THIS promises to be a seminal weekend in the season for several clubs as another fascinating BT Premiership campaign edges towards a nail-biting conclusion.
At the top of the table, Melrose need only one more win from their three remaining matches to guarantee themselves a top place finish at the end of the regular season, but they will have to fight for it when they welcome a Heriot’s team to Goldenacre who are still very much in the hunt for a play-off slot.
Phil Smith’s men are currently fifth in the table, six points behind Ayr but with a game in hand – which means they must target a full haul of points from their three remaining matches, and if Ayr fail to get a bonus-point win in either of their two remaining matches then it could come down to points differential – which is currently too tight to call.
Meanwhile, third placed Watsonians are only one point ahead of Ayr, so they could really do with a positive result away to Boroughmuir – but will have to be on top of their game against a side which pushed them all the way in the cup last weekend.
Boroughmuir are in desperate need of the league points against Watsonians because they are deeply embroiled in a four-way battle alongside Hawick, Glasgow Hawks and Stirling County to avoid finishing second bottom – which entails a relegation play-off at the end of the season against the second top team in National One.
Hawick will hope to carry on where they left off in the cup last week when they face Ayr again, this time at Millbrae, although George Graham’s men know that a backlash is on the cards.
Stirling County versus Hawks at Bridgehaugh will be a fascinating encounter between two teams who started the season brightly before their form, and consequently their league placings, nose-dived.
Marr face a tough trip to Malleny Park to take on second-top Currie Chieftains knowing that they must win that game, and their last match at home to Stirling County, then hope other results go their way, to avoid dropping straight back out of the Premiership after just one season in the top flight.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
BOROUGHMUIR v WATSONIANS
VENUE: Meggetland @ 3.00pm
Boroughmuir: G McConnell; M Brown, R Kerr, G Cannie, J Edmunds; C Laidlaw©, J Adams; R Montgomery, J Matthews, T Gracie, J Ure, F Field, A Mncube, R Ure, C Keddie. Subs: D Marek, A Nethery, R Young, E McKirdy, C Whyte.
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, M Allen, D Innes, E Miller; R Hutton, A Harris; N Fraser, D Miller, N Borel, E Dods, C Borthwick©, R Drummond, J Miller, M Fedo. Subs: M Christie, F Hobbis, A O’Neil, G Nelson, W Thomson.
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmuir: Only one change to the team which came up just short against the same opposition in the cup last week with Ryan Montgomery coming in for the suspended Dale Robertson.
Watsonians: Flanker James Miller and winger Ewan Miller come into the starting team for Gregor Nelson and Rory Steele, respectively; while Andrew O’Neil comes onto the bench in place of Kieran Watt, who is away on Scotland Under-18 national duty.
KEY BATTLE: Jonny Adams versus Ali Harris
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Back to back games against the same team are never easy but last week’s result was disappointing. We gave Watsonians a head start: something we must avoid this week. If last week is anything to go by, this is going to be a cracker …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
“A tight affair in the end last weekend and we were pleased to get the result which allowed us to advance to the next round of the cup. In training this week we have worked hard on improving our defence and discipline whilst consolidating our work in attack. This weekend’s game represents another must win for both sides as we return to league action …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
VERDICT: The coaches have called this one correctly – a vital game for both clubs – and it should be a beezer. Watsonians have enjoyed a fantastic seven game run since they lost to Melrose at the beginning of November and are desperate to consolidate their place in the top four. Having looked pretty good all season but plagued by a marked propensity for shooting themselves in the foot, Boroughmuir would very much prefer to avoid the inconvenience of the relegation play-off. Very difficult to call. Last week’s cup quarter final went to the last touch of the ball – with Boroughmuir maybe unlucky to lose. They have home advantage this week – but Rory Hutton is on fire and might just be the difference between two very attractive sides – who will hopefully draw a decent sort of crowd.
MELROSE v HERIOT’S
VENUE: The Greenyards @ 3.00pm
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, N Godsmark, C Jackson©, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Anderson, N Beavon, A Runciman, J Head, I Moody, R Knott, A Miller. Subs: R Ferguson, R McLeod, A Grieve, B Colvine, G Taylor.
Heriot’s: R Jones; C Robertson, L Steele, R Carmichael©, R Kay; D Martin, T Wilson; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, C Marshall, A Sinclair, I Wilson, J McLean, J Turley. Subs: A Johnstone, S Mustard, M MalTman, M Hughes, R Mulveena.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: Ross McCann returns to the starting fifteen on the wing so George Taylor will look to make an impact off the bench. Ali Miller is released by Edinburgh to play number eight, Iain Moody shifts to blindside and Ruaridh Knott starts at openside.
Heriot’s: Stuart Edwards, Charlie Simpson and John Rae are unavailable so Liam Steele, Rob Kay and Dom Martin come in. The pack only sees one change since the victory versus Ayr, which is Martin Bouab coming in at prop
KEY BATTLE: Ruaridh Knott versus Jack McLean
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Heriots against Melrose has served up some excellent games over the last few seasons. They had an outstanding result against Ayr last time out and I am sure they will be looking to back it up this weekend. We are looking forward to running out again at the Greenyards after being on the road for the last three fixtures. Hopefully a large crowd will turn out for what is sure to be a fiercely contested match …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
“Having not played for a couple of weeks, the players are desperate to get back into action, and a trip to the Greenyards should certainly whet their appetites. With Melrose now assured a home play-off semi-final and only needing a point from their last three games to finish top at the end of the regular season, Rob’s only job at the moment will be to keep his squad on task and not let them be distracted by looking ahead to the semis or upcoming Club International involvement. Our recent win versus Ayr has given the players renewed confidence, which had maybe been missing against Hawick and Watsonians – the key now is to build on this and try to make sure we maintain some standards that were set that day if we want to extend our season …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
VERDICT: A compelling game in prospect at the Greenyards. Have Melrose fully recovered from their early January wobble against Ayr and Currie Chieftains? Was Heriots epic victory at Ayr just another flash in the pan or the start of something substantive? Time will tell – but a betting man would go for a home win.
STIRLING COUNTY v GLASGOW HAWKS
VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 3.00pm
Stirling County: J Hope©; A McLean, E McGarvie, G Hughes, K Gossman; R Curle, P Jericevich; R Chies, R Kennedy, G Holborn, S Yarrow, H Burr, L Wynne, S Macdonald, R Leishman. Subs: B Gilchrist, A Nicol, R Bundy, G Gilliland, L Bonar.
Glasgow Hawks: R Beattie; E Oag, B McGroarty©, P Kelly, J Couper; C Harrison, P Boyer; S Findlay, P Cairncross, G Strain, A Kirkland, A Linton, C Kerr, S Leckey, G Adams. Subs: J Spence, L Skinner, F Hastie, M New, L Brims.
TEAM NEWS –
Stirling County: Peter Jericevich, Hamilton Burr and Glasgow Warriors pro Lewis Wynne come back in to the side; while Adam Nicol and Graham Gilliland join the replacements.
Glasgow Hawks: Second-row Andrew Kirkland, a mainstay in the team for two years, returns from a break. Paddy Boyer also comes back in at scrum-half, which allows James Couper to revert back to the wing. Mark New returns from Scotland Under-20s and will be desperate to make an impact from the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Jonny Hope versus Bobby Beattie
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Although it had no say in league position, the win last weekend that put us into the cup semi-final was very important and has galvanised the squad in training this week. We welcome Glasgow Hawks to Bridgehaugh this Saturday and I’m sure both teams are aware of how big this game is to secure a safer position in the league away from the relegation play-off …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County)
“I am sure neither team is under any illusion as to how big this Saturday at Bridehaugh is for both teams. We have had an extended time of preparation and I hope the hard work that everyone has been doing on the training pitch and on analysis pays off. Stirling are littered with quality players throughout their squad and they have an extra bit of x-factor in players like Kerr Gossman and Ross Curle, who we will need to watch very carefully. We know that we need to be playing near our best to get the result we need …” – Fin Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
VERDICT: It has been a frustrating and disappointing season for both Hawks and County – and both are now flirting with the relegation play-off. Both look stronger on paper than they have maybe been. Stirling have home advantage and will be buoyed by their cup win over Edinburgh Accies – so Hawks will need to pull something special out of the bag to interrupt their dispiriting run of defeats which stretches all the way back to October.
AYR v HAWICK
VENUE: Millbrae @ 3.00pm
Ayr: G Anderson; M Davidson, D McCluskey, F Climo, C Gossman; S Lyle, D Armstrong; R Hislop, L Anderson, S Longwell, S Sutherland, R McAlpine, G Hunter, T Spinks, P McCallum©. Subs: R Sayce, B Macpherson, G Stokes, H Warr, J Armstrong.
Hawick: A Weir; G Munro, K Davies, D Buckley, R Combe; L Armstrong, G Cottrell; S Muir, F Renwick, N Little, D Redpath, C Hamilton, R Gibson, S Graham, B McNeil©. Subs: M Carryer, M Landels, D Suddon, A Baillie, L Ferguson.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: Head coach Calum Forrester has given the same players who came up short at Mansfield Park last week the chance to redeem themselves against the same opposition, with Blair Macpherson returning from injury to take a spot on the bench. George Hunter [over 100 games during the last six years] and Scott Sutherland [over 200 games in the last 13 years] both start in what is likely to be their last outings at Millbrae, ahead of moving to London and retiring at the end of the season, respectively. Head coach Calum Forrester also announced on Thursday that he will step down during the summer.
Hawick: Exactly the same starting fifteen as came out on top against the same opposition last week, with only one change on the bench in Andrew Baillie coming into the squad for Kyle Brunton.
KEY BATTLE: Scott Sutherland versus Dalton Redpath
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“This is most likely our last home game of the season and it is important that we go out on a high and get a win for the supporters at Millbrae. It is hugely important that we raise our game this weekend as a victory is crucial in helping to secure a play-off spot. Hawick will come full of confidence following the Cup result and we expect another physical battle as they are fighting for BT Premiership survival …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
“Although it was a great result last week against Ayr in the BT Cup, we were a little disappointed with our performance in some areas of our game. We have been working hard to straighten these issues out and improve on them. We are fully expecting a backlash from last week and know that need to increase our intensity and physicality, and show a little more accuracy in attack if we are going to get anything out of the game …” – George Graham (Hawick)
VERDICT: It was a great cup win for Hawick at Mansfield last week – but Calum Forrester has very pointedly kept exactly the same team for tomorrow’s league clash at Millbrae. He clearly feels that these players owe him something – and if they play to anything like their true potential they should bag the points they badly need to secure their play-off slot.
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v MARR
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 2.30pm
Currie Chiefains: B Robbins; A Paton, H Elms, R Nelson©, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; K Burney, F Scott, A McWilliam, H Bain, V Wright, M Vernel, T Gordon, R Davies. Subs: G Carson, C MacKintosh, S Ainslie, S McGinley, C Smith.
Marr: C Kolarik; L Masaga, R Dalgleish, C Bickerstaff, S Bickerstaff; R McGee, G Baird; G Jackson, O Rossi, F Watt, K Hatherall, R Miller, S Vunisa, A Johnston©, B Johnston. Subs: S Adair, C Nisbet, M Pearce, T Buchanan, T Steven.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: The same pack and forward replacements for the third game on the bounce. Cammy Gray comes back in for Archie Maclean on the wing and Scotland 7s star Harvey Elms is fit again to replace David Hall, who is off travelling to New Zealand.
KEY BATTLE: Cammy Gray versus Lelia Masaga
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Whilst we were happy with the win last time out versus Hawks we were disappointed with the performance level. We have worked hard in training to rectify some of the issues and are looking forward to a much-improved showing in what is another crucial match. Whilst they have not picked up as many wins as they would have liked, Marr have been very competitive in almost every game. Their cup performance versus the league leaders and the two pros released will give them the belief they can do something at Malleny and we know we have to be at our best if we are to get the result in what could be our last home match of the season …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
VERDICT: Chieftains are running hot, and with Harvey Elms back in the mix a bad week for Marr could get a lot worse.