MYSTERY surrounds this afternoon’s Edinburgh derby between Boroughmuir and Heriot’s at Meggetland because, after three rounds of matches in this BT Premiership season, it is still not clear where these two teams stand in the pecking order.
Both sides are currently sitting mid table with seven league points each, with one win and two losses to their name. With fourth place Glasgow Hawks taking on third place Watsonians this afternoon, both sides know that a positive result in their match could see them squeeze into the play-off places (although there is, of course, still a very long way to go).
Boroughmuir pushed unbeaten Watsonians all the way last weekend but fell just short. It is widely accepted that they have one of the most exciting backlines in the league, but the jury remains out on the question of whether their pack is ever going to be able to provide enough possession for them to topple any of the big hitters in this division.
The hosts will be without their influential stand-off Chris Laidlaw this weekend, and coach Peter Wright admits that this is a major set-back – but he has backed David Reekie to get the backline going in the Borderer’s absence.
“Chris has been massive for us. In my opinion he is the best stand-off in the league, but this is the only week his wife can get off work so he’s away on holiday and we’ll just have to get on with it without him,” said Wright.
“David has got a bit of experience and he’s a similar type of player to Chris in that he likes to be a threat from stand-off, so he’ll ask them a few questions. Along with Melrose, I think we have the most dangerous back three in the league, so it’s going to be about getting those guys into the game.”
“Heriot’s have a big pack and I’m sure they’ll try to control it from there, so that’s going to be a huge challenge for us. We need to get our set-piece functioning. We’ve brought Ross Bett and James Dunbar into the front-row because we felt they did really well when they came off the bench to finish the game last week, so that’s something that Heriot’s won’t have seen a lot of, and we have a few ploys in mind for countering their power at scrum time.”
“Ross has only just turned 18 so he is a young loose-head prop, but he is there on merit and I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes,” Wright added.
The visitors may be reigning champions but head coach Phil Smith reckons he lost as many as nine frontline players over the summer, including three hugely influential members of last season’s double-winning squad in the shape of captain Jack Turley, back-row Jason Hill and stand-off Gregor McNeish. After losing their first two games of this season, the pressure had been beginning to build on the Goldenacre men, so last week’s showdown against struggling Hawick came at just the right time.
“With all due respect to Hawick, that game was what we really needed. They are having a tough time of it at the moment, and this game gave the boys the chance to build a bit of confidence. There are a lot of new faces in the squad and it has been about working out who we are as a team,” says Smith.
“It was a bit edgy to start with, and we butchered two glaring opportunities. At that stage I was thinking it is going to be one of those games where we let Hawick off the hook and it comes back to haunt us, but after we got our first try in about 15 minutes you could see the boys begin to settle into it, we started to play some lovely rugby and we were able to work through some patterns and set moves which we hadn’t managed to pull together in the first two matches!
“I feel like we have played ourselves into a bit of form, but we’ll only find out if that is really the case once we get out there against Boroughmuir and see how that goes.”
“Boroughmuir don’t have a huge pack but they seem to be fighting for their corner, and if they can get their back—line moving then they have shown on a number of occasions this seasons that they can be really dangerous. In Grant McConnell and Jordan Edmunds they have two wingers you would want to get the ball to, they are really strong runners – but if we can control the set-piece then we can control the game, and we’ve got a few guys behind the scrum who can do a bit of damage, too.”
“It has been a rebuilding process, but I have really enjoyed it. You get into coaching to challenge yourself, so this has been a chance to really dig deep. It would have been a lot easier if we had managed to keep more or less the same squad as last year, with just fine tuning what we already had in place, but doing it this way keeps you fresh.”
Smith is expecting to have boosted his pack by bringing former Scotland Sevens star Michael Maltman back into the fold by the end of September (he is currently getting up to speed playing for his native Musselburgh), with another unnamed back-five forward also on the radar.
“That should do us up front, and I’ve got two back divisions of more or less the same standard running against each other at training, so we’re pretty well covered behind the scrum as well,” adds Smith.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
GALA v MELROSE
VENUE: Netherdale @ 3pm
Gala: R Scholes; G Speirs©, C Dean, P Hendry, C Robertson; G Hunter, G Lott; M Carryer, D Brooker, C Keen, O Palepoi, C Weir, R Louw, J Irvine, S Cairns. Subs: C Reynolds, R Tod, A Emond, G Adams, G Mein, C Dods.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, G Taylor, R Taylor, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; J Bhatti, R Anderson, N Beavon, J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: C McKay, R McLeod, R Knott, S Hutchinson, G Wood.
TEAM NEWS –
Gala: Edinburgh pro Rory Scholes, who was a summer signing from Ulster, starts at full-back with captain Graham Spiers moving to the wing to accommodate, and Ross Combe is unfortunate to drop to the bench. Chris Dean, another Edinburgh pro continues at outside centre. Chris Weir returns after being best man at a wedding past weekend to reunite a highly experienced second-row combination, with Rob Louw moving to the back-row and Alan Emond dropping to the bench. New signing Curtis Reynolds is set to make his debut as a replacement after arriving from Plymouth.
Melrose: Only one change to the starting XV with James Head returning to the second-row and Ruari Knott dropping to the bench. There is a bit of shake-up on the bench, however, with Gavin Wood the only survivor from last week. Struan Hutchison gets a call-up after impressing for Melrose Storm, taking the place of club captain Bruce Colvine, who has broken his ankle. Cameron McKay and Ruari McLeod also get call-ups.
KEY BATTLE: Craig Robertson versus Austin Lockington
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“These are special games that are steeped in history. There has been an extra buzz around the group this week and I’m sure the game will produce a great spectacle…” – Chris Dalgleish (Gala)
“Gala will be on a high after two impressive performances on the road to Currie [a win] and Ayr [a narrow loss] and will be raring to right the wrongs of their first game at Netherdale. The Melrose boys are totally focused on the job in hand and know that they will have to put in an excellent performance to have any chance of being on the right side of the result. Competition for selection is currently as tough as I have known it to be…” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
VERDICT: Visitors edge a fast and furious Border battle.
GLASGOW HAWKS v WATSONIANS
VENUE: Old Anniesland @ 3pm
Hawks: P Murchie; J Bulumakau, R Beattie, D Milne, K Gossman; J Henderson, G Horne; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain, K McDonald, T Uanivi, A Hill, A Kirkland, T Spinks©. Subs: S Rodgers, P Cairncross, H Schulte, G Horne, D Milne.
Watsonians: R Steele; M Bertram, S McLeod, D Innes, J Helps; A Chalmers, R Cullen; M Christie©, N Cochrane, S Ruwer, F Morrison, C Borthwick, S Crombie, A Duckett, E Dods. Subs: N Borel, A Middleton, K Beattie, E McKirdy, B Kinghorn.
TEAM NEWS –
Hawks: Davie Milne takes over at inside centre from Paddy Kelly, who is off to play for London Scottish. George Horne returns to the starting team at scrum-half in place of Grayson Hart, who has been recalled by the Warriors. It is one pro replacing the other in the second-row with Namibian Tijuee Uanivi, a summer signing by Gregor Townsend from the Sharks in South taking over from Greg Peterson. Paddy Boyer and club captain Brendan McGroarty take their next step back from the injuries which sidelined them at the start of the season by being names on the bench.
Watsonians: Joe Helps makes his first XV on the right wing debut after signing from Melrose. Ewan Scott is injured so Andrew Chalmers moves up to stand-off from full-back, Rory Steele switches from left wing to take over the 15 jersey, creating the space for Mark Bertram to return to the team. Sean Crombie switches to blindside flanker so that Edinburgh pro Neil Cochrane can start at hooker, having played for Melrose last week. Blair Kinghorn has also been released by Edinburgh and starts on the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Grant Stewart versus Neil Cochrane
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We are very aware of the physical battle that Watsonians will present us and they have demonstrated they have one of the strongest scrums in the league. This week we have worked on being far more clinical in the scoring zones after failing to convert the many opportunities we created against Stirling …” – Finlay Gillies (Hawks)
“Hawks, like us, are a team that likes to play rugby and get the ball wide so it should be an entertaining contest …” – Marcus di Rollo (Watsonians)
VERDICT: Watsonians’ winning streak comes to an end.
HAWICK v AYR
VENUE: Mansfield Park @ 3pm
Hawick: N Renwick; D Graham, J Coutts, G Johnstone, W Hamilton; L Armstrong, B Campbell; M Landels, F Renwick, C Mackintosh, D Harlen, M Robertson, B McNeill©, S Graham, K Davies. Subs: T Skeet, R Hogg, R Gibson, K Ford, G Huggan.
Ayr: G Anderson; D McCluskey, A Russell, R Curle, C Gossman; F Russell, D Arnstrong; G Hunter, D Young, S Longwell, R McAlpine, S Sutherland, W Bordill, G Henry, B Macpherson. Subs: R Smith, A Prentice, C Stevenson, C Taylor, F Climo.
TEAM NEWS –
Hawick: Michael Robertson and Stuart Graham will look to add some oomph to a struggling pack, while Terry Skeet and Kirk Ford come on to the bench after showing up well for Hawick YM and at training – but minimal changes perhaps gives an indication of the lack of options available to the Mansfield coaching team as they desperately try to find the spark which will finally ignite their season.
Ayr: Glasgow Warriors and Scotland stand-off Finn Russell plays his first match for four months after a horror head injury suffered against Connacht in last year’s Pro12 play-off semi-final. He will have brother Archie for company at outside centre, while Ross Curle returns to the starting XV at inside centre, and Danny McCluskey moves out to the left wing in place of Jamie Bova. David Armstrong is also back in the team at scrum-half.
KEY BATTLE: Lee Armstrong versus Finn Russell
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“It is an opportunity to get back on the horse and redeem ourselves after what was an unacceptable performance [away to Heriot’s] last weekend. With there being a very good response in training this week I now know how much everyone wants to get their last game out of their system. What better opportunity could we have asked for than playing a top team like Ayr with the current Scotland fly-half at the helm…” – Nikki Walker (Hawick)
“Over the last couple of weeks we have not been at our best but have managed to come away with two important wins. Mansfield is always a challenging environment to play in and we will need to improve on last week’s performance if we are to get the result we desire …” – Calum Forester (Ayr)
VERDICT: Poor old Hawick!
CURRIE v STIRLING COUNTY
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 3pm
Currie: M McPhillips; H Elms, R Vernon, R Nelson, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; A McWilliam, F Scott, G Carson, H Bain, S Ainslie, R Davies, T Gordon, R Weston©. Subs: P Mundell, J Cox, D Marek, C Davies, R Snedden.
Stirling: J Hope; C Pringle, J Cresswell, F Lyle, B Sorbie; R Jones, N Kenatale; C Hutton, R Kennedy, A Nicol, C Hunter-Hill©, A Sinclair, R Leishman, S McDonald, A Taylor. Subs: M Emmison, M Hunter, H Burr, S Robertson, R Elliston.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie: After being a late call-off last week, Richie Vernon is released again by Glasgow and should start at outside centre. Jamie Forbes’ return from injury is well-timed, because Matthew Hooks and Graeme Clow have been ruled out this week. Paul Mundell comes onto the bench in place of Jarrod Firth and last year’s Scotland under-18 number eight Dan Marek is in line to make his competitive debut for the club after moving north from the Bath Academy set-up to study at Heriot Watt University.
Stirling: Only two changes after last week’s defeat at home to Hawks, with Fijian Nemia Kenatale released by Warriors to play scrum-half, and Colin Hutton making his first start of the season at loose-head prop in place of the unavailable Mike MacDonald.
KEY BATTLE: Charlie Shiel versus Nemia Kenatale
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“The score-line would suggest otherwise [but] there were definite signs of improvement in our match versus Melrose. Stirling will no doubt be targeting this match having had a couple of losses since their opening day win and we know that we will need to improve more if we are to get the win we desperately need. Although it’s been a disappointing start for us, the players have shown great application to improve and we stay positive in the belief that better results are just around the corner…” – Ben Cairns (Currie)
“As excellent as our opposition [Hawks] were last week, there was still numerous areas that we were extremely disappointed by, and which we have worked hard on this week to rectify. We can no longer keep saying we have a new squad of players, and that we’re waiting for them to click. This is the week that we’ll be looking to put in a performance and for the players who joined us over the summer to show what they are capable of …” – David Adamson (Stirling)
VERDICT: Currie finally get their season up and running.
BOROUGHMUIR v HERIOT’S
VENUE: Meggetland @ 3pm
Boroughmuir: D Steele; G McConnell, R Kerr, M Hare, J Edmunds; D Reekie, S Johnson; R Dunbar, J Bett, D Robertson, J Ure, M Tweddle, C Keddie©, D Hearn, A Mncube. Subs: T King, D Winning, J Scott, R Bradford, A Cox.
Heriots: G Parker; A McLean, L Steele, J Semple©, J Laird; A Hagart, A Simmers; M McCallum, M Liness, S Cessford, R Nimmo, C Smith, G Turner, J McLean, S Dewar. Subs: C Mulligan, M Bouab, E Jackson, D Crawford, J Webster.
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmir: Chris Laidlaw is unavailable so David Reekie takes over at stand-off in the only change to the back-line. Aubrey Mncube finally makes his first start at number eight, with Matthew Tweddle moving to the second-row, while Ross Bett and James Dunbar come into the front-row.
Heriot’s: Callum Marshall and Rory Carmichael are unavailable for personal reasons, but the timely return of Russell Nimmo fills the gap in the pack and Liam Steele slots seamlessly into the 13 jersey.
KEY BATTLE: David Reekie versus Alex Hagart
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Another local derby to look forward to and if it’s anything like last weeks’ game versus Watsonians it should be a cracker. Heriot’s got some real form last week and will be confident when they come to Meggetland…” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
“Boroughmuir have started the season reasonably well and have been looking to utilise their backline, which should be good news for the paying public. If we are able to control our set-piece as well as last week we should have good platform for our back division to express themselves…” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
VERDICT: Grunt at the pit-face proves decisive for the visitors.