WITH the end of the club rugby season fast approaching, there are lots of things still to be ironed out in the National Leagues.
At the top end of the National One table, Kelso (with 92 points from 21 matches) know that a point or more at Highland in their last game on Saturday will see them crowned champions as they are currently 10 points ahead of second placed Ayr (82 points from 20 games). Whoever goes up will replace already relegated GHA.
In 2023-24 there will be four National Leagues of 10 below the Premiership rather than the three leagues of 12 that there are currently, meaning there is only one club being promoted from National Two to National One, and three clubs heading the other direction.
Stewart’s Melville (13 points from 21 games) and Aberdeen Grammar (17 points, 20 games) have already had their relegations confirmed with the third spot to be decided on April 22nd.
That day Watsonians, currently 10th on 34 points after 21 games, will need to beat Grammar with a bonus point to leapfrog Stirling County (39 points) on points difference and send the Bridgehaugh men down. Any other result and Watsonians will be heading for the drop.
As well as fifth placed Highland against Kelso on Saturday, Aberdeen Grammar face Gala, Melrose host Dundee Rugby (both 3pm) and Biggar play GHK (2.30pm). The latter clash at Hartree Mill will be GHK head coach Peter Wright’s last game before he retires.
National League Division Two has Been a tight battle all season between three clubs for the one promotion spot. Newton Stewart are currently top (87 points from 22 games), but having completed their fixtures could be overtaken. Third placed Glasgow Accies (82 points from 21 games) know that they need five match points from Saturday’s home match with Falkirk catch Newton Stewart and then points difference would become a factor. In this regard Newton Stewart are 37 points to the good on Accies, so the latter must go big this weekend to have any chance.
Meanwhile, second placed Falkirk (85 points from 21 games) know a win of any sort would be enough for them to take the title.
Five teams are going down from National Two and in that regard Hamilton Bulls (16 points from 20 games), Cartha Queens Park (21 points from 22 games) and Boroughmuir (29 points from 21 games) are already gone. Two more places are still to be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Elsewhere in this league on Saturday, away from the big one at New Anniesland, Berwick play Lasswade and Hamilton host Kirkcaldy (both 3pm).
In National League Division Three there is still plenty of rugby to be played with one team going up and six teams going down to the new National League Division Four after the summer.
A number of postponements and then Royal High being disqualified from the league after five non-fulfilments has left things a bit up in the air.
As it stands, Hillhead Jordanhill (75 points from 19 games) lead the way, but Gordonians in second (74 points from 16 games) have three games in hand. Greenock Wanderers (five points from 17 games) are definitely down while Perthshire (19 points from 19 games) and Murrayfield Wanderers (22 points from 18 games) look doomed, but for the rest we need a calculator …
On Saturday there are three games in this league at 3pm with Gordonians playing Greenock, West of Scotland at Strathmore and Whitecraigs hosting Allan Glen’s.
The National Leagues restructuring also has ramifications on the Regional Leagues and more should become clear in the next few weeks for a number of clubs.
The Lowdown –
Highland v Kelso
Venue: Canal Park @ 3pm
Highland: R MacDonald; M Henry, J Carson, S Ross, C Findlater; S Fraser©, H Crush; S Murray, K Brown, J Milton, G Jamieson, S Blair, E Milton, G Gregor, C Carson©. Subs: P Ratumaisese, R Mighton, Ratu Tagivetaua, T Junior, A Muritoki.
Kelso: G Ponton; H Tweedie, D Patterson, F Robson©, A Roberts; M Hastie, N Stingl; G Shiells, C Marshall, A Frame, A Common, K Melbourne, C Brown, A Cowens, B McNeil. Subs: A Asante, T Logan, L Tait, M Woodcock, M Wilson.
Key battle: Callum Carson versus Bruce McNeil.
Team news –
Highland: Craig Findlater starts on the wing replacing Andrew Kellock and Rory Mighton comes onto the bench for Gavin Campbell.
Kelso: Cammy Thompson, a near ever-present in the pack this season, has been drafted in by the Southern Knights, so misses out. Andy Tait is unavailable, so Nik Stingl starts at scrum-half.
What the coaches say –
“Everyone is looking forward to the last game of the season versus Kelso at Canal Park. We ran them very close down there, so we are looking to finish the season off with a win at home in front of our fantastic home support …” – Davie Carson (Highland)
“Ayr have been hot on our heels all season and I’ve no doubt they’ll get 10 points from their last two games, so we know what we have to do in this game. Highland are a very proud club and they are a dangerous side, especially at home, so we have to be focused from minute one to get the result that we require. Everyone will have to play their part …” – Bruce McNeil (Kelso)
Verdict: When these two sides met in October at Poynder Park, Highland pushed Kelso all the way before being edged out 24-21. The hosts will want to end the season with a flourish and have no pressure on. There is pressure on Kelso, but they have dealt with that well since Christmas and should get the result they need to be crowned champions.
Glasgow Accies v Falkirk
Venue: New Anniesland @ 3pm
Glasgow Accies: R Cowan©; C Taylor, J Smith, S Simmons, J McCready; C Niblock, B Molloy; M Ashdown, T Blackhall, D Grzymkowski, M Hutcheon, K Greggain, H Briggs©, J Evans, D Papadakis. Subs: S Carr, M Holland, F Neilson, R McNaught.
Falkirk: from S Serafini, A Gillespie, D Ashworth, S Yarrow, G Dodd, G Brodie, K Ross, S McCulloch©, C Davie, G Faulds, G Ramsay, E Cassells, G Gilliland, A Graham, C Faulds, N Chisholm, C Hazlett, C Ronald, L McNicoll, G Ramsay, C Mckenna.
Key battle: Conor Niblock versus Glen Faulds.
Team news –
Glasgow Accies: A fairly settled squad from the one that has played in recent weeks, co-captain Ross Cowan was player of the match last time out against Berwick and will look to lead from the front again.
Falkirk: A squad of 21 will be trimmed down to 19 by kick-off.
What [one of] the coaches say –
“As coaches, Stevie Leckie, Graeme Simpson, Graham Gilliland and I have been talking to the players all week about this just being another game and not moving away from our principals, structures and shapes that have served us so well this season. Win or lose, we must go out and enjoy it as we’ve been enjoying ourselves all season. We have hit the odd bump in the road, but the players are playing with smiles on their faces. Glasgow Accies are a good side, as are we, so it should make for a cracking game of rugby between two well-balanced teams who like to attack. Everyone at the club is looking forward to it tremendously …” – Kenny Grieve (Falkirk)
Verdict: When the sides met in October it was a very tight game which Falkirk just edged 23-18. Expect an exciting 80 minutes here with tries, mistakes and everything in between. Given their points difference predicament, Accies need to go at this from minute one and while that may create them a few chances, it may also leave gaps in defence for Falkirk. If they can keep their cool and get the upper hand up front, Falkirk may just win the game and the league.