ANOTHER weekend of intriguing encounters starts with a bang tonight [Friday] when Watsonians host their old friends and rivals Heriot’s under the lights at Myreside.
Pace-setters Melrose will have their hands full when defending their undefeated record at home to Currie Chieftains, while last season’s champions Ayr host second-placed Stirling County at Millbrae.
Winless Boroughmuir are under huge pressure to get a result at home to Marr, while Glasgow Hawks will be looking for a similar sort of performance to last week but a better outcome when they host Hawick at Balgray – 20 years after the two sides met at the same venue in a pre-season friendly ahead of the newly formed Glasgow club’s first full season.
HOW IT STANDS –
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS –
WATSONIANS v HERIOT’S
VENUE: Myreside @ 7.30pm
Watsonians: J Harrison; M Bertram, R Hutton, D Innes, S McLeod; A Chalmers, W Thomson; N Fraser, D Miller, K Whyte (YCx2), J Hodgson, C Borthwick©, M Fedo, J Miller, E Dods. Subs: A Johnston, N Borel, R Drummond, E McKirdy, A Davidson.
Heriot’s: R Jones; C Simpson, R Mulveena, R Carmichael©, C Robertson; S Edwards (YCx1), T Wilson; M Bouab (YCx1), M Liness, S Cessford, C Marshall, A Sinclair, M Hughes, J McLean, J Turley. Subs: L Sinclair, F Ward, C Smith, A Ball, R Kay.
TEAM NEWS –
Watsonians: Sean Crombie drops out through injury so Darren Miller comes in at hooker, while Glenn Bryce and Jamie Farndale return to Edinburgh Rugby and are replaced by Jack Harrison at full-back and Scott McLeod on the right wing. Prop Nathan Borel and influential number eight Rory Drummond return to the squad following injury.
Heriot’s: Michael Maltman drops out, with returning talisman Jack Turley stepping up to the starting fifteen after three tries off the bench last week. Clarke Smith comes onto the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Euan Dods versus Jack Turley
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“The squad have reflected on what might have been against Marr and we accept that we need to show a more clinical edge when we create scoring opportunities. Despite the disappointment, there were a number of positives from the contest that demonstrated we will be hard to handle when we are accurate in our efforts. Friday Night Lights this week at Myreside and we hope to see a sizeable and noisy crowd for what should be an entertaining derby between two teams that enjoy playing expansive rugby. With Heriot’ s now fully hitting their stride over the last two weeks and with the return of the talismanic Jack Turley, we look forward to testing ourselves against one of the form teams in the competition …” – Steve Lawrie (Watsonians)
“The boys are also looking forward to catching up with Stevie [Lawrie – former Heriot’s forwards coach] post-match. It will be strange to see, and most definitely hear, him from the other side of the rope, however, when the whistle goes I am sure all thoughts will be on getting the win. With Watsonians coming into form at the same time as us, it is really set up to be a very competitive local derby. We welcomed the opportunity to score a few tries last weekend but know our attack will have to be considerably sharper and more accurate this week. They have a strong set piece and look to be settling into a group that will be very competitive going forward. We can’t afford an off night in any area of our game …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
VERDICT: A real sense of occasion for this ‘old school’ Edinburgh derby under the Myreside lights tonight – and not a pro player to be seen!
The jury may still be out on Watsonians – their resolve impugned by the forfeiture of a ten point lead (with the wind at their backs) against Marr last Saturday.
Heriots did well claiming the Bill McLaren Shield from Hawks a fortnight ago – but were hardly tested by Hawick last week.
It should, however, be fast and furious – with Heriots maybe just edging it.
WHEN SATURDAY COMES –
MELROSE v CURRIE CHIEFTAINS
VENUE: The Greenyards @ 3pm
Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, N Godsmark, C Jackson©, G Wood; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Anderson, R McLeod (YCx2), J Head, A Runciman, I Moody, N Irvine-Hess, A Miller. Subs: R Ferguson, N Beavon, R Knott, B Colvine (YCx1), B Chalmers.
Currie Chieftains: B Robbins (YCx1); R Smith, H Elms, R Nelson©, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; K Burney, C Mackintosh, A McWilliam, V Wright, M Vernel, L Crosbie, T Gordon, R Davies. Subs: G Carson, J Cox, S Ainslie, S McGinley, C Smith.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: Club captain Grant Runciman is injured but Neil Irvine-Hess has recovered from illness to take over the number seven jersey, while Gavin Wood replaces the injured Sam Pecqueur on the wing. Nick Beavon returns to the squad and number eight Ali Miller is once again released by Edinburgh.
Currie Chieftains: Hamish Bain picked up an injury last week so Mike Vernel moves to 2nd row and Luke Crosbie comes in at blindside flanker after time away from playing whilst completing an extended conditioning block. Charlie Shiel returns at scrum-half with Matt O’Neil missing out, and Cammy Gray comes into the starting fifteen while Glen Faulds drops to the ‘A’ team.
KEY BATTLE: Craig Jackson versus Robbie Nelson
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Currie have had a good start to the season, although will be disappointed with their result last weekend which makes them all the more dangerous. With a sold out Ladies Day this weekend there is sure to be a great buzz around the ground. The players are in determined mood to improve on last weekend’s showing and are well aware of the level of performance required …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
“Not good enough from our perspective last week. Ayr clearly targeted a big start and we gave them too many opportunities to get early points on the board. Although there was a reaction after half-time the damage had been done and the gap proved too big. This week’s match doesn’t get any easier. With the form they are in, Melrose at The Greenyards is currently the toughest fixture in the Premiership calendar. They have had a sublime start to the season playing some fantastic rugby and with a consistency that no other team has been able to match. However, we have prepared well and are looking forward to the challenge. We know that if we can produce the high-performance levels we have shown in patches so far for bigger periods of the match then we can go toe-to-toe with the league leaders …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
VERDICT: By their own standards, Melrose were muted against Hawks last week – yet they still managed to cobble together a bonus point win. Fraser Thomson,Craig Jackson, Ross McCann, Jason Baggot, Russel Anderson, Iain Moody and others have pushed the Premiership bar up dramatically this season – and with Rob Christie biting at their heels, they are hardly likely to take their foot off the gas.
Being blown away early doors by Ayr was bad news for Currie Chieftains – but presumably a lesson well learnt – and they did fight their way back to square the try count. It is a huge ask – but they are maybe the Premiership’s best bet against Melrose in dry weather conditions – and Luke Crosbie just might make a difference.
Realism does, however, point towards a home win.
AYR v STIRLING COUNTY
VENUE: Millbrae @ 3pm
Ayr: G Anderson; S Lyle, D McCluskey, S McDowall, C Gossman; F Climo, H Warr; G Hunter, R Smith, S Longwell, R McAlpine, S Sutherland (YCx1), B Macpherson, G Stokes, P McCallum©. Subs: L Anderson, A Prentice, T Spinks, P Dewhirst, R Nairn.
Stirling County: J Hope©; K Gossman, R Curle, G Gililand, L Trotter; P Jericevich, R Swan; R Cheis, R Kennedy, G Holborn, C Hunter-Hill (YCx1), J Beech, H Burr, L Wynne, R Leishman (YCx1). Subs: M Emmison, M McDonald, J Pow, S MacDonald, L Bonar.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: No changes to starting fifteen which resuscitated a faltering season against Currie Chieftains last weekend, but some serious firepower added to the bench in the shape of back-row Tommy Spinks (recovered from a hamstring strain) and former Scotland Under-20 star Robbie Nairn (who is due to make his club debut).
Stirling County: Gary Holborn returns at tighthead prop in place of Adam Nicol; Joe Beech is rewarded with his first start for the club in the second-row after some strong appearances as a replacement; and Hamilton Burr moves the back-row to fill the gap left by the unavailability of Chris Fusaro, who is on Glasgow Warriors duty. Peter Jericevich returns to the backline after being away with work last week, but starts at stand-off so that Ruairidh Swan can continue at scrum-half.
KEY BATTLE: Danny McCluskey versus Ross Curle
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Last week was a much improved performance and was exactly the start we were looking for. The challenge for us is to put in a performance for the full 80 minutes this weekend against a Stirling side full of confidence having started the season strongly. There are a few familiar faces in their backline, who will be looking to make an impression on their return to Millbrae, so our defence will need to be at its best to stop the attacking threats that Stirling pose across the park …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
“Although we were satisfied to get the bonus point win at home to Boroughmuir, there has been a real focus in training this week to tidy up on a few areas which we feel will allow us to perform better this weekend against current champions Ayr. It will be a challenging game down at Millbrae but the squad are confident that the work we have put in will be rewarded …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County)
VERDICT: Ayr got the show back on the road at Malleny last week and will expect to kick on to the play-offs from there.
Defence is a big thing with Stirling – and will be a key factor against Ayr. Peter Jericevitch at stand-off is an interesting selection – and Ross Curle can expect a warm reception back at Millbrae.
It could go either way – but will be decided in a monumental clash up front – with two powerful back rows knocking seven bells out of each other. The absence of Stirling tighthead Adam Nicol could be decisive.
GLASGOW HAWKS v HAWICK
VENUE: Balgray @ 3pm
Glasgow Hawks: R Houliston; K Rowe, R Beattie, B McGroarty©, S Yawayawa; L Brims, G Horne (YCx1); S Findlay, G Stewart, L Skinner, A Kirkland, S Leckey, C Kerr, M Smith (YCx1), J Eaglesham (YCx1). Subs: P Cairncross, G Strain, F Hastie, M New, R Thompson.
Hawick: L Armstrong; G Welsh, G Johnstone, D Buckley (YCx1), L Anderson; A Weir, G Cottrell; S Muir, F Renwick, N Little, D Lowrie, D Redpath, G Graham (YCx1), R Gibson, S Graham. Subs: M Carryer, M Landels, C Hamilton, K Davies, K Brunton.
TEAM NEWS –
Glasgow Hawks: Liam Brims makes his first start of the season at stand-off with Ross Thompson moving to the bench; Bobbie Beattie moves to outside centre with Robert Houliston coming in at full-back; Kiran McDonald picked up a knock last week so Stephen Leckey moves to the second-row and Callum Kerr starts at blindside flanker; and Lewis Skinner returns to the starting team at tighthead prop with Gary Strain dropping to the bench. Paul Cairncross, Mark New and Fraser Hastie have been charged with making an impact off the bench after their performances for the 2nd XV earned promotion to the top squad.
KEY BATTLE: George Horne versus Greg Cottrell
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Both teams had disappointing results last week and we will both be looking to bounce back and make improvements in our performance. We played Hawick in pre-season and only narrowly won at Mansfield Park so we know that last week was just a freak result for them and there will be an almighty backlash …” – Finlay Gillies (Glasgow Hawks).
VERDICT: Glasgow Hawks make a wistful return to Balgray’s pleasant climes – but after last week’s debacle at Goldenacre there can be no such nostalgia in the visiting dressing room.
Even the Hawick bookies are not laying odds on this one.
BOROUGHMUIR v MARR
VENUE: Meggetland @ 3pm
Boroughmuir: G Cannie; D Hoyland, R Kerr, M Hare (YCx1), J Edmunds; C Whyte, B Mills; R Dunbar, J Matthews (YCx1), D Winning, T Drennan, D Marek, A Mncube (YCx1), M Walker, C Keddie. Subs: A Nethery, D Robertson, F Field, J Hamilton, G McConnell.
Marr: C Kolarik (YCx1); T Buchanan, C Bickerstaff, C Sturgeon (YCx1), R Dalgleish; D Steele, K Barreto; G Jackson, J Malcolm, W Farquhar, G Peterson (YCx1), E Bulger (YCx1), M Pearce, A Johnston (YCx1), K Hatherall. Subs used: S Adair, N Wallace, F Grant, TBC, G Paxton.
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmuir: The absence with a leg injury of captain, chief playmer and goal-kicker Chris Laidlaw prompts a reshuffle of the backline, with Mark Hare returning at inside centre, Greg Cannie reverting to full-back and Ciaran Whyte switching to stand-off. It is all change in the second-row with Edinburgh pro Lewis Carmichael not released and Callum Atkinson nursing an injury. Ross Dunbar, Aubrey Mncube and Matt Walker all come into the starting fifteen.
KEY BATTLE: Tom Drennan versus Greg Peterson
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Marr will be coming to Meggetland with a huge amount of confidence after such a good start to their season, so we know that we are going to have to play well to get a result. Last week we once again couldn’t turn possession and territory into points, which is something we have been working on in training …” – Peter Wright(Boroughnmuir).
VERDICT: Boroughmuir are great to watch – but they are bottom of the league – and need to become much more pragmatic in their approach.
An already tough mission against Marr has become a lot tougher with injuries to Chris Laidlaw and Callum Atkinson – and Lewis Carmichael’s unavailability.
Two back-row forwards in the boiler-house hardly promotes the critical hypothesis of earning the right to go wide.
They can win – but as Peter Wright suggests, they will need to bust a gut to do it.
Centrally contracted full-time pro players are in bold