WHENEVER you play a knock-out tie against your local rivals, a good performance by your pack is usually key to getting a positive result, and Marr’s forwards are preparing for a big 80 minutes this Saturday. Craig Redpath’s side, currently top of the Tennent’s Premiership and unbeaten in eight games in league and Cup this term, head to Millbrae to take on their old foes Ayr in the Scottish Cup first round.
In recent years, Ayr have often been favourites in games between the sides, but given that Marr are flying high in the top tier of the Scottish club game, while Ayr’s ‘Club XV’ – with all the Super6 players now with the Ayrshire Bulls – are mid-table in National One, that configuration now seems to have been turned on its head.
Not that Marr’s players are buying into that point of view. According to vice-captain and pack leader Mackenzie Pearce and second-row Fraser Grant, the Troon side are getting themselves ready for as tough a derby clash as they have ever faced against the great rivals.
“We know that Ayr will be up for this game, but so will we and after last weekend’s league draw with Edinburgh Accies we have been focusing a lot on our accuracy this week,” said 27-year-old back-row Pearce, who came through the ranks at Kilmarnock and played a season at Biggar before joining Marr in 2015.
“Millbrae is always a tough place to go and despite Super6 and all of that we know that Ayr will want to take the game to us in front of a big crowd, so it is up to us to really get on the front foot early and try and stay there.”
Grant, who came through the club’s youth ranks and now has 156 first team appearances under his belt aged 26, added: “We have high standards in our team, we want to be the best club side in Scotland and to do that we have to be able to put our stamp on games like this, but rest assured Ayr will be up for it.
“Our former player Stephen Adair is one of their coaches and we all know that he will have the pack ready to test us and we have to be up to the challenge.
“There should be a good crowd, a great atmosphere and these are the kind of games that you love to be a part of.”
While Ayr head coach Stuart Fenwick and Adair will undoubtedly have been working hard with their forwards this week, Marr head coach Craig Redpath and D’arcy Rae have been doing the same with their boys.
Redpath, now 50, sat on the Scotland bench as a full-back in the famous 1990 Grand Slam victory over England before becoming a tough as teak back-rower in his later playing days, while prop Rae, 24, earned his first international cap in February and plays regularly for Glasgow Warriors.
To add to the intrigue, Redpath used to coach Ayr while Rae was previously assigned to them in the pro draft. “Craig and D’arcy work really well together and it has been great having the latter come in this season,” said Pearce.
“Each week Craig will have a vision of what he wants us to improve on and what he wants us to do as a forward pack and then D’arcy comes in and helps us with the technical details and helps explain to the players how we are going to get the desired outcome. I think having two forwards coaches who you can pick the brains of is really great for us as players.
Grant is equally effusive. “I have learnt a lot from Craig over the years and he has helped me in lots of different ways,” he said. “Every year he gives me a few things to work on in my game and he has really pushed me and given me a drive to work on different aspects rather than just turning up and playing each week.
“He is certainly a great coach and D’arcy has made us feel professional as a pack. As a result, every player has committed to the training sessions with him because we know that he knows the game inside out.”
Continuity breeds success
Like every club, players have come and gone at Marr, but the clubs has benefitted from having the likes of Ollie Rossi, Ewan Hamilton-Bulger, Pearce, Grant, Will Farquhar, Colin Sturgeon, Richard Dalgleish, captain Conor Bickerstaff and his older brother Scott as the mainstay of the squad for several years now.
And the continuity in selection that every club strives for has been a real benefit at Marr so far this season, particularly in the forwards.
Rossi, Hamilton-Bulger, Pearce, Grant and Farquhar, joined by Brandon Sweet, Calvin Henderson, Robert Brown and Benedict Grant, as virtual ever-presents in the match-day squad, with others like Cody Cunningham and Jamie Drummond also regularly involved.
The new-look back-row of Pearce, Brown and (Benedict) Grant has been particularly strong this term. “We have built up into a good unit,” agreed Pearce. “Robert joined from Hamilton while Benedict is from New Zealand and I think we all compliment each other quite well.
“We still have a few things to iron out, but it has been great being part of this back-row so far. Robert tackles really well while Benedict is a good ball carrier and gets around the pitch well.”
Meanwhile, the second-row partnership of (Fraser) Grant and Hamilton-Bulger is slightly longer established. “Myself and Ewan have played together for a few years now, we are good mates and we understand what each other’s job is,” said Grant.
“I don’t have to think ‘I need to cover for him’ or vice versa because we tend to know where each other is on the pitch and we communicate well which helps as the game unfolds.”
- Ayr v Marr in the Scottish Cup first round takes place at Millbrae at 3pm on Saturday