THIS year’s Charity Shield match between the league champions and the cup winners of last season is in support of Motor Neurone Disease Scotland.
“Both Ayr and Melrose wish to support this cause given the recent announcement from Doddie Weir,” said Ayr head coach Calum Forrester. “Doddie, of course, played for Melrose; and he recently ran the auction at the Long Lunch at Ayr Racecourse in May, which raised money for the Ayrshire Rugby Community Trust and the Bill McLaren Foundation.”
The match will witness a clash between the two super-powers of Scottish club rugby last season, and with both clubs fielding close to full-strength teams it should be a ferociously contested encounter.
Melrose topped the BT Premiership table at the end of last regular season but were pipped at the post in the play-off Grand Final at The Greenyards. Rob Chrystie’s men gained a degree of revenge the following week in the BT Cup Final at Murrayfield, but the league title was the one they really wanted and that is bound to fuel the visiting team’s desire going into this match.
It would be nice to get their hands on the first piece of available silverware of the 2017-18 campaign, but more importantly it is a golden opportunity to lay down a serious psychological marker ahead of the commencement of league action next weekend.
The Borderers will approach the match high in confidence after an emphatic 44-5 victory over Tynedale in their only fifteen-aside outing so far this season, although they know that this next challenge will present a significant step-up in intensity.
Ayr, meanwhile, lost their first pre-season match against National League side GHA a fortnight ago, but bounced back with an emphatic 12-38 win over Stirling County at Bridgehaugh last weekend, and with a typically boisterous crowd expected at Millbrae there is unlikely to be many punches pulled by either combatant
THE LOWDOWN –
AYR v MELROSE
VENUE: Millbrae @ 3.00pm
Ayr: G Anderson; J Bova, D McCluskey, S Lyle, C Gossman; F Climo, D Armstrong; R Smith, L Anderson, A Prentice, R McAlpine, S Sutherland, B Macpherson, T Spinks, P McCallum©. Subs: D Young, G Hunter, J Agnew, G Stokes, H Warr, P Dewhirst, S Graham.
Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, N Godsmark, G Wood, S Pecqeur; B Chalmers, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Ferguson, N Beavon, A Runciman, R Knott, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: C Howard, R McLeod, R Campbell, A Grieve, B Colvine, C Jackson, P Anderson.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: A first chance for the Millbrae faithful to see new signings Tommy Spinks and centre Scott Lyle in pink and black; while second-row Jonny Agnew and back-row George Stokes are set to make their debuts from the bench. Teenager Robbie Smith, who is aiming to become first choice Scotland Under-20 hooker this season, is providing emergency cover at loose-head prop for the home team, and will be keen to show his mettle against former Edinburgh pro Nick Beavon.
Melrose: Grant Shiels makes his debut for the club after arriving from London Scottish; Angus Runciman is back after a year travelling to take up a slot in the second-row; Gavin Wood is given the nod at inside centre having spent the summer in America; and there is a familiar surname at stand-off with Ben Chalmers back from Bordeaux-Begles – which means Craig Jackson will be poised to make a big impact off the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Tommy Spinks versus Grant Runciman
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Given how close these matches have been over recent seasons, this is a good opportunity to play Melrose in a competitive fixture early on, so that both clubs can get a measure of where they are sitting following pre-season. Preparation has gone well this summer and we have some real strength and depth in our squad. This is another opportunity for our players to put a marker down and push their way into the team for the first round of the BT Premiership next weekend …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
“Although still part of our pre season, the added incentive of silverware makes this fixture that little bit more significant. As always, Ayr will be well prepared by Calum and his team, and they will be looking to set down a marker for the season ahead. Hopefully both teams can serve up an exciting game for what is sure to be a large and vocal crowd …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
VERDICT: Home advantage edges it.