THE penultimate round of matches before the league goes into shutdown during the Autumn international window sees Watsonians get a real chance to measure the improvements they have made in recent weeks with a daunting trip to Millbrae to take on an Ayr side hell-bent on consolidating their second place in the table.
Meanwhile, Heriot’s will be desperate to get their season back on track after two defeats in as many weeks to the top two sides in the league, but they face another tough challenge away to third top Currie Chieftains.
An intriguing battle is on the cards at Meggetland, when two sides have have flattered to deceive this season lock horns, with Peter Wright’s Boroughmuir looking to put some more distance between themselves and the drop zone, while Fin Gillies’ Glasgow Hawks are eyeing a return to the top four.
Stirling County are at home to Marr, while top takes on bottom in a Border derby between Melrose and Hawick at The Greenyards.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
AYR v WATSONIANS
VENUE: Millbrae @ 3pm
Ayr: B Thomson; S Lyle, D McCluskey, F Climo (YCx1), C Gossman; P Dewhirst, H Warr; G Hunter (YCx1), L Anderson, A Prentice, J Agnew (YCx1), S Sutherland (YCx2), T Spinks, G Stokes, P McCallum© (YCx1). Subs: D Young, R Hislop, B Macpherson, J Bova, G Anderson (YCx1).
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Allen, R Hutton, D Innes, A Davidson, E Fox (YCx1), A Harris; N Fraser, R Graham, K Whyte (YCx2), J Hodgson (YCx1), C Borthwick©, R Drummond, J Miller, E Dods. Subs: S Crombie, N Borel, M Fedo, W Thomson (YCx1), J Harrison.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: Glasgow Warriors pro Brandon Thomson finally get’s a start at full-back. Teenager Paddy Dewhirst comes in at stand-off, and Frazier Climo moves to inside centre in place of Stafford McDowall, who is in the Glasgow Warriors squad his weekend. In the pack, Adam Prentice starts at tight-head for the unavailable Steven Longwell, and Robin Hislop will make his first appearance for the club since moving back north from Dincaster during the summer off the bench. He is joined by Blair Macpherson who has also recovered from injury.
Watsonians: An unchanged starting pack after last week’s victory over Boroughmuir, while Nathan Borel takes over from Finn Hobbis as prop cover on the bench. In the backs, DJ Innes and Michael Allen return from injury, and Ally Davidson get’s his chance on the wing, with Jack Harrison dropping to the bench and Mark Bertram off to play for the 2nd XV.
KEY BATTLE: Tommy Spinks versus Rory Drummond
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We started slowly last weekend, however, the players did well to dig in and get the bonus point right at the end of the game. We will need to take the way we finished last week and make sure that we start well against a dangerous Watsonians side. They have threats right across the park with a big, physical set of forwards that we will need to stop at source to stop the ball getting to the pace that they have out wide …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
“It was pleasing to get the win last week following a poor start to the game. We again showed that we are able to finish matches well and played some exciting attacking rugby along the way. We know that we cannot afford to start in the same vein at Millbrae this weekend. Ayr have really hit their stride in recent games so we will need to be focussed in our efforts from the start of the game until the final whistle. Ayr possess a strong pack who maul and carry the ball extremely well. In the backs they have an exciting blend of youth and experience. We look forward to measuring ourselves against the current champions …” – Steve Lawrie (Watsonians)
VERDICT: Ayr were moderate at Mansfield last week. Things are coming together quite nicely for Watsonians – but they probably still don’t have the overall firepower to cause a major discomfit at Millbrae – though if they come out hard with all guns blazing – they just might have a chance.
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v HERIOT’S
VENUE: Malleny Park@ 3pm
Currie Chieftains: B Robbins (YCx1); R Smith, R Nelson©, D Hall, C Gray; J Forbes, M O’Neil; J Cox, C Mackintosh, A McWilliam, V Wright (YCx1), M Vernel, S Ainslie, T Gordon, R Davies. Subs: G Carson, K Burney, S McGinley, C Smith, G Faulds.
Heriot’s: R Jones; C Simpson, R Mulveena, R Kay, C Robertson; R Carmichael©, T Wilson; M Bouab (YCx1), M Liness, S Cessford (YCx2), C Marshall, J Turley, M Maltman, I Wilson, M Hughes. Subs: S Mustard, G Cameron, S Dewar, A Ball, D Van Der Merwe.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: Rhys Davies getting the nod over Scott McGinley at number eight is the only change in the pack. With Harvey Elms away on Scotland 7s duty, Robbie Nelson shifts from inside to outside centre, and David Hall get a chance in the number 12 jersey. On the bench, Graeme Carson comes in for Campbell Wilson, having impressed for the ‘A’ team.
Heriot’s: Iain Wilson makes his long awaited return to first team action after an injury he picked up in the 2016 Cup Final. On the bench, Gavin Cameron and Struan Dewar are involved for the first time this season, alongside South African winger Duhan Van Der Merwe, who has been sent out by Edinburgh to get some game time after injury.
KEY BATTLE: Mike Vernel versus Jack Turley
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Great to get the win against a very robust Marr side in tough conditions and we look to continue our good form versus Heriots this weekend. They have had a tough couple of weeks against the top two in the league and I am sure they will be targeting this game to get back on track. There have been some massive games between the two sides in the last few years and we expect this one to be another tight affair …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“Despite a couple of tough weekends the players remain upbeat and focused on the task ahead. Melrose showed a clinical side to their game that was a lesson to our boys in not turning over ball. This final fixture in the rotation pitches us against a Chieftains side who are performing well at times, but most importantly getting results. This means, as ever, we are going to have to be at the top of our game as they have shown many different ways to win this season. I am sure the usual boisterous Currie home support will make for a terrific atmosphere and one I hope our boys respond to …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
VERDICT: Matches between these two long standing protagonists are invariably good value. Heriot’s hung in against Melrose last week – without looking overly convincing. Chieftains are probably favourites – so long as they can establish a firm enough bedrock up front to give their young, hard-running backs the room to operate.
BOROUGHMUIR v GLASGOW HAWKS
VENUE: Meggetland @ 3pm
Boroughmuir: C Whyte; D Hoyland, M Brown, R Kerr, J Edmunds; G Cannie (YCx1), J Adams; R Dunbar (YCx1), J Matthews© (YCx2), D Winning, F Field, A Erskine, D Marek, T Drennan, C Keddie. Subs: C Davies, D Robertson, C Atkinson, E McKirdy, G McConnell.
Glasgow Hawks: R Beattie (YCx1); K Rowe, B McGroarty, M New (YCx1), S Yawayawa; R Thompson, P Boyer; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain, A Kirkland, K Beattie, S Leckey (YCx1), C Kerr, J Eaglesham (YCx1). Subs: P Cairncross, L Skinner, F Hastie, L Brims, C Harrison.
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmuir: Damian Hoyland is released by Edinburgh to play on the wing. Fin Field makes his first appearance of the season in the second-row, which allows Tom Drennan to switch to openside flanker. A strong bench containing Cal Davies, Callum Atkinson, Euan McKirdy and Grant McConnell will look t make an impact in the second half.
Glasgow Hawks: Bobbie Beattie returns at full-back after being ill last week, and his brother Kenny takes over from Kiran McDonald in the second-row, where he will partner the ever-present Andrew Kirkland. Brendan McGroarty has also returned from his stag do and will partner Mark New in he centre.
KEY BATTLE: Johnny Matthews versus Grant Stewart
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“A really poor last 30 minutes last week cost us dearly. We must learn to play for 80 minutes – something that we have tried to address this week …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
“Boroughmuir flew out the blocks last week and played some outstanding multiphase rugby to score some good tries against Watsonians. They have some really potent attackers in their backline in Jordan Edmunds and Ciaran White, who we will need to watch closely for the full 80 minutes. The forwards also boast some powerful ball carriers and will pose a running threat that is different to other teams in the league. Peter Wright, as ever, has plenty of tricks up his sleeve so we will need to ensure that we concentrate at every set-piece and play with our heads up …” – Fin Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
VERDICT: Coaching can be a thankless task – and Peter Wright and Fin Gillies have had their full share of frustration this season already. Difficult to take a view – so variable has been the form of both clubs to date. Given their home advantage – Boroughmuir are may be the better bet – but it will come down to the mindset in the two dressing rooms – and how that mindset transports itself onto the field of play in terms of shape, structure, focus, commitment and discipline.
MELROSE v HAWICK
VENUE: The Greenyards @ 3pm
Melrose: F Thomson; G Wood, G Taylor, C Jackson©, P Anderson; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Ferguson, N Beavon, J Head, A Runciman, N Irvine-Hess, R Knott, I Moody. Subs: D Elkington, R McLeod (YCx2), G Runciman, S Hutchison, B Chalmers.
Hawick: A Weir; G Munro, G Johnstone, D Buckley (YCx1), L Ferguson (YCx1); L Armstrong, G Cottrell; S Muir, M Carryer, N Little, C Hamilton, D Redpath, G Graham (YCx2), S Graham (YCx1), B McNeil (YCx1). Subs: F Renwick, R Sutherland (YCx1), K Bryce, D Lowrie, K Davies.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: Ross McCann, Sam Pecqueur and Nyle Godsmark are all away with the Scotland 7s squad this weekend, so the return of George Taylor in the centre after being side-lined by injury for the first two months of the season is a timely boost. In the pack, Richard Ferguson gets a well deserved start and club captain Grant Runciman returns from injury to take his place on the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Jason Baggott versus Lee Amstrong
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“This weekend’s game with Border rivals Hawick is sure to be a cracker. George clearly got a reaction last weekend against Ayr and will be looking to build on that performance. With (potentially) three Scottish internationals in the Hawick front five, we will need to be at the top of our game. With the ex-players’ lunch sold out and a large Hawick support expected, hopefully the game will live up to all expectations …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose).
VERDICT: A home banker – though it could be brutal.
STIRLING COUNTY v MARR
VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 3pm
Stirling County: L Bonar; L Trotter, R Curle, G Gilliland, K Gossman; J Hope©, P Jericevich (YCx1); M Macdonald, R Kennedy, G Holborn, C Hunter-Hill, J Beech, H Burr, C Fusaro, R Leishman (YCx1). Subs: M Emmison, R Cheis (YCx1), J Pow, S Macdonald, R Swan.
Marr: D Steele; S Bickerstaff, R Dalgleish, C Bickerstaff, T Steven; C Kolarik (YCx1), K Barreto; G Jackson, S Adair, W Farquhar, E Bulger (YCx1), C Nisbet, B Johnston, M Pearce (YCx1), R Miller. Subs used: O Rossi, F Watt, R Jackson, G Ness, T Buchanan.
TEAM NEWS –
Stirling County: Mike Macdonald and Ross Curle come into the starting fifteen having made big impacts from the bench against Hawks, and Graham Gilliland is available again. Callum Hunter Hill is released from Edinburgh Rugby and Chris Fusaro is released from Glasgow Warriors.
KEY BATTLE: Peter Jericevich versus Kaleem Barreto
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“We were much improved defensively last Saturday at Hawks and we will be looking to build on that performance this weekend. It will be a tough game, but we have to back ourselves and after a strong week of training we are confident that we are ready to perform …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County).
VERDICT: Things went pretty well for Stirling against Hawks last week in terms of set-piece, defence and discipline – and more of the same should see them home against Marr – even without Niko Matawalu.
- Centrally contracted professional players are in bold
- YC denotes yellow cards received