AFTER 18 rounds of regular season Premiership action which began way back on August 27th, we are now into the business end of things with the play-off semi-finals.
The same four teams that were in the semis in 2021-22 are present again and while the pairings are the same, the dynamic going into both ties is different this time around.
When Marr – who went on to be crowned champions – and Hawick met at this stage 12 months ago, the Troon side had finished second in the table and the Borderers third with the match being played at Fullarton Park. The shoe is on the other foot this time round,
Hawick finished first in this year’s table after an amazing unbeaten run of one draw and 17 wins on the spin which deserved more fanfare in certain quarters than it received, while Marr had a shaky start to this campaign, but battled back to finish fourth, 29 points behind today’s opponents.
Matty Douglas’ men are undoubtedly favourites at Mansfield Park, but in a one-off game there is no doubt that Marr can cause problems and give as good as they get.
Meanwhile, last year Currie Chieftains finished first in the table and Accies fourth, but this time around they were second and third. Both sides will be keen to produce a repeat of their entertaining 2022 play-off clash at Malleny Park, and it should be tight given that Accies have more firepower than they did 12 months ago with honours shared during the regular season.
Both of these games are set to attract large crowds on a non-Six Nations weekend and the committees at Hawick and Currie have worked hard to make sure there will be something for everyone on the day with healthy away supports expected.
Unlike the regular season when it was 20, the four clubs are allowed 22-man match-day squads this weekend, so strength-in-depth may play a part in both clashes.
The winners on Saturday will progress to the final – to be played at the home ground of the highest ranked team – on March 11.
The Lowdown –
Hawick v Marr
(for the Bill McLaren Shield)
Venue: Mansfield Park @ 3pm
Hawick: K Ford; C Welsh, A Mitchell, E Reilly, R McKean; K Brunton, H Patterson; S Muir©, F Renwick, N Little, C Sutherland, D Redpath, S Graham, C Renwick, J Linton. Subs: M Carryer, R Macleod, R Graham, S Fairbairn, G Welsh, G Huggan, L Ferguson.
Marr: C Inglis; J Jacobsen, S Bickerstaff, C Bickerstaff©, J Scott; C Sturgeon©, G Beckwith; G Reid, S Clelland, C Miller, D Andrew, C Folan, F Grant, B Jardine, B Johnston. Subs: B Nichol, A Acton, S Khan, C Young, C Steele, A Ramage, A McCormack.
Key battle: Nicky Little versus Gordon Reid.
Team news –
Hawick: Experienced duo Nicky Little and Dalton Redpath are fit again and start at tighthead and second-row respectively. Hector Patterson is back from a Scotland under-18 camp and starts at scrum-half. Club captain Matty Carryer joins the extended bench.
Marr: Three changes from the starting team that played Currie last time out on February 4th. Curran McMillan is not available and Grant Baird is injured, so Scott Clelland starts at hooker and Gregor Beckwith is at scrum-half. Fraser Grant starts at six and Cameron Young drops to the bench where Alec McCormack earns a place, too.
What the coaches say –
“A huge game on Saturday, they don’t come much bigger than this, taking on the current Premiership champions at Mansfield Park for a chance to reach the final. We have worked extremely hard this week to make sure we are prepared for a physical encounter. Marr are a top class outfit and know how to win in these big games, but we have home advantage and if we stick to our game-plan and structure we are a tough side to break down. I know the players are excited to play in front of a strong home support and the pressure is on us to perform, but we have thrived off pressure all season and are looking forward to a battle come 3pm on Saturday …” – Matty Douglas (Hawick)
“After a challenging first few months of the season we managed to turn it around and make it into the top four. We are looking forward to playing the league champions in the semi-final. Hawick are the best team in the league and to go through the league season undefeated is an outstanding achievement. Matt and his squad have set the standards we all have to aim for. There is no tougher task than going to Mansfield Park with a large crowd and a highly motivated home team. We will have to be at our best to match their physicality and set-piece if we are going to be in the game – and in position to win it – in the last 10 minutes. We have prepared well over the last couple of weeks and look forward to big game on Saturday …” – Craig Redpath (Marr)
Verdict: Hawick have been a revelation this term while Marr really showed their battling qualities after a sticky start to get to this point. Both of these sides have strong packs and the first scrum of the day will be an important one, especially with old heads Nicky Little and Gordon Reid packing down against each other in the front-row. If Hawick can get on the front foot they may well have enough here, but they will know that you can’t give the Bickerstaff boys a sniff and that Marr are a tough nut to crack.
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Currie Chieftains v Edinburgh Accies
Venue: Malleny Park @ 3pm
Currie Chieftains: C Brett; K McGovern, DJ Innes, G Cannie, I Sim; J Forbes, G Christie; C Anderson, R Stewart, C Ramsay, W Inglis, E Stewart, A McCallum, G Nelson, R Davies©. Subs: J Drummond, J Ramsay, A Cameron, M Vernel, P Boyer, A Hall, J McCaig.
Edinburgh Accies: B Appleson; K Gossman, M Wallace, N Armstrong, L Wells; J Loomes©, S Broad; C Imrie, F McAslan, C Lacour, J Mills, F Simpson, T Drennan, M Walker, R Campbell. Subs: C Taylor, H Campbell, S Whittaker, C Bain, M Love, V Hart, H Cameron-Barr.
Key battle: Rhys Davies versus Ruairi Campbell.
Team news –
Currie Chieftains: Charlie Brett is available and starts at 15 in place of James McCaig who moves to the bench. Arran Cameron and Adam Hall are available this week and join the 22 man squad among the replacements.
Edinburgh Accies: Neil Armstrong returns at inside centre. On the bench, Cameron Taylor returns alongside Struan Whittaker, Cameron Bain, Vincent Hart and Harvey Cameron-Barr.
What the coaches say –
“We welcome Berti and his team in what is a repeat of last year’s semi-final and we’d definitely take the same result. Accies will come with a big support and will be full of confidence after a strong season, including getting the better of us at Raeburn Place in our last fixture. We love playing at Malleny and are excited to play in front of a vocal home crowd. We have trained well this week and have quality throughout our squad …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“The last two weeks have been important for us, we had a tough game down at Riverside and we were made to work hard at Goldenacre. Defensively we turned the screw a bit over the past two weeks and we need to continue to improve in this area in preparation for the physical challenge that Currie will bring. The players and coaches are excited heading into semi-final weekend. We must enjoy the build-up, each other’s company and the occasion that Saturday will be …” – Iain Berthinussen (Edinburgh Accies)
Verdict: Currie put Accies to the sword when they visited Malleny Park earlier this term, but the Raeburn Place men managed to beat the Chieftains by a point on their own patch after that. In the regular campaign these sides scored 619 and 513 points respectively and much here will depend on how their main attacking threats manoeuvre themselves into the game. Currie will look to skipper Rhys Davies to get them over the gain line to allow Jamie Forbes to free dangerous runners Kody McGovern and Charlie Brett. Finlay Simpson and Ruairi Campbell could be key for Accies along with Neil Armstrong.