-rubber can be taken as glowing evidence of the league’s competitiveness.
Up among the highflyers, first placed Melrose entertain third placed Glasgow Hawks, while second placed Ayr are at home to fourth placed Heriot’s.
Only three points separate Melrose, Ayr and Hawks so each team will be acutely aware of the possibility that they could finish the weekend as top dogs if results go their way – which not only gives them bragging rights over their rivals but also puts them in line for a home draw in the play-offs.
Heriot’s are seven points adrift, so a win at Millbrae would catapult them right into the mix for a top two spot, while a defeat would leave them with an awful lot to do with only seven rounds of matches still to go.
Meanwhile, down at the dirty end of the league, second bottom Boroughmuir travel to Stirling County for a match which could have a huge influence on who ends up scrapping for survival at the end of the campaign.
A morale-boosting bonus point victory at Hawick last week allowed County to put some daylight between themselves and the relegation dog-fight, but they are still only five points ahead of this weekend’s opponents, so they are not completely free from danger yet.
Boroughmuir have managed only two wins this season, but the identity of the teams they have beaten is significant. The first victory was against today’s opponents in round two, the second was against previously unbeaten Ayr. This tells us that while the Meggetland men may be struggling at the moment, they have it in them to pull a big result out of the bag when they get it right.
In Jordan Edmunds and Grant McConnell they have two of the most dangerous wingers in the league – as demonstrated when they combined to produce their team’s scintillating fourth try against Stirling last time round – but consistency has been an issue. The wide men need to be making more of an impact more often if Boroughmuir are to battle their way out of this sticky situation.
Stirling’s pack is missing all of their first choice front-row, which is a boost to Boroughmuir’s inexperienced eight, and their half-back partnership of Dougie Steele and Chris Laidlaw have the ability to ignite a game if they are given the right sort of possession – but can they make it all click at once?
- Please note: Melrose versus Glasgow Hawks at The Greenyards kicks off at 2pm.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
MELROSE v GLASGOW HAWKS
VENUE: Greenyards @ 2pm
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, G Taylor, C Jackson ©, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; D Elkington, R Anderson, R McLeod, J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: R Ferguson, N Beavon, R Knott, N Godsmark, R Taylor.
Hawks: J Steele; J Bulumakau, B McGroarty, D Milne, K Gossman; J Henderson, G Horne; S Findlay, P Cairncross, G Strain, A Redmayne, A Kirkland, A Hill, G Stewart, T Spinks©. Subs: A Linton, B Cullinane, S Thomson, P Boyer, L Tyley.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: Grant Runciman returns from injury to captain the side from openside flanker, with the versatile Ruaridh Knott dropping to the bench. With Jamie Bhatti in the Glasgow Warriors for the first time, Dan Elkington gets a start at loosehead prop. Ruairi McLeod retains his place on the tighthead ahead of Edinburgh pro Nick Beavon, who will look to make an impact as a replacement.
Hawks: Only one change in the pack with Andy Hill returning at blindside flanker in place of Matt Fagerson, who has been called back intothe Glasgow Warriors squad to face the Scarlets. Behind the scrum, Junior Bulumakau is on the wing after being rested last week, while Davie Milne comes in for Robert Beattie, who is rested this week with one eye on selection for Scotland Sevens trip to Dubai. Paddy Boyer, the starting scrum-half for the Scotland Club XV last year, is back in the squad after impressing for the 2nd XV, but is going to have to go some to usurp the prolific George Horne from the number nine jersey.
KEY BATTLE: Grant Runciman versus Grant Stewart
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“After a better performance last weekend we know we will have to keep improving to get the desired result. Hawks have been flying high this year, scoring some outstanding tries and racking up 75 points more than we have managed, so we will need to defend well …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
“Last time we met, Melrose ran out comfortable winners at Old Anniesland. We learned a lot from that game and we hope that we have developed enough as a squad to showcase our credentials to challenge the best teams in Scotland …” – Finlay Gillies (Hawks)
VERDICT: Experience edges it for the home team.
AYR v HERIOT’S
VENUE: Millbrae @ 3pm
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, B MacPherson, W Bordill, P McCallum ©. Subs: L Anderson, A Prentice, C Stevenson, C Taylor, S McDowell.
Heriots: G Bryce; J Rae, J Laird, J Semple©, G Parker; A Hagart, A Simmers; G Cameron, M Liness, R Mitchell, C Marshall, R Nimmo, M Maltman, J McLean, S Dewar. Subs: G Turner, S Cessford, C Smith, T Wilson, E Fox.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: Only one change to the starting line-up from last week’s victory over Currie with Blair MacPherson coming in to start at blindside. Adam Prentice and Cameron Taylor recover from injury to join the bench.
Heriot’s: Harry Boisseau, Charlie Simpson and Martin Bouab are unavailable for a variety of reasons – so, Glenn Bryce, who has been released by Edinburgh, comes in at full-back, fit again Josh Laird returns at outside centre, and Gavin Cameron is promoted from the bench to start at loosehead prop. Michael Liness gets to start at hooker with Edinburgh pro George Turner dropping to the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Blair MacPherson versus Michael Maltman
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Heriots have hit some form over the last month and come into this match off the back of four consecutive wins. We were pleased with the reaction from our players last week and know that we will need to raise our performance again in order to get a result this weekend …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
“We return to the scene of our league final victory in good heart after a couple of strong performances; however, at the same time, Ayr have really retuned to form with a bang. With a dry day forecast it may be another cracker. With the league serving up some 50 plus try’s last weekend it possibly doesn’t matter where you go to watch a Premiership fixture, it is likely that you are going to be entertained …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
VERDICT: Ayr prove a point.
STIRLING COUNTY v BOROUGHMUIR
VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 3pm
Stirling: J Hope; TBC, C Pringle, A Black, L Trotter; R Jones, M Donaldson; C Hutton M Emmison, F Bradbury, H Burr, C Hunter-Hill©, R Leishman, S MacDonald, A Taylor. Subs: D Montgomery, M Hunter, H Henderson, S Robertson, O Jarvie.
Boroughmuir: G Cannie; J Edmunds, R Kerr, M Hare, G McConnell; C Laidlaw, D Steele; D Robertson, T King, D Winning, C Atkinson, J Ure, A Mncube, A Rose, C Keddie©. Subs: S Clark, T Gracie, M Tweddle, B Mills, A Cox.
TEAM NEWS –
Stirling: All change in the front-row: on the loosehead, Colin Hutton replaces Mike MacDonald who is unavailable due to work; at hooker, Matt Emmison takes overfrom the concussed Reyner Kennedy; and on the tighthead, Fergus Bradbury starts in place of Adam Nicol, who travels to Llanelli with Glasgow Warriors as 24th man. Shaun MacDonald starts at openside, with Alex Taylor reverting to number eight with Harry Henderson dropping to the bench.
Boroughmuir: Dougie Steele starts at scrum-half in place of Nathan Fowles, who is back with Edinburgh, with Blair Mills coming onto the bench. In the pack, Callum Atkinson comes in to the second-row for Matt Tweddle, who is among the replacements. In the back-row, Andy Rose plays his last game for Boroughmuir before he heads off to a new life in the USA, lining up alongside fully fit again Aubrey Mncube at number eight.
KEY BATTLE: Ross Jones versus Chris Laidlaw
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Whilst we were delighted to come away from Mansfield Park with a bonus point win, we still shipped 30 points due to some pretty weak defending, and we are more than aware that this won’t be acceptable against a Boroughmuir team who have some of the best open field runners in the club game just now. So, we aim to put the same emphasis on our defence as we’ve had on attack of late, and if we do that we’re confident of putting in a winning performance …” – David Adamson (Stirling)
“After a decent first half last week versus Melrose we were really disappointed with how we played after the break. We know we must up the standard of play to get close to a result versus Stirling …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
VERDICT: Missing men in home pack proves costly.
WATSONIANS v HAWICK
VENUE: Myreside @ 3pm
Watsonians: K Young; R Steele, S McLeod, D Innes, M McFarland; A Chalmers, E McKirdy,; N Borel, D Miller, K Whyte J Duthie , C Borthwick, S Crombie, A Duckett, E Dods. Subs: C Eastwood, K Whyte, F Morrison, R Cullen A Harris, T Hart.
Hawick: A Weir; D Graham, J Coutts, G Johnstone, W Hamilton; L Armstrong, G Cottrell; S Muir, F Renwick, C Mackintosh, D Lowrie, B McNeil©, R Gibson, S Graham, A Horne. Subs: M Landels, G Douglas, D Harlen, G Huggan, N Renwick.
TEAM NEWS –
Watsonians: A couple of late calls see DJ Innes get the nod ahead of Tom Hart at outside centre, Jonny Duthie starts in the second-row with Fraser Morrison on the bench. Sean Crombie has switched from hooker to blindside flanker in place Kenny Beattie, with Darren Miller taking over the number two jersey. Nathan Borel takes over from missing skipper Martin Christie at loosehead, and Kyle Whyte – who has signed on a partnership contract with Edinburgh – replacing teenager Calum Eastwood at tighthead, although that may change if the South African ends up playing a significant amount of time off the bench for the pro team on Friday night. Euan McKirdy starts at scrum-half ahead of Reiss Cullen
Hawick: The return from injury of number eight Andrew Horne and livewire winger Darcy Graham is a timely boost, which offsets the disappointing loss of Keith Davies with an ankle injury.
KEY BATTLE: Craig Borthwick versus Bruce McNeil
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We were very disappointed with the performance against Heriot’s and the guys want to put things right against Hawick. We expect a tough match …” – Marcus Di Rollo(Watsonians)
“After a disappointing performance last week where we were dominated physically and allowed frustration and poor discipline to creep into our game, we realise we need to react quickly against another big physical pack . It is vital we get a win before the November break to reward the players’ endeavour while also giving ourselves the best chance of getting out of the position we have put ourselves in. We are not too far away with several teams just above us in the league and fully believe that if we keep working away and concentrate on achieving an 80 minute performance then we can beat anyone on our day and begin to climb the table. …” – Nikki Walker (Hawick)
VERDICT: Watsonians exorcise last week’s demons.
GALA v CURRIE
VENUE: Netherdale @ 3pm
Gala: G Speirs©; R Combe, S Tofilau, P Hendry, C Robertson; G Hunter, C Adams; C Keen, M Carryer, D Brooker, R Louw, C Weir, A Emond, G Adams, S Cairns. Subs: C Reynolds, G Robertson, C Pate, G Lott, L Berg.
Currie: H Elms; B Robbins, R Nelson, C Hutchison, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; J Cox, F Scott, G Carson, H Bain, S Ainslie, L Crosbie, T Gordon, R Weston©. Subs: A McWilliam, R Patterson, R Davies, S McGinley, R Snedden.
TEAM NEWS –
Gala: Captain Graham Speirs returns at full-back and Ross Combe starts on the wing in place of Edinburgh duo Rory Scholes and Alex Northam. Sasa Tofilau is released by the capital outfit and starts at outside centre with Lewis Berg dropping to the bench. Chris Weir is also available again so takes over from player coach Opeta Palepoi in the engine room, while Alan Emond comes in at number eight for the injured Harry Borthwick.
Currie: The only changes to the starting fifteen is at half-back with fit again Jamie Forbes coming at stand-off, and Scotland under-20 hopeful Charlie Shiel getting the nod at scrum-half ahead of the vastly experienced Richard Snedden at scrum-half having played well off the bench last weekend. Reece Patterson comes in for Jarrod Firth on the bench, and Rhys Davies is back from injury to take the final spot among the subs.
KEY BATTLE: Graham Speirs versus Harvey Elms
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“This week we host a resurgent Currie team who have been showing the form that got them into the top four last season. Their impressive win at Hawks followed by an excellent second half showing against Ayr highlights this fact. After our lacklustre and error strewn performance against last week against a good Hawks side we know a massive improvement in all areas is required. The squad know they let themselves down and are desperate to get back to Netherdale and put in a performance that our supporters can be proud of …” – Chris Dalgliesh (Hawks)
“A very disappointing first half versus Ayr left us with too much to do; however, we can take a lot of confidence from the way we played to get back into the match after the break. This will be the level we look to produce for eighty minutes this weekend against a very good Gala side. Having had consecutive away matches they will be looking forward to running out to a home support in the final match before the mini break …” – Ben Cairns (Currie)
VERDICT: It is all beginning to come together for Currie.
Image: Craig Watson [www.craigwatson.co.uk]