GLASGOW HAWKS have not got much joy from their league encounters against Ayr in recent seasons, having failed to pick up a win home or away against their west coast rivals since 2010-11; and we have to go all the way back to December 2005 for their last league success at Millbrae, when current Scottish Rugby elite level referee Mike Adamson kicked a stoppage time penalty to clinch an 6-8 victory.
The city side have managed wins over the pink and black brigade in the cup in the meantime – in 2015 at Old Anniesland and 2014 at Lochinch – but when it comes to the bread and butter of league battle, the bragging rights belong firmly to the current league champions.
The teams met four times in total last season and Ayr came out on top on each occasion, with the first of those results leaving a particularly bitter taste in Hawks’ mouths after centre Brendan McGroarty was controversially – and it later transpired wrongly – sent-off for a ‘tip tackle’ on home lock Scott Sutherland, prompting a cataclysmic implosion in the visiting ranks and the concession of 22 unanswered points leading to a 39-13 defeat.
Hawks didn’t ever quite manage to replicate their early season chutzpah after that, but they did make it to the last four in the cup and to the league play-offs, ending up being matched against Ayr at Millbrae in both those matches.
News during the lead-up to the cup semi-final that Hawks captain Tommy Spinks had been left out the team after informing head coach Fin Gillies that he was going to switch to Ayr during the summer added extra spice to that fixture, but the sense of grievance harboured by the Old Anniesland men could not spur them on to overcome the momentum of recent history, with Ayr running out comfortable 28-10 victors. It was a similar story in the play-off match the following week when the final score-line was 38-22
Hawks have a chance to consign their terrible recent record against Ayr to the dustbin of history when they head down to Millbrae tomorrow [Saturday], and McGroarty – who is one of only 11 survivors in the side from last year – insists that the timing could not be better for his club.
“I think the two teams are quite good at winding each other up. We know each other pretty well and quite a few guys have played for both clubs, so its always a game we look forward to,” explains the 29-year-old club captain. “And its good to get them at Millbrae pretty early on in the season, when the pitch is still relatively dry and we can move the ball about, because that’s what suits us.”
“The red-card I got last season was really frustrating, especially as it was later rescinded, but we are not focussing on that. We actually passed up two run-in tries in the first half of that game by dropping the ball and if we had picked up 14 points there it would have been a very different game going into that final half hour, so we we know we need to look at ourselves.”
“We played them at Old Anniesland in the league as well and lost fairly heavily then and there was no red cards that time, so that’s another lesson learned. We’re using those experiences positively to make sure we are ready for the challenge this time.”
“Fin [Gillies – Hawks’ head coach] put us through a brutal session on Tuesday night – we were knocking lumps out of each other – because we know we need to up our physicality.”
“We have a lot of new faces in the squad at the moment and last week’s match was interesting. The boys really stepped up but you could tell that they were still getting used to each other. I was looking along the backline, and if you took me out then the average age is 22 or 23. Ross Thompson at stand-off is only 18 and he’s really made an impact, Sam Yawayawa is only 19 and another great prospect, so it’s really exciting to be involved with that. We lost a few players over the summer but so many great young players coming in has created a real buzz going into the new season.”
Both clubs picked up bonus point wins in their opening matches of this league campaign last weekend, but neither head coach was particularly happy with their team’s performance. A major step up in intensity is inevitable today in a match which never lacks in bite.
Hawks had a dominant scrum last week, picking up two penalty tries as a consequence, but they know that Ayr will provide their set-piece with a far more vigorous examination, especially as Ryan Grant – previously of Glasgow Hawks, Scotland and Lions fame – is wearing the number one jersey for the home team; and with a back three of Yawayawa, Kyle Rowe and Bobby Beattie there is plenty of attacking threat in the wide channels.
While Ayr’s overall standards last week fell a long way short of the benchmark set by coach Calum Forrester, the nerve they showed to build pressure and then clinch victory over Boroughmuir with an injury-time drop-goal says a lot about their self-belief and the winning mentality they developed last season.
Elsewhere, it doesn’t get any easier for Boroughmuir, who have had to shrug off the heartache of last weekend’s agonizing loss and regroup in time for a daunting trip to The Greenyards to take on a rampant Melrose.
Meanwhile, a fascinating west Edinburgh derby is in store at Malleny Park, where Stevie Lawrie’S Watsonians will look to kick-start their campaign against Currie Chieftains; Stirling County are at home to Hawick; and Heriot’s make the long trip west to meet Marr.
THE LOWDOWN –
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v WATSONIANS
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 3pm
Currie Chieftains: G Faulds; B Robbins, H Elms, R Nelson©, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; J Cox, G Carson, A McWilliam, V Wright, M Vernel, S Ainslie, T Gordon, R Davies. Subs: C MacKintosh, K Burney, H Bain, S McGinley, G Lowe.
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, M Allen, D Innes, G Bryce; R Hutton, W Thomson; N Borel, N Cochrane, K Whyte, J Hodgson, C Borthwick©, M Fedo, A Duckett, E Dods. Subs: S Crombie, F Hobbis, A O’Neill, E McKirdy, J Farndale.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: One enforced personnel change in the backline, with Ruariadh Smith dropping out through injury, Glen Faulds starting at full-back and Ben Robbins switching to the wing; while in the pack, Stephen Ainslie and Mike Vernel exchange positions. A few notable changes on the bench, with Callum MacKintosh set to make his club debut, Hamish Bain back from injury and Gavin Lowe released by Scotland 7s squad.
Watsonians: Scott McLeod and Rory Drummond are injured so Andrew Chalmers and Andrew O’Neill come in after impressing for the 2nd XV last week. Edinburgh professionals Neil Cochrane, Glenn Bryce and Jamie Farndale are released which means Ewan Fox, Keith Young and Darren Miller drop to the second XV.
KEY BATTLE: Harvey Elms versus Michael Allen
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Watsonians have gone through a lot of change during the off-season and we know that last week’s result was not a fair reflection of the quality they possess both in their playing personnel and in their coaching staff. They will be buoyed by their pro release this week and we know we will face the backlash for the way things unfolded for them at The Greenyards. It’s a local derby for the first match at Malleny this season so we would hope to see a big crowd, and we will do our best to provide an entertaining match,” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“It’s always tough on club players who drop out at the expense of pro players and it is not a decision that has been taken lightly. However, we want to fully support professional rugby and knowing the three pro players as I do, I am certain they will give their best when they pull on the maroon and white on Saturday.”
“Having taken our medicine last week against a well organised and abrasive Melrose team, we know that the members of Watsonian FC deserve a much improved effort from us.
“We also offer our deepest condolences to the Chieftains on the recent loss of Graham ‘Greco’ Hogg. An inspirational man who would have no doubt relished the prospect of this clash on Saturday …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
VERDICT: Momentum is on Currie’s side
MELROSE v BOROUGHMUIR
VENUE: The Greenyards @ 3pm
Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, N Godsmark, C Jackson, S Pecqueur; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Anderson, N Beavon, A Runcimaan, R Knott, A Miller, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: R Ferguson, R McLeod, J Head, B Colvine, J Johnstone.
Boroughmuir: G Cannie; G Welsh, C Whyte, M Hare, B Mills; C Laidlaw©, S Kennedy; R Dunbar, J Matthews, D Winning, C Keddie, L Carmichael, A Mncube, M Walker, T Drennan. Subs: C Davies, D Robertson, D Marek, J Adams, S Chalmers.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: The only change to the starting fifteen is at blindside flanker where first year Edinburgh pro Ally Miller is elevated from the bench in place of the injured Neil Irvine-Hess; while Scotland 7s star James Johnstone is on the bench instead of Ben Chalmers (which means he does not get a chance to go head-to-head against brother Sam, who is on the bench for Boroughmuir).
Boroughmuir: Lewis Carmichael returns to his old stomping ground after being drafted by Boroughmuir at the start of the season (the current rules state that a club only gets first refusal in the draft with first year pros). Sean Kennedy is also released by Edinburgh and will start at scrum-half. Jordan Edmunds and Ronan Kerr haven’t recovered from injury so are replaced by Blair Mills and Gavin Welsh are on the wings, and Ciaran Whyte shuffles into centre.
KEY BATTLE: Ross Dunbar versus Nick Beavon
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“This is sure to be a cracker with both teams capable of scoring tries from anywhere on the pitch. After only just losing out to Ayr in the last play of the game, I am sure Boroughmuir will be desperate to bounce back this weekend …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
“Players and coaches were absolutely gutted last week in our defeat to Ayr. Having defended so well at times we let them score too easily and it doesn’t get any easier against a Melrose team who were rampant last week…” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
VERDICT: Melrose have too much firepower
AYR v GLASGOW HAWKS
VENUE: Millbrae @ 3pm
Ayr: G Anderson; S Lyle, D McCluskey, S McDowall, C Gossman; F Climo, D Armstrong; R Grant, P MacArthur, R Smith, R McAlpine, S Sutherland, B Macpherson, T Spinks, P McCallum©. Subs: D Young, A Prentice, G Stokes, P Dewhirst, B Thomson.
Glasgow Hawks: R Beattie; K Rowe, B McGroarty©, J Steele, S Yawayawa; R Thompson, P Boyer; S Findlay, G Stewart, L Skinner, A Kirkland, K McDonald, S Leckey, C Fenton, J Eaglesham. Subs: O Blackwell, G Strain, H Livingston, C Harrison, D Milne.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: Former Scotland and Lions prop Ryan Grant starts at loose-head, with Lewis Anderson taking over from Glasgow Warriors pro and Ayr assistant coach Pat MacArthur at hooker, and Robbie Smith switching from loose to tighthead in a new look front-row. George Stokes joins the bench, alongside Brandon Thomson who is released from the Glasgow Warriors.
Glasgow Hawks: Glasgow Warriors pro Kiran McDonald comes into the second–row and will be tasked with matching Ayr’s physicality; Lewis Skinner (recruited during the summer from Falkirk) makes his first start for the club at loose-head prop after impressing off the bench last week and during in pre-season; Jack Steele has recovered from illness to replace the injured Paddy Kelly at inside centre; Paddy Boyer starts at scrum-half in place of George Horne, who is 24th man for the Warriors; and Edinburgh pro hooker Cammy Fenton cameos in the back row.
KEY BATTLE: Tommy Spinks versus Cammy Fenton
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“The players are looking forward to their first home league game of the season which will be in front of a sold out Ladies Day. Hawks played some good rugby last weekend and we will need to tighten up our defence against a dangerous attacking side in order to get a result …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
“This is always one of the most exciting weeks of the year for Glasgow Hawks and, unfortunately, Millbrae has not been a happy hunting ground for us in recent years. But we hope that this team with lots of new faces holds no fear against an experienced Ayr team. We know that we didn’t hit our straps last week and if we don’t perform to our best and seriously up our physicality against Ayr this will be a long afternoon. Ayr proved last week that they know how to win tight games and we are excited about the physical challenge that they will present us. With a settled team and the inclusion of a British and Irish Lion in their squad, Ayr will be as tough as ever to break down …” – Finlay Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
VERDICT: Ayr get the job done
STIRLING COUNTY v HAWICK
VENUE: Bridgehaugh @3pm
Stirling County: J Hope©; L Trotter, O Jarvie, G Gilliland, M Lamb; L Bonar, P Jericevich; M Macdonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, C Hunter-Hill, J Pow, H Burr, S MacDonald, R Leishman. Subs: M Emmison, R Cheis, J Beech, A Grant-Suttie, R Swan.
Hawick: T Brown; R Combe, L Armstrong, D Buckley, L Ferguson; A Weir, G Munro; N Little, F Renwick, K Bryce, C Hamilton, D Redpath, G Graham, K Davies, B McNeil ©. Subs: M Carryer, S Muir, S Graham, G Cottrell, K Brunton.
TEAM NEWS –
Stirling County: Seven changes to the starting XV with Shaun Macdonald, Matt Lamb, Graham Gilliland, Hamilton Burr, Adam Nicol, Owen Jarvie and Logan Trotter all make their first starts of the season; while former France Under-20 prop Remy Cheis and Ruairidh Swan also set to take their bows off the bench.
KEY MAN: Callum Hunter-Hill
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Credit must go to the players that put in the hard work over the past two and a half months, which paid off last weekend with all our senior sides enjoying a successful start to the season. From a 1st XV perspective, we were obviously pleased with the bonus point win [over Heriot’s], however we know there are several areas we must improve upon and that has driven us on in training this week …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County).
VERDICT: A successful test of Stirling’s strength in depth
MARR v HERIOT’S
VENUE: Fullarton Park @ 3pm
Marr: C Kolarik; S Bickerstaff, C Bickerstaff, C Sturgeon, R Dalgleish; D Steele, K Barreto; A Acton, S Adair, W Farquhar, K Hatherall, G Peterson, M Pearce, A Johnston©, R Miller. Subs: O Rossi, AN Other, E Bulger, G Ness, T Steven.
Heriot’s: R Jones; R Kay, L Steele, R Mulveena, C Robertson; S Edwards, T Wilson; M McCallum, M Liness ©, S Cessford, C Smith, A Sinclair, M Maltman, J McLean, C Marshall. Subs: L Sinclair, M Bouab, N Sutherland, H Fraser, C Simpson.
TEAM NEWS –
Heriot’s: Murray McCallum is released by Edinburgh and starts at loose-head so Martin Bouab drops to the bench; Robert Kay replaces Charlie Simpson on the wing; Callum Marshall is back at number eight after dropping out late with a bug last week.
KEY MAN: Michael Maltman
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“We have had a stronger week of prep than we did last week, the key now is turn this into a longer performance on Saturday …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
VERDICT: Heriot’s kick-start their season