BT Premiership: Round four preview – runners, riders and verdict

Gary Holburn - Stirling Country prop locks horns with opposite number Martin Bouab (R). Heriots v Stirling County, BT Premiership, Goldenacre, Edinburgh, Scotland, Saturday 2nd September 2017. Credit: Fotosport/David Gibson

BIG matches at both ends of the table this week. Top two Melrose and Currie Chieftains put their undefeated records on the line at home against two sides which rightfully regard themselves as genuine contenders but have a point to prove after last weekends’s defeats, with Glasgow Hawks and Ayr pitching up at The Greenyards and Malleny Park respectively.

Boroughmuir are still without a win at the foot of the table but pushed Ayr and the Chieftains all the way in their two games so far at Meggetland, before giving the points to their opponents with some loose kicking at the death. They will look to emulate some of their home form at Bridgehaugh this weekend, and crucially keep their focus for the full 80, against a Stirling County side which fired out of the blocks at the start of the campaign but hit a hurdle last weekend. We will find out this weekend how much that stumble as interrupted their rhythm.

Heriot’s look to build momentum at home, while Watsonians face a tricky trip to Ayrshire.

HOW IT STANDS –

ALL THE RUNNERS AND RIDERS –

STIRLING COUNTY v BOROUGHMUIR

VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 3pm

TEAMS –

Stirling County: J Hope©; L Trotter, R Curle, G Gililand, K Gossman; L Bonar, R Swan; R Cheis, R Kennedy, A Nicol, C Hunter-Hill, H Burr, L Wynne, C Fusaro, R Leishman. Subs: L Brymer, G Holborn, J Beech, S MacDonald, C Robertson.

Boroughmuir: C Whyte; D Hoyland, R Kerr, G Cannie, J Edmunds; C Laidlaw©, J Adams; R Dunbar, J Matthews, D Winning, A Erskine, C Atkinson, D Marek, C Keddie, T Drennan. Subs: C Davies, D Robertson, A Mcnube, J Hamilton, G McConnell.

TEAM NEWS –

Stirling County: Chris Fusaro is released by Glasgow Warriors to play openside flanker so Shaun MacDonald moves to the bench. Graham Gilliland and Kerr Gossman return to the three-quarters line, and Ruairidh Swan makes his first start at scrum-half. Liam Brymer and Craig Robertson are involved for the first time this season.

Boroughmuir: Ronan Kerr returns from injury to slot in at outside centre and winger Grant McConnell is also fit again so starts on the bench, with Edinburgh pro Damian Hoyland being handed the number 14 jersey. Greg Cannie moves from full-back to inside centre, and Ciaran Whyte switches the other way. The pack is unchanged.

KEY BATTLE: Logan Trotter versus Jordan Edmunds

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“To slip up last week against Watsonians was frustrating; however, it is all about learning from each game and we are confident that, after a strong week of training, we have a squad of players that are clearer on how we want to play and motivated to perform this weekend. Boroughmuir will be disappointed with their first three results, but close games with Ayr and Currie Chieftans show that they are not far away from being on the right end of the scoreboard so we need to ensure we are on top of our game …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County)

“A bitterly disappointing result last week considering we had most of the possession and territory, and with Stirling losing a tight game versus Watsonians we realise how tough a match this is going to be. The main thing for us is to show a bit more composure and cut out the silly mistakes … –  Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)

VERDICT: Did Stirling flatter to deceive in their opening two games or was their poor show at Myreside last week simply an aberration? Whatever the answer, they are sticking a seriously impressive back row on the park against Boroughmuir.

Injuries and careless kicking from hand have cost Boroughmuir dear, yet despite their results, they are not far away from being a pretty reasonable side. It does, however, need to start happening for them soon.

Looks tight  and that is when Jonny Hope comes in handy.

MELROSE v GLASGOW HAWKS

VENUE: The Greenyards @ 3pm

TEAMS –

Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, N Godsmark, C Jackson, S Pecqueur; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Anderson, R McLeod, J Head, I Moody, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, A Miller. Subs: R Ferguson, D Elkington, R Knott, B Colvine, J Johnstone.

Glasgow Hawks: R Beattie; K Rowe, B McGroarty©, D Milne, S Yawayawa; R Thompson, G Horne; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain, A Kirkland, K McDonald, C Fenton, M Smith, J Eaglesham. Subs: A Linton, L Skinner, C Kerr, J Steele, E Oag.

TEAM NEWS –

Melrose:  A settled side, with James Head replacing Angus Runciman in the second-row after an impressive performance for Melrose Storm the only change to the starting line-up after last week’s impressive victory over Ayr. Dan Elkington comes onto the bench for the first time this season.

Glasgow Hawks:  Gary Strain will bring experience when replacing Lewis Skinner at tight-head prop. Jake Eaglesham returns from holiday and goes straight back into the starting line-up at number eight, while Cammy Fenton moves back to blindside from hooker and Matt Smith is released by Glasgow Warriors again to occupy the openside slot. George Horne has also been released by Warriors to play scrum-half, while Davie Milne replaces Jack Steele at inside centre after impressing in training.

KEY BATTLE: Murdo McAndrew versus George Horne

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

Glasgow Hawks have started the season strongly with their expansive style. They will be looking to right a few wrongs after last Saturday’s result and are sure to be in determined mood. We have prepared well this week and are excited to be back at The Greenyards. All involved are well aware of the effort and accuracy that is required and focussed on putting in a performance that our supporters will be proud of …” –  Rob Chrystie (Melrose)

“Melrose have been in imperious form this season and already look like the best team in the league by some distance. Rob has them extremely well organised and they play with tempo and discipline that nobody has been able to match this year. They have quality throughout their squad and also have some star flair in guys like Fraser Thompson and Craig Jackson. We are hoping for a reaction after last week and want to bring the same physicality and tempo that allowed us to beat Ayr two weeks ago. We are under no illusions as to how difficult a task we face but we are excited about the challenge, and hope to finish the match with more than twelve players on the pitch this year …” – Fin Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)

VERDICT: Melrose are averaging seven tries per game – very much the form team – playing at the Greenyards on a balmy Autumn afternoon. What could go wrong?

Fairy tales don’t always have happy endings and Hawks have previous when it comes to pulling rabbits out of hats. But, realistically, it is difficult to see any outcome other than Melrose continuing their majestic march.

CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v AYR

VENUE: Malleny Park @ 3pm

TEAMS –

Currie Chieftains: G Faulds; R Smith, H Elms, R Nelson©, B Robbins; J Forbes, M O’Neil; K Burney, C Mackintosh, A McWilliam, H Bain, V Wright, M Vernel, T Gordon, R Davies. Subs: G Carson, J Cox, S Ainslie, S McGinley, C Gray.

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, B Macpherson, G Stokes, P McCallum©. Subs: L Anderson, A Prentice, M Badenhorst, P Dewhirst, B Thomson.

TEAM NEWS –

Currie Chieftains: Kris Burney comes in at loosehead prop for John Cox, Matt O’Neil replaces Charlie Shiel at scrum-half and Glen Faulds is at full-back, with Ben Robbins moving to the wing in place of Cammy Gray. On the bench, Graeme Carson and Scott McGinley come back in after performning well for the ‘A’ team. 

Ayr: Scott Sutherland and George Hunter bring serious grunt and experience to the pack. Brandon Thomson is released by the Warriors and looks set to make his debut for Ayr from the bench. Tommy Spinks is out with a hamstring strain picked up at training on Tuesday so George Stokes, who has sorted out the registration issues which sidelined him last week, comes in at open side flanker.

KEY BATTLE: Vince Wright versus Scott Sutherland

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“Ayr would have hoped for a better start to the season but with the squad they have I am sure the corner will be turned soon – we are hoping it is not this weekend at Malleny! There has been a very good rivalry between the two sides over the years with a number of similarities between the two clubs. We are looking forward to getting back out at Malleny and will do our best to maintain our unbeaten start to the season …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)

“We gave Melrose too much of a head start last week and we can’t afford to do the same against a high flying Currie side. There were a lot of positives to take from our second half display but we will need to tighten up on our defence in order to get a result this weekend …” –  Calum Forrester (Ayr)

VERDICT: Style versus substance in what is a critical game for both clubs. Chieftains found it hard work at Meggetland last week and will need to withstand a fierce physical challenge up-front if their electrifying young backs are to corroborate their title challenging credentials.

Ayr, so long one of the big beasts of Scottish club rugby, need to re-establish their mojo and get the show back on the road after the car crash against Melrose last week – and they have certainly beefed up their pack and their bench.

Chieftains will be hoping that home advantage can swing it their way but there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded buffalo.

HERIOT’S v HAWICK

VENUE: Goldenacre @ 3pm

TEAMS –

Heriot’s: R Jones; C Simpson, R Mulveena, R Carmichael©, C Robertson; S Edwards, T Wilson; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, C Marshall, A Sinclair, M Maltman, J McLean, M Hughes. Subs: L Sinclair, S Mustard, J Turley, A Ball, R Kay.

Hawick: A Weir; G Johnstone, L Armstrong, D Buckley, L Ferguson; K Brunton, G Munro; S Muir, M Carryer, K Bryce, C Hamilton, D Redpath, G Graham, S Graham, B McNeil. Subs: F Renwick, N Little, R Gibson, D Lowrie, G Welsh.

TEAM NEWS –

Heriot’s: Stewart Mustard, now in his 20th season at the club, comes onto the bench for Murray McCallum. Nick Sutherland drops out the squad to make way for former captain Jack Turley, who is back after a season working and playing in the north of England. Craig Robertson earns a starting slot, which sees Robert Kay drop to the bench.

KEY BATTLE:  Callum Marshall versus Dalton Redpath

WHAT THE COACH SAYS –

“We have a full house for our junior section lunch so hopefully the young ‘Nails’ will see an entertaining match between two attack minded teams.While Hawick maybe haven’t had the start to the season they were hoping for, either have we. I sense both teams are building for better things ahead and I am sure if one of us gets close to clicking the other could be in for a tough afternoon. We will be looking to build on last weekend’s result and performance, which, while still a bit of a rollercoaster at times, is beginning to show more highs than lows …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s).

VERDICT:  Heriots spirit has never been in question  – but their structures have at times been flaky. They did, however, get a confidence boosting win at Scotstoun so the form book predicts a successful first defence of the Bill McLaren Shield, which they prised away from Glasgow Hawks last Saturday.

MARR v WATSONIANS

VENUE: Fullarton Park @ 3pm

TEAMS –

Marr: C Kolarik; T Buchanan, C Bickerstaff, C Sturgeon, R Dalgleish; D Douglas, K Barreto; G Jackson, J Malcolm, W Farquhar, G Peterson, E Bulger, R Miller, M Pearce, K Hatherall. Subs used: S Adair, C Nisbet, R Jackson, M Freydell, G Paxton.

Watsonians: G Bryce; M Bertram, R Hutton, D Innes, J Farndale; A Chalmers, W Thomson; N Fraser, S Crombie, K Whyte, J Hodgson, C Borthwick©, M Fedo, J Miller, E Dods. Subs: D Miller,  F Hobbis, A O’Neill, E McKirdy, J Harrison.

TEAM NEWS –

Watsonians: Nick Fraser, Rory Hutton and Mark Bertram come into the starting team. The injured duo of Ewan Fox and Michael Allen drop out the sqaud. Jack Harrison comes into the squad for the first time since joining from Fylde.

KEY BATTLE: Conor Bickerstaff versus Rory Hutton

WHAT THE COACH SAYS –

“We were pleased to get our campaign off the mark with a win at the weekend, but we appreciate that it was a far from perfect performance. We have had a clear focus on our defence again at training and hope to continue to improve in this area. This week we have an extremely tough trip to Fullarton Park where Marr boast an impressive home record. Having won two out of their first three fixtures – demonstrating a robust edge and an exciting style of rugby in the process – we know we will need to show complete focus and maximum effort in order to deliver the performance we desire …” – Steve Lawrie (Watsonians).

VERDICT: Watsonians got the result they needed against Stirling last week, but they will know from Heriots’ experience a fortnight ago that Marr is not any easy place to play  noisy crowd, cramped pitch and pumped-up, abrasive opponents. They should get there but they will need to front-up, play some hard ball and not fall off their tackles.

About David Barnes 2967 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.