AN epic tussle is on the cards at Millbrae on Saturday afternoon when Currie Chieftains will try to make it third time lucky after two agonising defeats against Ayr earlier this season. The fact that the two sides are currently battling it out for a favourable play-off spot adds to the sense of occasion.
When the clubs met at Malleny Park back in September, it was the visitors who emerged as 15-24 victors – a result which kick-started the champions’ season after a few patchy performances and results during the opening weeks of the campaign. Meanwhile, it was the Chieftains’ first defeat of the season, and therefore a significant psychological blow.
Ben Cairns’ side came up short again when the two sides reconvened hostilities in the Cup last month, but pushed their opponents all the way in a gruesome battle played in terrible conditions at Millbrae.
The Chieftains raced into a 15-point lead in that match, but were ruthlessly hunted down by an Ayr collective which looked like it was beginning to recapture something approximating its best form. The final score was a 26-22 victory for the home team after a last minute try by prop Robin Hislop.
The Chieftains are bolstered this time by the availability of scrum-half Charlie Shiel – after two months away on Edinburgh duty – and Adam Hastings at stand-off. Scotland internationalist Richie Vernon will be feeling his way back into rugby after an injury-ravaged couple of seasons, but his experience could be crucial if this game goes to the wire.
League leaders Melrose head to Scotstoun to take on Glasgow Hawks, and with Ross McCann back on the wing after a couple of weeks away on sevens duty, they will be looking forward to playing some expansive rugby – and their opponents will be of a similar mind-set.
Watsonians were held to a draw when they played Marr at Fullarton Park earlier in the season, but seem to have made big progress since then – on fast and wide pitch at Myreside, they will be keen to demonstrate that this, indeed, is the case.
There is plenty at stake at Meggetland where Boroughmuir will view the arrival of Stirling County – on a three-match losing streak – as a valuable opportunity to get some crucial points in the battle to escape the relegation zone.
Their opponents, meanwhile, are also in desperate need of some positive momentum having dropped to sixth in the table, after being third just three rounds ago. They are now five points adrift of the play-off places having played a game more than fourth placed Chieftains. They cannot afford to lose much more ground if they want to make it to the end of season shoot-out.
Heriot’s will be looking to consolidate their second-place position when they travel down to Mansfield Park to take on Hawick.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
AYR v CURRIE CHIEFTAINS
VENUE: Millbrae @ 3pm
Ayr: G Anderson (YCx1); S Graham, P Dewhirst, S McDowall, C Gossman; S Lyle, 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 Grant, S Sutherland (YCx3), J Agnew (YCx1), J Bova.
Currie Chieftains: J Forbes; R Smith, M Hooks, R Nelson©, B Robbins (YCx1); A Hastings, C Shiel; J Cox, G Carson, A McWilliam, M Vernel (YCx1), V Wright (YCx1), R Davies, T Gordon, R Vernon. Subs: C Mackintosh, D Ferguson, H Bain, S McGinley, C Gray.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: The only change to the squad scheduled to play Melrose last week is the inclusion of Ryan Grant, who has been released by Glasgow Warriors, who covers prop from the bench.
Currie Chieftains: Glasgow Warriors pro Richie Vernon makes his comeback after more than nine months out with a run of frustrating injuries. He is starting at number eight, meaning Hamish Bain (who missed on a chance to start last week when the game was frozen off) will make his own comeback from injury off the bench, and Stephen Ainslie is the unfortunate man to miss out. No change in the back-line which means Charlie Shiel and Adam Hastings get a belated opportunity to team up at half-back.
KEY BATTLE: Blair Macpherson versus Mike Vernel
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Given how tight the fight is for a top four spot at the moment, both teams will be aware of how important it is to get a win to take into the New Year. Our game in the Cup went down to the final play last month and we expect an equally close encounter this weekend. …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
“Very frustrating that last week’s match was called off. Ayr’s match suffered the same fate so we are in the same boat. Players will no doubt be feeling fresher for the weekend off and will be looking forward to getting a final game under their belt before the Christmas break. The timing of the fixture makes it a crucial one for both teams’ aspirations of a top four finish. Ayr have had the better of us so far this season but we have not been far away. Hopefully we can put together a more complete performance and go into the break on a bit of a high …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
VERDICT: Third against fourth spells double jeopardy.
It was a tight league match earlier in the season at Malleny – and an even tighter Cup tie at Millbrae last month – with Ayr coming out just ahead in both encounters.
Chieftains did not play last week – but will still be smarting from their poor show at Myreside a fortnight ago.
Ayr will have been needled by the brickbats they picked up at Melrose last week – and keen to stoke up the fires for their rescheduled match at the Greenyards on 6th January.
A huge game for both clubs – Adam Hastings and Charlie Shiel at half back could give Chieftains an edge – but home advantage likely to swing it Ayr’s way.
BOROUGHMUIR v STIRLING COUNTY
VENUE: Meggetland @ 3pm
Boroughmuir: C Whyte (YCx1); G McConnell, R Kerr, G Cannie (YCx1), J Edmunds; C Laidlaw©, E McKirdy; P Richards, J Matthews (YCx4), T Gracie, F Field, C Atkinson, A Erskine (YCx1), T Drennan, C Keddie. Subs: A Nethery, M Henry, A Mcnube (YCx1), J Adams, M Hare (YCx1).
Stirling County: J Hope©; L Trotter, E Macgarvie, R Curle, K Gossman; G Hughes, P Jericevich (YCx1); M Macdonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, C Hunter-Hill (YCx2), J Beech, H Burr, L Wynne, R Leishman (YCx1). Subs: M Emmison, R Cheis, J Pow, S Macdonald, M Donaldson.
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmuir: The only change from the team which should have taken the field against Currie Chieftains is Fin Field returning to the second-row after finishing his exams.
Stirling County: Lewis Wynne is released by Glasgow Warriors and takes over from Shaun Macdonald at open-side flanker. Behind the scrum, Ewan Macgarvie shuffles in from the wing to partner Ross Curle in the centre, with Logan Trotter and Kerr Gossman returning to the squad tp provide serious potency in the wide channels. Remy Cheis joins the replacements for the unavailable Gary Holburn.
KEY BATTLE: Chris Laidlaw versus Grant Hughes
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We are expecting a pretty physical game and the players know we are in a real battle at the foot of the table. It is important that we perform at home and players have trained well this week to try and achieve that …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
“After a strong start, it was frustrating to allow Watsonians back in to the game last weekend and let them win it. We must start strong again and be on top of our game for the full 80 minutes this Saturday against an ever improving Boroughmuir side …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County)
VERDICT: Stirling talk a good game, but have flattered to deceive all season – lacking cohesion at key moments – with some pretty ropey defence thrown into the mix.
A must win for Boroughmuir – and it is maybe just about there – if they can keep their shape and contain their tendency towards ill-discipline.
GLASGOW HAWKS v MELROSE
VENUE: Scotstoun @ 1.30pm
Glasgow Hawks: R Beattie (YCx1); K Rowe, B McGroarty©, P Kelly, S Yawayawa; 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, C Brodie, J Steele, S Peffers.
Melrose: F Thomson; G Taylor, N Godsmark, C Jackson, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Anderson (YCx1), N Beavon, A Runciman (YCx1), I Moody, R Knott, G Runciman© (YCx1), A Miller. Subs: R Ferguson, D Elkington, A Grieve, B Colvine (YCx1), P Anderson.
TEAM NEWS –
Glasgow Hawks: An unchanged pack from last week, while the back-line is re-jigged to accommodate Brendan McGroarty returning from work commitments in the States to partner Paddy Kelly in the centre. This means that Bobby Beattie returns to full-back and Scott Peffers drops to the bench. Sam Yawayawa has earned a start on the wing ahead of James Couper after a powerful performance from the bench last weekend.
Melrose: Ali Miller is again released by Edinburgh to wear the number eight jersey and Ross McCann starts on the wing after returning from his debut with the Scotland 7s squad in Cape Town last weekend. Dan Elkington starts on the bench after impressing for second string Melrose Storm.
KEY BATTLE: Kyle Rowe versus Ross McCann
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Melrose are clearly the team to beat in the league this year and we can’t wait to take our opportunity against the best. They will be fresh and armed with a point to prove after last weekend. We are disappointed with our recent form in the league and have been frustrated by the fact that we are playing in patches rather than for the full 80 minutes. We know we will have to put together a really complete performance to compete with Melrose – we can’t wait for the challenge …” – Fin Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
“Glasgow Hawks away is always a hugely challenging fixture and they will be excited to be taking the game to Scotstoun which will allow them to play at pace. Although they have had a tough couple of weeks they clearly have the players and ability to turn over any team in this league. We have worked hard this week and are desperate to put in a performance before the league breaks for Christmas …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
VERDICT: Another tough day ahead for Glasgow Hawks – and very difficult to see them getting much change out of Melrose.
WATSONIANS v MARR
VENUE: Myreside @ 3.00pm
Watsonians: A Davison; M Bertram, M Allen, D Innes, J Harries; R Hutton, A Harris; F Hobbis, R Graham (YCx1), N Fraser, J Hodgson (YCx1), C Borthwick©, M Fedo, G Nelson, E Dods. Subs: D Miller, N Borel, J Miller, M Scott, W Thomson (YCx1).
Marr: D Steele; S Bickerstaff, R Dalgleish, C Bickerstaff, T Steven; C Kolarik (YCx1), K Barretto; O Kebble, O Rossi, W Farquhar, E Bulger (YC x1), R Miller (YCx1), M Pearce (YCx1), A Johnston (YCx1), B Johnston. Subs: S Adair, C Nisbet, K Hatherall (RCx1), G Paxton, T Buchanan.
TEAM NEWS –
Watsonians: Finn Hobbis comes in for the unavailable Kyle Whyte; while Euan Dods comes into the back-row in place of James Miller, who drops to the bench. Behind the scrum, Ally Davidson gets the nod at full-back and Jason Harries is released by Edinburgh to start on the wing. Murray Scott and Willie Thomson start on the bench, while Jack Harrison drops to the 2nd XV.
KEY BATTLE: Craig Borthwick versus Ross Miller
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“We were pleased to get the win in the end versus Stirling last week. We have, however, been brutal in our critique of the performance and identified a good number of areas that need improved. This week, Marr represent a massive challenge. We are only too aware that in our last encounter they convincingly won the second half through a robust display of forward dominance. We therefore need to play for the full 80 minutes in order to get the result required …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
VERDICT: Watsonians have bounced back impressively from the roasting they took from Melrose at the start of November, with solid wins against Currie Chieftains and Stirling County – but Stevie Lawrie has been in the game long enough to recognise a banana skin when he sees one – and that is exactly what Marr represent in terms of his club’s play-off aspirations. They should win – but they will need to play hard ball. Good to see Euan Dodds back in their starting line-up.
HAWICK v HERIOT’S
VENUE: Mansfield Park @ 3.00pm
Hawick: A Weir; R Combe, K Davies, D Buckley (YCx1), G Munro; L Armstrong, G Cotterill; S Muir, M Carryer, D Johnstone, D Redpath, C Hamilton, G Graham (YCx1), S Graham (YCx1), B McNeil© (YCx1). Subs: N Little, F Renwick, A Bailey, L Ferguson (YCx1), G Johnstone.
Heriot’s: R Jones; C Simpson, R Mulveena, R Kay, J Rae; S Edwards (YCx1), T Wilson; S Cessford (YCx2), M Liness, E Millar-Mills, C Marshall, J Turley, M Hughes, I Wilson, S Dewar. Subs: S Mustard, G Cameron, A Sinclair, R Carmichael©, C Robertson.
TEAM NEWS –
Heriot’s: Callum Marshall comes back into the middle-row at the expense of Adam Sinclair, Struan Dewar moves to number eight with Martin Hughes switching to blindside flanker and Iain Wilson starting at open-side. John Rae starts on the wing in place of the unavailable Liam Steele, while Craig Robertson is promoted to the bench after four tries for the 2nd XV last weekend.
KEY BATTLE: Guy Graham versus Martin Hughes
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“This will undoubtedly be a much tougher fixture than the home one, with George [Graham] now having galvanised the Hawick boys into back-to-back wins. But we have also had a couple of decent results recently and are looking to continue this form down at Mansfield, as we seek to nail down a top four slot. While a long bus trip and a cold wet day in Hawick is not everybody’s cup of tea, the players know full well that these sorts of excuses will not be tolerated. We will need to go down with the correct frame of mind to get the job done …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
VERDICT: Heriots stuck 70 points on Hawick at Goldenacre back in September – but are bound now to be ‘surely tested’ at Mansfield by a resurgent Hawick if the pitch thaws. On paper, they look strong enough to handle the challenge – but the match will not be played on paper – and their heads will need to be in the right place. Probably a hard-earned victory for Heriots – but possibly a huge step towards redemption for Hawick. A question of ‘bottle’!