Premiership: Marr’s Conor Bickerstaff ready for Friday night showdown versus Currie Chieftains

Home advantage in play-offs on the line as two evenly matched teams clash at Malleny

Conor Bickerstaff will lead from the front when Marr take on Currie Chieftains at Malleny Park on Friday night. Image: Jonathan Pearce
Conor Bickerstaff will lead from the front when Marr take on Currie Chieftains at Malleny Park on Friday night. Image: Jonathan Pearce

CONOR BICKERSTAFF was aged just 17, and Moses was sporting short trousers, when he and a pal got a game for Marr Rugby 1st XV whilst still at Marr College. It was allowed back in the day and it proved an exciting experience for the teenager. Now the 31-year-old Marr centre can just about summon that much from the depths of his memory but one aspect in particular sticks in his mind; it was the people at Marr Rugby who created the real buzz.

“We got a little sniff of senior rugby while in the sixth year at school,” he recalls, “and it was because of the people at the club that made us decide that we just wanted to stay and see where this thing goes.

“We were playing against Forrester in West Three or Four, I honestly can’t remember which, and my brother Scott and a bunch of his pals had graduated to the club two years before and I think that was part of the appeal.


Super Series to be disbanded

Zebre v Edinburgh: Hamish Watson set for 150th appearance in strong visiting line-up

Bloody Rugby issues a call to arms for ‘lifesavers’ from the club community


“At the age of 17 or 18 we are probably not thinking too hard about anything very much, never mind staying at Marr forever, but we definitely never imagined that we would end up in the Premiership.”

Marr went one better, winning the Premiership title by beating Currie Chieftains in the 2022 final at Malleny Park, against the odds. Come Friday evening Marr, will find themselves back at Malleny, facing Currie again in a vital, postponed league game that will determine which club gets to play the 2nd v 3rd semi-final at home?

With Ayr Rugby Club just back in the Premiership, the Bulls contesting the Super Series final and Marr throwing their weight about at the business end of the Premiership, it’s a very healthy time for rugby in the south west of Scotland (even if the ecosystem faces a shake-up with news that Super Series is soon to be disbanded).

Like all clubs, Marr Rugby is like a family to many and the fact that Bickerstaff followed in his brother Scott’s footsteps is hardly surprising. The pair were rivals then and remain rivals now, Conor leads Marr’s try scorers this season with ten tries to his name, Scott is in second place, chasing hard on nine.

The brothers Conor and Scott were joined at Marr Rugby Club by fellow Marr College stalwarts Fraser Grant and Kyle Vallence and quickly joined by Grant Baird and Ben Johnston. All six veterans of the lower leagues are in contention to play tomorrow night. They have played central roles in dragging Marr  up the ladder, sticking with the same club throughout, although a quick glance at Conor’s medical records suggests that he has fewer miles on the clock than most of his peers.

A decade ago he tore his ACL in his right knee and sat out 16 months before venturing back onto the field only to see his patella (knee bone) snap in two (a recognised risk following ACL surgery) which saw him sidelined for a further nine months. And when he returned from that misfortune, he tore his ACL on his left knee. Then, when he finally managed to put that behind him, Covid was looming large in 2019 and it’s fair to say that sheer frustration is probably amongst the midfielder’s main motivators.

Oddly enough the Ayrshire Bulls never called the classy centre but its not certain that Bickerstaff (Jnr) would have jumped ship if they had. The idea of summer rugby appeals to him, he concedes, but Bickerstaff points out that he was already in his late 20s when Super Six rugby kicked off and used a crutch more often than Long John Silver.

Furthermore, Bickerstaff can’t help pointing out, when Marr plays local rivals Ayr, Currie, Hawick or any of the big clubs, they probably attract more fans to Fullarton than the Bulls have ever managed.

 

 

Currie are in a similar happy position and Malleny is sure to be jumping. Friday night lights has a nice ring to it, as Bickerstaff confirms, and he is looking forward to a special atmosphere. The Chieftains will be tricky to beat but he firmly believes they can do so again if they dig deep and unearth the very best of themselves.

“Currie are a very well drilled side and it is sure to be a physical game,” says Bickerstaff. “But we put 34 points on them down here back in October including some nice tries.

“We are still targeting the league and cup double but since I was sidelined (by his knee) when we won the league two years ago that’s the one I would personally target. It would be nice to be on the pitch this time!”

A quick glance at the league table shows just how similar these two teams are with just two points separating Marr in second and Currie in third. Marr have one more win than Currie, thanks to them beating Hawick at Fullarton while Currie could only manage a draw against the league leaders at Malleny. Both teams boast two losing bonus points, both teams have the same try bonus points (13) and both teams have scored almost exactly the same number of points thus far (593 Marr, 599 Currie).

The only place in the league table where there is some divergence is in points conceded where Marr’s defence has been 90 points worse over the course of the season and in a game of small margins that may come back to bite them.

These two teams already know each other pretty well and they will play each other twice in quick succession, that much we know, the only question is the venue for the semi-final on 2nd March and given the numbers that both clubs can mobilise, that home advantage is a prize well worth grabbing.

“It is a real carrot to be playing a semi-final at home,” agrees Bickerstaff. “We know that Currie will be tough to beat at Malleny but we have done it before and we are going into this game with heaps of confidence.”

And a team spirit originally forged in West Three (or, maybe, Four).

 

Teams –

Currie Chieftains: C Brett; J McCaig, D Innes, I Sim, R Daley; J Forbes ©, G Christie; T Jeffrey, R Stewart, G Carson, A Bain, C West, R Davies, A Fletcher, S Cardosi. Substitutes: R Vucago, O Blyth-Lafferty, J Ramsey, P Boyer, C Beckett.

Marr: G Montgomery; L Jarvie, C Bickerstaff, N Calder, J Scott; C Sturgeon, G Baird; A Rogers, B Sweet, W Farquhar, D Andrew, F Grant, A Anthorpe, B Johnston, B Jardine. Substitutes: C McMillan, C Young, E Hamilton-Bulger, R Baird, G Beckwith.


Fixture congestion creates Men’s Premiership Final headache

About Iain Morrison 144 Articles
Iain was capped 15 times for Scotland at openside flanker between his debut against Ireland during the 1993 Six Nations and his final match against New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. He was twice a Cambridge ‘Blue’ and played his entire club career with London Scottish (being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2016). Iain is a lifelong member of Linlithgow Rugby Club. After hanging up his boots, he became rugby correspondent for The Sunday Herald, before moving to The Scotland on Sunday for 16 years, and he has also guest written for various other publications.

1 Comment

Comments are closed.