BT Cup semi-finals preview: Runners, riders and verdict for the last hurdle before Murrayfield

Watsonians aim to turn the tables on Melrose while Stirling County host in-form Hawick

Stirling County versus Hawick
Image courtesy: Bryan Robertson

POOR Watsonians have had just a week to lick their wounds after losing 37-8 to Melrose in the BT Premiership play-off semi-finals, before having to get back on the horse against the same opposition in the last four of the BT Cup this Saturday afternoon.

Head coach Stevie Lawrie spoke positively after last weekend’s defeat about his team being able to give their opponents a real run for their money if they tighten up in a few key areas, but he also conceded that the evidence of the three previous encounters between the two sides this season – in which the Borderers have come out on top on each occasion with an average winning margin of 27 points – indicates that anything less than a razor-sharp performance will result in another heavy reversal.

Watsonians have home advantage this time round, and are boosted by having winger Jason Harries and international prop Darryl Marfo (who will look to make an impact off the bench) released by Edinburgh. Melrose, meanwhile, have Scotland record cap holder Ross Ford at hooker as he makes his way back from a pectoral injury, which means Russell Anderson, one of their outstanding performers throughout this campaign, drops to the bench.


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Stirling County v Hawick

In the other semi-final, Stirling County host Hawick. Both clubs flirted with relegation this season before stretching clear at the end of the campaign. In truth, Hawick had a full-blown affair with the drop-zone during a hopeless start to the campaign before mounting a late rally to retain top flight status, and they will come into this match full of confidence having hammered (an admittedly understrength) Melrose in their last outing a fortnight ago.

County have Glasgow Warriors’ Fijian international Niko Matawalu on the wing, so, if nothing else, it should at least be an entertaining 80 minutes.

THE LOWDOWN –

STIRLING COUNTY v HAWICK

VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 3.00pm

TEAMS –

Stirling County: J Hope©; N Matawalu, E Macgarvie, G Gilliland, K Gossman; R Curle, P Jercivich; R Chies, R Kennedy, G Holborn, J Beech, S  Yarrow, H Burr, S Macdonald, R Leishman. Subs: M Emmison, A Nicol, J Pow, C Fusaro, L Bonar, C Robertson, A McLean.

Hawick: A Weir; G Munro, K Davies, D Buckley, R Combe; L Armstrong, G Cottrell; S Muir, M Carryer, N Little, D Redpath, C Hamilton, S Graham, G Graham, B McNeil©. Subs: F Renwick, M Landels, R Gibson, S Fairairn, C McLelland, A Mitchell, A Nother.

TEAM NEWS –

Stirling County: Some serious experience returning to the home ranks, with Remy Chies and Gary Holborn returning from injury to the front-row, number eight Ruairidh Leishman and stand-off Ross Curle back from Scotland Club XV duty, and player-coach Peter Jericevich at scrum-half after being away with Scotland Women during the Six Nations window. Then there is the not insignificant matter of Glasgow Warriors’ live-wire Fijian Niko Matawalu lining up on the right wing and Chris Fusaro, who is an assistant coach at the club, named as a replacement.

Hawick: Shawn Muir comes back into the starting line-up at loose-head prop after being involved with the Club XV. In the back-row, Ross Gibson drops to the bench, making way for Guy Graham, who returns from Under-20s’s 6 Nations duty. In the backs, Ali Weir comes back in to the starting XV at full-back, with Edinburgh Rugby and Scotland Under-20 midfield back Callum McLelland named amongst the replacements. Teenage centre Andrew Mitchell is also the bench after impressing recently for the Force.

KEY BATTLE: Ross Curle versus Lee Armstrong

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“The prospect of playing at BT Murrayfield in front of a big crowd has really pushed the team on in training the last couple of weeks and we have prepared the best we can for our proud opponents from Hawick, who had a strong finish to the league season. Big game players step up on the big occasions so we are expecting some fine individual performances that will allow us to deliver as a team on Saturday …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County)

“After a good performance and a bonus point win a couple of weeks ago against Melrose, we are coming into this semi-final game at full strength and full of confidence. The pressure is off as far as our Premiership status is concerned, however we are determined to put in another good performance, but are under no illusions of the task ahead. We have prepared well since our last match and the players are relishing a hugely physical encounter with a good Stirling XV …” – George Graham (Hawick)

VERDICT: Momentum is on Hawick’s side after they scrabbled clear of the relegation zone at the end of the Premiership season with a number of gutsy victories and an emphatic 38-3 result against top of the table Melrose in their last league outing a fortnight ago – but the home side have some really experienced characters returning to their ranks for this game, plus  a bit of firepower to come off the bench. Niko Matawalu provides Stirling with real x-factor, and the half-back pairing of Peter Jericevich and Ross Curle should have enough control to see the hosts secure their first ever Cup Final appearance.

 

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WATSONIANS v MELROSE

VENUE: Myreside @ 3.00pm

TEAMS –

Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, M Allen, D Innes, J Harries; R Hutton, A Harris; N Fraser, S Crombie, N Borel, E Dods, C Borthwick©, J Miller, G Nelson, M Fedo. Subs: D Miller, D Marfo, A O’Neill, E Miller, W Thomson, E Fox, R Steele.

Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, G Taylor, C Jackson©, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; D Elkington, R Ford, N Beavon, J Head, A Runciman, R Knott, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: R Ferguson, R Anderson, R McLeod, A Grieve, B Colvine, G Wood, P Anderson.

TEAM NEWS –

Watsonians: Only one change to the starting XV which lost against the same opposition in the BT Premiership play-off semi-final at the Greenyards last weekend, with Edinburgh pro Jason Harries taking over from Ewan Miller on the left wing. Scotland international Darryl Marfo comes onto the bench in place of Finn Hobbis.

Melrose: Scotland record cap holder Ross Ford is at hooker having been released by Edinburgh to gat some game time after five months out with a pectoral muscle injury, meaning Russell Anderson drops to the bench. Dan Elkington comes in for Grant Sheils at loose-head, and the explosive Ruaridh Knott comes in at blindside flanker after making a huge impact off the bench against the same opposition last week with a series of thunderclap tackles.

KEY BATTLE: James Miller versus Ruaridh Knott

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“Melrose played a very good game last week and ran out comfortable winners in the end. This week, we will be looking to start the game better and to apply pressure in the necessary areas for the full 80. It has been a few years since we have had a cup semi at Myreside so Saturday is an exciting day for the whole club. With a full lunch we hope for a good turn out to cheer the boys on … –  Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)

“This weekends game away to Watsonians in the BT Cup will be a huge challenge and one we are looking forward to. I am sure Stevie will have prepared his Watsonians team well and will be determined to turn around last weekends result. Semi-final cup games are games that all players want to be part of and we know that a full 80 minute performance will be required to have any chance of the desired result …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)

VERDICT: It is hard to see a way back for Watsonians after their 37-8 loss against the same opponents in the league play-offs last weekend. Stevie Lawrie’s boys could not find a way through Melrose’s ferocious and well-drilled defence, and could not stop the likes of Ross McCann and Fraser Thomson from doing real damage with turnover ball. Edinburgh pro Jason Harries has a good try-scoring record when he has played for Watsonians this season and Darryl Marfo will be desperate to make his presence felt off the bench, but Melrose as a unit are two or three years further down the line, and that will be the difference.

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About David Barnes 3182 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.