THERE were only three yellow cards issued across the whole league last weekend, which is half the number from round two which was the previous lowest total. And with no reported drop in intensity in the league, we can only hope that this can become a trend.
With a number of very tight fixtures on the cards this weekend, it will be fascinating to see how both the players and the referees manage that fine line between being as competitive as possible and foul/dishonest play.
The top two teams in the division will meet when old foes Melrose and Ayr clash at the Greenyards, and the visitors will be hoping for a repeat of their last trip to that neck of the woods in the BT Premiership play-off Grand Final at the end of last season. On that occasion, Ayr usurped the form book, and almost all expectations outside Millbrae, to secure a dramatic 8-12 victory.
Melrose re-grouped after that set-back and have come back even stronger this season. They have not yet really been put under pressure so far but will be aware that today’s opponents – who finally seem to be building up a head of steam after an inconsistent start to the campaign – should present the biggest threat to their hegemony yet. It promises to be a fascinating struggle.
Seventh placed Stirling County host sixth placed Watsonians at Bridgehaugh, with only points differential separating the pair. There really is a lot at stake here, with the winner likely to push their way right into the mix for a play-off slot while the loser will be left with an awful lot of ground to catch up. Indeed, if results fall against the beaten team, then they could end up being dragged back into the dog-fight to escape the relegation play-off slot.
Heriot’s at home to Glasgow Hawks is another intriguing battle. Fifth placed Hawks showing plenty fighting spirit chasing a lost cause during the second half against Ayr last weekend – and if Fin Gillies’ team can start this week as they finished last then they will, at least, give their hosts a real run for their money.
Currie Chieftains will be keen to consolidate their play-off credentials after being knocked off second spot as a consequence of last week’s home loss to Watsonians, but Boroughmuir are fighting for survival and, as we’ve said all season, they have the potential to cause a big splash at some point.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
MELROSE v AYR
VENUE: The Greenyards @ 2pm
Melrose: F Thomson; P Anderson, N Godsmark, C Jackson, G Taylor; J Baggott, B Colvine (YCx1); G Shiels, R Anderson (YCx1), N Beavon, A Runciman (YCx1), I Moody, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman© (YCx1), A Miller. Subs: R Ferguson, R McLeod (YCx2), R Knott, M McAndrew, G Wood.
Ayr: G Anderson (YCx1); P Dewhirst, S Lyle, S McDowall, C Gossman; B Thomson, L Young; R Hislop (YCx1), R Smith, S Longwell, B Macpherson (YCx1), R McAlpine, T Spinks, G Stokes, P McCallum© (YCx1). Subs: L Anderson, R Sayce, S Sutherland (YCx3), J Agnew (YCx1), S Graham.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: Sam Pecqueur and Ross McCann are still globe-trotting with Scotland 7s squad, but Nyle Godsmark is bac from injury to play outside centre with George Taylor switches to the left wing, and Fraser Thomson returns at full-back in place of Austin Lockington. Ali Miller is released by Edinburgh to play number eight.
Ayr: Only one change to the starting line-up from last week sees Paddy Dewhirst come in on the wing, with Scott Lyle moving in to outside centre for the injured Danny McCluskey. Scott Sutherland joins the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Ally Miller versus Pete McCallum
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Ayr at the Greenyards is always a fixture that our players want to be a part of. Training this week has been intense with players desperate to play. Ayr are playing really well and with confidence now so will be looking forward to this game. It’s looking like a big crowd will turn out on Saturday with over a hundred booked for the pre-match lunch and Jamie Bhatti presenting one of his Scotland playing shirts to the club from the national team’s successful autumn series …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
“Last week against Hawks was the best 60 minutes of rugby that we have put together this season. We cannot afford to switch off as we did in the last 20 minutes this week against a very dangerous Melrose side. They have been the outstanding side in the Premiership this season and the players are looking forward to the challenge in what will be a bruising encounter at The Greenyards.…” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
VERDICT: ‘Relentless controlled brutality’ was the name of the game for Ayr for 60 minutes against Glasgow Hawks last week and the shape of their bench plus Calum Forrester’s comments suggests that they have something similar in mind for Melrose – but they are eyeballing a squad of titans, and it does not look as though they are going to get any help from the weather. They have a chance – but they will need to be at the top of their game for the full 80 minutes – and everything will need to go their way.
For Melrose, it is about corroborating their credentials as one of Scottish rugby’s all-time special club sides.
STIRLING COUNTY v WATSONIANS
VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 3pm
Stirling County: J Hope©; D Gilmour, R Curle, G Gilliland (YCx1), E Macgarvie; G Hughes, P Jericevich (YCx1); M Macdonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, C Hunter-Hill (YCx2), J Beech, H Burr, S MacDonald, R Leishman (YCx1). Subs: M Emmison, G Holborn (YCx1), J Pow, H Henderson, M Donaldson.
Watsonians: W Thomson (YCx1); M Bertram, R Hutton, D Innes, M Allen; M Scott, A Harris; N Fraser, R Graham (YCx1), K Whyte (YCx2), J Hodgson (YCx1), C Borthwick©, G Nelson, J Miller, M Fedo. Subs: D Miller, F Hobbis, E Dods, J Harrison, A Davidson.
TEAM NEWS –
Stirling County: Player-coach Peter Jericevich returns from playing sevens in Dubai to play scrum-half, and Graham Gilliland is also available so starts at inside centre. Mike Macdonald is promoted from the 2nd XV to start at loose-head and Callum Hunter-Hill is released from Edinburgh to play second-row.
Watsonians: Jamie Hodgson returns from injury in the second-row, so Euan Dods drops to the bench, where he is joined by Darren Miller who replaces the injured Sean Crombie. Murray Scott starts at stand-off with Willie Thomson at full-back for the injured Ewan Fox and Andrew Chalmers respectively. Ally Davidson comes onto the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Ross Curle versus Rory Hutton
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“This week there has been a big focus on ourselves and ensuring we play to our strengths. It will be a busy club on Saturday with a big lunch on before the game, so the team are prepared to perform in front of a loud home support …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County)
“We dug deep in testing circumstances last week to ensure we overcame a spirited Currie Chieftains fightback in the second half. Another massive match this week – Bridgehaugh is an extremely tough place to go and with nearly 300 at the lunch we look forward to playing in front of a partisan crowd …” – Steve Lawrie (Watsonians)
VERDICT: Stirling are coming into this game on the back of two poor performances – away to Hawick and at home to Heriots – but they should be buoyed by the anticipated big partisan Christmas crowd.
Watsonians looked very good against Currie Cheiftains last week – and they won the corresponding fixture at Myreside earlier in the season fairly comfortably – but they will miss injured playmakers Andrew Chalmers and Ewan Fox.
A critical game for both clubs in terms of play-off possibilities – with the odds marginally in Watsonians’ favour.
HERIOT’S v GLASGOW HAWKS
VENUE: Goldenacre @ 2pm
Heriot’s: R Jones; C Simpson, R Mulveena, R Kay, L Steele; S Edwards (YCx1), T Wilson; S Cessford (YCx2), M Liness, E Millar-Mills, J Turley, A Sinclair, M Maltman, S Dewar, M Hughes. Subs: S Mustard, M Bouab (YCx1), I Wilson, R Carmichael©, J Rae.
Glasgow Hawks: S Peffers; K Rowe, B Beattie (YCx1), P Kelly, J Couper; R Thompson, P Boyer; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain, A Kirkland, F Hastie (YCx2), S Leckey (YCx1), C Kerr, J Eaglesham (YCx1). Subs: P Cairncross, L Skinner, A Linton (YCx1), S Yawayawa, J Steele.
TEAM NEWS –
Heriot’s: Five new faces from last week in Edinburgh tight-head prop Elliot Millar-Mills, plus Adam Sinclair, Martin Hughes, Stuart Edwards and Liam Steele, with Martin Bouab, Rory Carmichael and John Rae dropping to the bench, Neil Campbell stepping down to the 2nd XV and Callum Marshall unavailable.
Glasgow Hawks: Gary Strain swaps off the bench to tight-head prop with Lewis Skinner heading the other direction, in the only change to the starting pack. Ross Thompson returns from injury at stand-off but last week’s hat-trick hero Brendan McGroarty is away on business, so Bobby Beattie moves forward from full-back and Scott Peffers makes his first start for the club in the number 15 jersey after impressing off the bench last week. Sam Yawayawa has returned from illness and will look to make an impact off the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Michael Liness versus Grant Stewart
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“As we go into game two of this three-match mini section of the league, the players are in good spirits after another strong performance last weekend against a hard-working Marr side. However, we know we will be facing a Hawks side desperate to get back into the top four after a couple of recent defeats. Our previous match was a tight affair that kind of kick started our season, so we know the difficulties that Hawks will provide: strong scrummaging and the freedom to run from everywhere being just two obvious points. We are hoping to continue our good form – indeed we are hoping to play better for longer and apply the pressure required to get the win …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
“After a disappointing first 40 against Ayr last week, we turned things around in the second half and played some exciting rugby. We were disappointed with our defence of Ayr’s maul and we know that Heriot’s will target this area at Goldenacre this week. This is a huge game for both teams. We know we can’t really afford to keep dropping points if we still harbour ambitions of a top four finish …” – Fin Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
VERDICT: A strong three-match run in the league since their mauling by Melrose has hoisted Heriots into the play-off zone – and they will fight tooth and ‘nail’ to stay there.
Hawks were blown away in the first half against Ayr last week, but then dug in to keep the score respectable.
Difficult, however, to see them having the fire power to countermand Heriots’ aspirations.
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v BOROUGHMUIR
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 2.30pm
Currie Chieftains: J Forbes; R Smith, M Hooks, R Nelson©, B Robbins (YCx1); A Hastings, C Shiel; J Cox, G Carson, A McWilliam, H Bain, V Wright (YCx1), M Vernel (YCx1), T Gordon, R Davies. Subs: C Mackintosh, D Ferguson, S Ainslie, S McGinley, C Gray.
Boroughmuir: C Whyte (YCx1); G McConnell, R Kerr, G Cannie (YCx1), J Edmunds; C Laidlaw©, E McKirdy; P Richards, J Matthews (YCx4), T Gracie, S Corrigall, C Atkinson, A Erskine (YCx1), T Drennan, C Keddie. Subs: A Nethery, M Henry, A Mcnube (YCx1), J Adams, M Hare (YCx1).
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: John Cox comes in for the injured Kris Burney, Graeme Carson gets the nod at hooker and AP McWilliam comes back after illness to complete an all new starting front-row. Hamish Bain also returns from injury and starts in the second-row allowing Mike Vernel to move to blindside flanker, with Stephen Ainslie dropping to the bench. In the backs, Charlie Shiel returns in place of Matt O’Neil at scrum-half fresh after a couple of months shadowing the Edinburgh team. Adam Hastings is released by Glasgow Warriors to play stand-off, so Jamie Forbes moves to full-back, Ben Robbins switches to the wing and Cammy Gray drops to the bench.
Boroughmuir: The only change in the backs is at scrum-half where Euan McKirdy start and Jonny Adams drops to the bench. In the forwards, Johnny Matthews comes back at hooker after spending the last two weeks away with Edinburgh in South Africa, Paul Richards replaces the injured Dale Robertson at loose-head prop, and Fin Field has an exam so is replaced by Sean Corrigall in the second-row.
KEY BATTLE: Adam Hastings versus Chris Laidlaw
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Another week and another local derby. We learnt some harsh lessons last week against a side who were more physical and hungrier for the win. We have worked hard this week in training to make sure that this is not the case come Saturday. It will be nice to be at home after a couple of tough encounters away, although I’M sure that Boroughmuir will make the short journey up the road confident they can get a result. Both sides play an attractive brand of rugby, and are packed full of the best young talent in Scotland, so let’s hope the weather plays ball! It’s also the Christmas lunch at Malleny so we would hope for a bumper crowd …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“Five tries against Melrose last week was a real positive but too many silly mistakes really hurt us, so more of the good rugby and less of the poor rugby is a must against a Currie team whom will be trying to bounce back after last Saturday’s defeat to Watsonians …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
VERDICT: Boroughmuir badly need a result before Christmas – and the last thing that Peter Wright would have wanted to see on the Chieftains the team-sheet was Adam Hastings and Charlie Shiel at half-back. But that is the way it is – and a big ask has become an even bigger one. They just need to hang in there and hope that for once Lady Fortune smiles their way.
Ben Cairns was not a happy bunny after the debacle at Myreside last week – and you would expect a big reaction from his players – putting a home win very much on the cards.
- Marr play Hawick at Fullarton Park