BT Premiership preview: Round 9 – Heriot’s out to defend Bill McLaren Shield … plus full match details for the weekend

Bill McLaren Shield
Ayr (twice) and Heriot's are the only teams so far to have successfully defended the Bill McLaren Shield at home on four consecutive occasions

THE BILL McLAREN SHIELD does not currently have the profile it deserves. Introduced in memory of the great commentator in 2011, it is regarded as a highly prestigious prize by the team’s that compete for it, but has been almost completely forgotten about by the popular press.

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Based on New Zealand’s famous Ranfurly Shield, it is a challenge competition competed for by Scotland’s leading clubs, in which the holder must defend the prize against any team they host in either league or cup competition – knowing that a defeat will see the silverware become the property of their opponents, for them to defend in their next home match.

Four successful defences mean that the holder gets their name engraved on the Shield, after which they take the trophy on the road with all league and cup games becoming challenge matches until such time as an opponent takes the spoils.

There is always an extra edge to the match whenever the Shield is up for grabs.

At the moment, Ayr are the only team to have managed to get their name engraved on the trophy, having defeated Aberdeen Grammar and Boroughmuir in the league plus Hillhead Jordanhill and GHA in the cup way back in October and November 2012.

The fact that no team has since managed to emulate that feat may suggest that the Shield is something of a poisoned chalice, but in reality it is indicative of just how competitive it is at the top of Scottish domestic rugby at the moment.

Heriot’s are the latest team to set their sights on getting their name engraved on the trophy after claiming it from Melrose with a 17-21 win at the Greenyards last weekend. To achieve that goal their home form must improve from what we have seen so far this season, with them managing only two wins from four outings.

In fairness to Heriot’s, those two losses were against high-flyers Ayr and Glasgow Hawks, and were endured while the Goldenacre men were still adjusting after a summer which witnessed significant changes to the playing personnel at the club.

The evidence from recent weeks suggests that last year’s double winners have finally found their feet and they will meet Stirling County, their first Bill McLaren Shield challengers, in confident mood at 3pm this Saturday.



VENUE: Old Anniesland @ 3pm


Hawks: E Oag; J Bulumakau, R Beattie, B McGroarty©, K Gossman; J Steele, G Horne; S Findlay, P Cairncross, B Cullinanen, A Linton, A Kirkland, A Redmayne, G Stewart, M Fagerson. Subs: S Rodgers, C Brodie, S Thompson, P Boyer, D Milne.

Currie: H Elms; B Robbins, R Nelson, C Hutchison, C Gray; J Forbes, R Snedden; J Cox, F Scott, G Carson, H Bain, S Ainslie, L Crosbie, S McGinley, R Weston©. Subs: A McWilliam, R Patterson, T Gordon, M McPhillips, C Shiel.


Hawks: The red card shown to co-captain Brendan McCroarty last week has been rescinded meaning that he is able to line up at inside centre. Tommy Spinks is out with an injury but that is offset by the return from Glasgow Warriors duty of Matt Fagerson, who comes in as a direct replacement at number eight.  Paul Cairncross will make his first start for the 1st XV at hooker after impressing for the 2nd XV and in training; while Jack Steele comes in at stand-off, which allows George Horne to revert to scrum-half.

Currie: A couple of changes in the backrow with Rhys Davies missing out through injury and Thomas Gordon rotated to the bench, which gives both Scott McGinley and Luke Crosbie the opportunity to start the match.

KEY BATTLE: Brendan McGroarty versus Camron Hutchison


“After a thoroughly disappointing result last week we will look to bounce back against a Currie team who will be brimming with confidence after an excellent win last weekend. They have some excellent players littered throughout their team, none more so than the evergreen Ross Weston. Jamie Forbes is an outstanding attacker and will be served quality ball by Richard Snedden and a large pack. We will continue to play an open expansive brand of rugby and we hope this week that we can convert any opportunities we get into points …” – Finlay Gillies (Hawks)

“Having built up a fair bit of momentum at Malleny the challenge for this group now is to take that form away from home. Hawks will be keen to put on another big home performance having been away the last couple of weeks and will no doubt feel aggrieved with the way events unfolded versus Ayr last weekend. We expect them to use that fire on Saturday. We know it will be a huge challenge for us to get anything from the game – however, we go there with a bit of confidence after last week’s performance …” – Ben Cairns (Currie

VERDICT: A step too far for Currie at this stage.


VENUE: Myreside @ 3pm


Watsonians: K Young; M Bertram, D Innes, T Hart, M McFraland; A Chalmers, R Cullen; M Christie©, S Crombie, C Eastwood, M Poole, C Borthwick, D Dee, A Duckett, E Dods. Subs: N Cochrane, D Miller, D Keenan, V Fihaki, E McKirdy, A Harris.

Ayr: G Anderson©; R Dalgliesh, A Russell, S McDowall, C Gossman;  D McCluskey, D Armstrong; D Sears-Duru, R Smith, S Longwell, R McAlipine, S Sutherland, G Hunter, R Mackenzie, B Macpherson. Subs: D Young, C Stevenson, P McCallum, P Dewhirst, J Bova.


Watsonians: Winger Mark Bertram and prop Calum Eastwood come into the starting fifteen for the injured Ewan Scott and the unavailable Nathan Borel. It will be teenager Eastwood’s first top team start. Viliami Fihaki will look to make an impact from the bench after being released again by Edinburgh.

Ayr: In the pack, Robbie Smith earns a start at hooker with David Young dropping to the bench, and Ruaridh Mackenzie comes into the backrow for the injured Will Bordill after impressing off the bench last week.  In the backs, Ross Curle misses out through injury so Danny McCluskey slots in at stand-off. Club captain Pete McCallum returns to the squad following his recovery from injury earlier in the season.

KEY BATTLE: Euan Dodds versus Blair Macpherson


“We were bitterly disappointed to lose in the last few minutes at Stirling County last week. We have learnt quickly in this division that you cannot switch off for a second …” – Marcus Di Rollo (Watsonians)

“Last week the pack put in a really dominant performance and we will be looking for them to back it up again this week in what will be a tough trip to Myreside. Watsonians have suffered a few narrow losses in recent weeks but are not far away from re-capturing their early season form so we look forward to the challenge that lies ahead …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)

VERDICT: Watsonians’ woes continue.


VENUE: Meggetland @ 3pm


Boroughmuir: D Steele; J Edmunds, A Cox, M Hare, G McConnell,; C Laidlaw, N Fowles; D Robertson , S Clark, D Winning, M Tweddle, J Ure, J Ritchie, M Walker, C Keddie©. Subs; T King or A McLaurin, T Gracie, R Woodland, S Johnson, G Cannie.

Gala: G Speirs; R Scholes, S Tofilau, P Hendry, A Northam; G Hunter, C Adams; C Keen, M Carryer, D Brooker, C Pate, C Weir, R Louw, S Cairns, H Borthwick. Subs: C Reynolds, O Palepoi, A Emond, L Berg, C Robertson.


Boroughmuir: Jamie Ritchie, who has been a huge influence every time he has played for the Meggetland men this season, has been released by Edinburgh again and lines up at blindside flanker. Fellow pro Nathan Fowles is at scrum-half so Sam Johnson drops to the bench. Mark Hare is back in the starting team at centre.

Gala: Edinburgh trio Rory Scholes, Alex Northam and Sasa Tofilau have all been released by Edinburgh and populate the three-quarters line, with Lewis Berg and Craig Robertson dropping to the bench to accommodate while Ross Combe is injured. Up front, Gary Adams is injured so Opeta Palepoi joins the match day squad, with Cammy Pate promoted from the bench and Rob Louw moving to the flank.

KEY BATTLE: Jamie Ritchie versus Rob Louw


“After what was probably our worst performance of the season the players have worked hard on making things right. We know how important this game is …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)

“Last Saturday’s win was much needed but we know we need to improve in many areas as we move onto this weekend’s vital match. Boroughmuir have been playing some very good rugby of late and will offer many difficult challenges that will require a marked improvement from the squad if we hope to get the win. The importance of this fixture has not been lost on the players and they are well aware of the difference a positive result could ultimately have on the path of our season …” – Chris Dalgleish (Gala)

VERDICT: The home team by the odd try from a barrel load of scores.


VENUE: Goldenacre @ 3pm


Heriots: G Parker; C Simpson, S Rasolea, J Semple, H Boisseau; A Hagart, A Simmers; M Bouab, G Turner, M McCallum, C Smith, C Marshall, M Maltman, J McLean, C Du Preez. Subs: M Liness, S Cessford, R Nimmo, A Ball, J Rae.

Stirling: J Hope; M Lamb, N Grigg, F Lyle, C Pringle; R Jones, N Kenatale; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, H Burr, C Hunter-Hill©, R Leishman, A Taylor, H Henderson. Subs: M Emmison, C Hutton, S MacDonald, C Turnbull, J Creswell.


Heriot’s: There are three Edinburgh pros in the starting line-up in the shape of centre Junior Rasolea, hooker Goerge Hunter and number eight Cornell Du Preez, which means Michael Liness, Struan Cessford and John Rae drop to the bench. Academy prospect Murray McCallum is back from helping out the pro team as injury cover and takes over come straight into the team in what appears to be his new position of tight-head prop.

Stirling County: Nick Grigg, Fraser Lyle and Nemia Kenatale are all released from Glasgow Warriors and all start. Matt Lamb returns to the right wing following a good showing off the bench last week. Alex Taylor makes a return from injury and starts at openside flanker for the injured Struan Robertson.

KEY BATTLE: Cornell Du Preez versus Harry Henderson


“I am hoping that last week’s outstanding performance gives the squad the sort of confidence that they have been missing so far this season. Stirling have been going well in all matches so far and seem to have been unlucky to lose on a couple of occasions, this means we will have to be at the top of our game. With the Bill McLaren Shield now resting up at Goldenacre this should bring added incentive for both teams to go all out for the win …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)

“Despite getting the win last week we were slightly disappointed with our performance and so realise we will need to be at the top of our game and take every area of our play up a level to compete with Heriot’s, who seem to have rediscovered some of their form from last season. There can be no lapses in concentration when playing the champions, and so all our players will need to be fully focused right from the off. We hope that last week’s win acts as a catalyst for the remainder of the season, and we are excited about the prospect of playing on a dry, firm pitch at Goldenacre …” – David Adamson (Stirling)

VERDICT: The Bill McLaren Shield stays at Godenacre.


VENUE: Mansfield Park @ 3pm


Hawick: N Renwick; N McColm, G Johnstone, K Brunton, W Hamilton; L Armstrong, A Weir; M Landels, F Renwick, C Mackintosh, M Robertson, D Harlen, R Gibson, B McNeill©, K Davies. Subs: J Cosgrove, B Robertson, R Hogg, D Lowrie, J Coutts.

Melrose: C Jackson; A Lockington, G Taylor, R Taylor, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; D Elkington, R Ferguson, R McLeod, J Head, L Carmichael, A Grieve, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©. Subs: R Anderson, J Bhatti, R Knott, D Colvine, N Godsmark.


Hawick: Ali Weir moves from full-back to scrum-half, with Neil Renwick taking over the number 15 jersey. South African Dylan Harlen starts in the second-row and Bruce Gibson shifts to openside flanker.

Melrose: Richard Taylor comes back into the starting team at inside centre with Craig Jackson moving to full-back. Ali Grieve gets a start at openside flanker after impressing off the bench over the last couple of weeks, while Dan Elkington, Richard Ferguson and Ruairi McLeod start in the front row, suggesting the visitors see this as a good opportunity to give fringe players some valuable game time.

KEY BATTLE: Ali Weir versus Murdo McLeod


“It was a difficult pill to swallow last week – a game I think we dominated but just didn’t execute our game-plan to the full and take the many opportunities on offer.  We have worked hard this week to ensure we turn pressure into points and also tighten up our defence as we know Melrose are one of the top three teams in the country right now, that are almost in a different league to everyone else …” – Nikki Walker (Hawick)

“Hawick have had a couple of excellent wins this year at home and will be looking to use this, along with the vocal crowd to their advantage.  This week’s sessions have had an added intensity to them after being disappointed with our performance last week. We are all excited about rectifying the mistakes we made and putting in a performance that we will all be proud of …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)

VERDICT: Visitors back to winning ways with a flourish.


Image courtesy: John Thorburn [Hawick RFC]



About David Barnes 3911 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.