ALL thoughts are drifting towards Scotland’s big Rugby World Cup opener versus South Africa in Marseille on Sunday, but before that there is a tasty-looking round two of Premiership action to come on Saturday.
In five matches last weekend,278 points were scored to get 2023-24 off to a flyer and two matches in particular jump out this weekend.
Kelso have been out of the top flight for over 20 years and started life back at this level with a promising 31-31 draw at Musselburgh last time out. They know that they will have to make Poynder Park a tough place for teams to visit if they are to survive this year and Heriot’s Blues are the first opponents there. The Borderers will be cheered on by an expectant crowd and it is great to have team who won the trophy in 1987-88 and 1988-89 back at the top table, while Heriot’s will be out to build on their impressive victory over Marr last week.
And Marr’s Fullarton Park ground is where intriguing fixture number two takes place. Over the last couple of years they and Hawick have had some titanic tussles – in the regular season, the play-offs and the Scottish Cup – and this could be another one.
Elsewhere there are two matches in the capital with Currie Chieftains and Edinburgh Accies taking on Jed-Forest and Musselburgh respectively while, along the M8, Glasgow Hawks and Selkirk meet.
The Lowdown –
Currie Chieftains v Jed-Forest
Venue: Malleny Park @ 3pm
Currie Chieftains: C Brett; R Daley, DJ Innes, C Gray, J McCaig, J Forbes©, C Lessels; G Carson, R Stewart, O Blyth-Lafferty, A McCallum, W Inglis, A Bain, S Cardosi, R Davies. Subs: T Jeffrey, K Robertson, K Steel, M O’Neil, S Leto.
Jed-Forest: L Walker; L Elder, G Young, O Cranston, R Shirra-Gibb; G Munro, M Glen; G Slorance, J Ferguson, H Meadows, C Skeldon©, J Hynd, D Wardrop, J Howe, B Roff. Subs: P Ferreira, D Batey, B Howe, B Fotheringham, A Bambrick.
Key battle: Ollie Blyth-Lafferty versus Graham Slorance.
Team news –
Currie Chieftains: The Malleny men welcome back Ryan Stewart at hooker and captain Jamie Forbes at 10. Ollie Blyth-Lafferty, the Edinburgh Rugby Academy prospect, gets a start at tight-head after impressing against Selkirk, as does Ali Bain in the back-row. Kyle Robertson and Same Leto come onto the bench.
Jed-Forest: A number of changes due to the unavailability of Michael Weekley, Lewis Young and Rory Marshall. On the plus side, Gary Munro, Aiden Bambrick, Lewis Walker and Ben Howe all return to the squad. In the pack, Jamie Ferguson starts at hooker with Jamie Hynd coming into the second-row, Dan Wardrop moving to the back-row and Blake Roff shifting to No 8. The aforementioned Munro comes in at 10 with Lewis Elder moving to the wing with Walker at full back.
What the coaches say –
“Last week was a typical start of season performance with too many errors and poor discipline, but we managed to produce enough good rugby to get as good a win as we’ve had at Selkirk in recent times. We welcome Jed to Malleny this week for our first home game of the season and we are still very much focused on our own performance, but understand the threats Jed bring. I am excited about where we can get to thisseason with the depth of talent available to us, but it means nothing if we lack discipline and can’t hold onto possession. It’s set to be a sunny day with food and drink stalls and hopefully decent game of rugby too …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“Due to the unavailability of players in pre-season, last Saturday was really our first chance to get a good run out. Although we lost there were a lot of positives to take from the game. Our pack stuck in and scrummaged really well and although we got beaten I was pleased with the effort the lads showed to come back from a 21-5 deficit to 24-19 at one point. Unfortunately, Accies scored two late tries to take the game out of our reach. Currie will be another tough game, after a good win on the road last week their confidence will be high. Our lads know that they’ll have to work hard to compete on Saturday, training has gone well this week and with the changes we’ve made it’ll give some of our young lads a chance to gain some valuable experience …” – Neil Cook (Jed-Forest)
Verdict: Currie started off well versus Selkirk last weekend, but it sounds like they still feel they have another couple of gears to find. As Neil Cook rightly says, Jed stuck in well versus Edinburgh Accies for spells of game one and they can build from that, but it’s hard to see past a positive Chieftains result here.
Edinburgh Accies v Musselburgh
Venue: Raeburn Place @ 3pm
Edinburgh Accies: R Chalmers; M Wallace, G Woods, N Armstrong, K Gossman; J Loomes©, P Ritchie; C Imrie, G Hall, S Habib, C Bain, S Whittaker, F Simpson, K Slingsby, M Walker. Subs: H Campbell, A Hain, A Inwood, B Grainger, R Walsh.
Musselburgh: J Ferguson; O Craig, R Watt©, B Heber, S Watt; R Smith, Owenson; N McNairn, R Mackie, D Miller, J Herbert, J Arnold, J Lister, M Crawford, M Badenhorst. Subs: C Arthur, R Brown, G Inkster, R Hindhaugh, F Call.
Key battle: Matt Walker versus Michael Badenhorst.
Team news –
Edinburgh Accies: Robbie Chalmers starts at full-back replacing the injured Struan Wells and George Woods moves from the bench to start at outside centre. Kerr Gossman returns on the left wing in an otherwise unchanged backline. Scott Habib starts at tight-head with Cameron Bain coming in for the injured Richard Thompson in the second-row. Kieran Slingsby gets a start at openside with Matt Walker returning at No 8. Angus Inwood and Reuben Walsh come onto the bench after impressing last weekend for the 2nd XV.
Musselburgh: Craig Owenson and Jack Haynes are unavailable this week meaning Neil McNairn steps across to loose-head with Darren Miller stepping up to start at tight-head. Josh Herbert gets rewarded for a strong pre-season with a start in the second-row. Paul Bogie suffered a significant shoulder injury in the closing play of the game last week and is replaced by Michael Badenhorst who himself returns from a facial injury sustained against Ayr in pre-season. The backline has had a reshuffle with Danny Owenson returning to nine, Rory Smith moving to stand-off and Ben Heber earning his first start in the Premiership in the centre. Rory Hindhaugh returns from a concussion and he takes his place on the bench.
What the coaches say –
“Games against Musselburgh are never easy and we know they can score points so we must improve defensively. We will continue to focus on developing our game and imposing that on the opposition for longer periods …” – Iain Berthinussen (Edinburgh Accies)
“There were fundamental aspects of our game last week that were simply not up to scratch and we struggled to maintain focus and pressure for a significant period which afforded Kelso a hook into the game. I’m pleased we were able to wrestle momentum back and gave ourselves a chance to walk away with five points with the last kick of the game. This week presents an entirely different challenge and we look forward to testing ourselves against a team who have been in back-to-back play-offs and aspire to be title contenders. Let’s see if we can rise to it …” – Derek O’Riordan (Musselburgh)
Verdict: With Accies scoring 41 points last week and Musselburgh 31, expect this to be an entertaining affair. If Accies can get the upper hand in the forwards they should be favourites to go on and win this one, but their former player Michael Badenhorst is a big returnee for Musselburgh.
Glasgow Hawks v Selkirk
Venue: Balgray @ 3pm
Glasgow Hawks: J Couper; R Flett, J Pinkerton, W Burrows, J Adamson; L Brims, J Imrie; K Shanahan, P Cairncross, M Goodwin, S Leckey©, A Syme, L Stewart, JP Thomson, T Wright. Subs: A Burgess, D Irvine, M Crumlish, G Cruickshanks, J Blair.
Selkirk: F Wheelans; A Penman, C Anderson, A Grant-Suttie, B Cullen; C Easson, Aaron McColm; L Pettie, B Riddell, Z Szwagrzak, A Cochrane, D Nichol, J Turnbull, S McClymont©, Andrew McColm. Subs: F Easson, C Turnbull, R Murray, C Findlater, B Pickles.
Key battle: Wayne Burrows versus Andrew Grant-Suttie.
Team news –
Glasgow Hawks: In the pack, Kyle Shanahan comes in to make his long-awaited first start for the club at loose-head. Lewis Stewart comes back into the squad, to replace Sione Halafihi, having got through 80 minutes for the 2nd XV last week after returning from a leg break sustained last February. In the backs, there is a positional swap with James Pinkerton now at centre and Ryan Flett on the wing, while Jacob Adamson comes in for the unavailable Sam Graham to make his debut in the ‘new’ Premiership having represented the club in the ‘old’ Premiership back in 2015. Mike Downer is off to work on Islay indefinitely and Gavin Cruickshanks and Jamie Blair come in on the bench with Henry Lapslie dropping out due to Army duties.
Selkirk: Ross Nixon and James Bett are still noticeable absentees through their respective injuries and Josh Welsh is also unavailable this week. Finlay Wheelans and Archie Penman are available for the trip Glasgow and come into the squad at full-back and winger respectively after a strong week at training. Callum Anderson moves to 13 and the starting pack is unchanged.
What the coaches say –
“On reflection, and having reviewed last week’s footage, Hawick were a level above where we are at, at the minute. It was a credit to our lads to dig in and keep the score to 13 points at the half and then get a couple of scores late on. I don’t foresee many coming away with a result down there if they continue that vein of form. Due to that we have looked to keep the squad relatively the same this week. Looking at the result versus Currie last week, you would think that Selkirk were hammered, however they were right in it until around 60 minutes, and if it weren’t for a jackal turnover on Currie’s five metre line they could have gone in front. We know that Selkirk will come to Balgray looking for a result after their double over us last year. We were ahead for huge chunks of these games and know it will be imperative we play for the full 80 if we want to get the win …” – Andy Hill (Glasgow Hawks)
“Although disappointed with the result from last week, we took a lot of positives from the game against Currie. The players were open and honest on the analysis and we have had an excellent week’s training in preparation to play Glasgow Hawks. This will be another tough game on the road as Hawks will also have been encouraged by their performance against Hawick. The whole squad are excited to for an improved performance in a bid to challenge Hawks for the points …” – Gordon Henderson (Selkirk)
Verdict: Both of these sides seem to have become consistently inconsistent over the last couple of years, but on their day they have the talent to trouble anyone in the league. Both took positives from last week’s defeats that they are looking to build on while Selkirk won the corresponding fixture 29-19 last November. Home advantage and an experienced centre partnership of Wayne Burrows and James Pinkerton leading on defence could see Hawks get the victory.
Kelso v Heriot’s Blues
Venue: Poynder Park @ 3pm
Kelso: D Patterson; A Barbour, H Tweedie, F Robson©, R Tweedie; M Hastie, A Tait; G Shiells, E Knox, T Logan, C Thompson, C Brown, J Glendinning, M Woodcock, B McNeil. Subs: C Marshall, A Asante, E Thompson, L Tait, M Wilson.
Heriot’s Blues: T Soren; P Christie, R Steele, O Quinn, B Kay©, C Meager; K Kutsuna, G Wilson; M Bouab, L Forsyth, A Bogle, B Dineen, M Keough, R Kirkpatrick, I Hill, A Johnston©. Subs: D Westwood, N Doherty, D Yellowley, D Tomanek, A Hunter.
Key battle: Grant Shiells versus Archie Bogle.
Team news –
Kelso: Vice-captain Archie Cowens is now out for around six weeks with a broken hand, so James Glendinning replaces him in the back-row after impressing from the bench last week. Liam Tait returns to cover back-row from the bench. Keith Melbourne and Greg Ponton are on holiday and Angus Roberts is still missing through work commitments.
Heriot’s Blues: Selection has been made more difficult through a mixture of injury and individuals being away at ‘some match’ in Marseille. Skipper Bobby Kay is out through injury, the backline re-jigged with Paul Christie coming onto the wing as a result. Danny Dineen and Angus Munro are off to see Scotland versus South Africa, so Lachlan Forsyth makes his Premiership debut at hooker and Martin Bouab is at loose-head. Dougie Westwood, Niall Doherty and Angus Hunter come onto the bench.
What the coaches say –
“We have been working hard to solve some defensive issues from last week at training. The players are focused on matching the detail and accuracy that Heriot’s bring when they play, especially at this time of year with the ground fast and sun shining, they will look to play with a lot of width. We will look to build on the positives from last week at Musselburgh and try to impose ourselves on a Heriot’s team in fine form after defeating Marr last weekend …” – Bruce McNeil (Kelso)
“We were over the moon with the win last weekend in what became an exciting, end-to-end encounter. We struggled with Marr last year so to get the win was great. Kelso will bring different challenges, including dealing with what will no doubt be a vocal local support for what will be their first home match on their return to the Premiership. Despite the changes we will be travelling with a strong group hoping to give a good account of ourselves …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s Blues)
Verdict: It is a big day for Kelso and they will have to rid themselves on any nerves early on, but a battling draw at Musselburgh will have given them some confidence. Heriot’s had a great result last week, but with them missing captain Bobby Kay and a couple of key front-rowers, Kelso’s settled side will look to capatalise on that and the expected large crowd may help them over the line.
Marr v Hawick
(for the Bill McLaren Shield)
Venue: Fullarton Park @ 3pm
Marr: G Montgomery; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff©, J Jacobson; C Sturgeon, G Baird; A Rogers, C McMillan, A Apthorpe, D Andrew, C Folan, F Grant, C Young, B Jardine. Subs: S Clelland, G Dick, E Bulger, J Scott, G Beckwith.
Hawick: K Ford; M Tait, A Mitchell, L Armstrong, R McKean; K Brunton, G Welsh; S Muir©, F Renwick, N Little, F Wilson, D Redpath, C Sutherland, C Renwick, J Linton. Subs: R Anderson, T Hope, G Lowrie, S Graham, B Donaldson.
Key battle: Colin Sturgeon versus Kyle Brunton.
Team news –
Marr: Scott Bickerstaff comes in on the wing with Callum Folan starting in the second-row. Ewan Bulger is added to the bench.
Hawick: One enforced change in the backline with Charlie Welsh dropping out after picking up an ankle knock last week. Kirk Ford moves to full-back as a result and Kyle Brunton comes in to wear the 10 jersey following some valuable minutes for the Force [2nd XV] last week. Shaun Fairbairn suffered a knee injury versus Hawks, so Dalton Redpath moves up into the second-row with Connor Sutherland coming into the six jersey after a brief Super Series stint. Russell Anderson, the former Southern Knights captain, has made the decision to step away from the Super Series and join Hawick, so he covers hooker from the bench where Gary Lowrie and Stuart Graham also come in.
What the coaches say –
“We are looking forward to this game and the boy have worked really hard during the week on a few ‘work ons’ from last weekend. It was disappointing to lose the first game and we know it’ll be a monumental task against a Hawick team who seem to have started off where they left off last season. I’m sure it’ll be a good contest in front of a good crowd …” – Kenny Diffenthal (Marr)
“Games against Marr are historically close physical encounters and this weekend should be no different. Fullarton is not an easy place to visit if you are not on the ball from the first whistle and the challenge we have put to our players this week is to turn last week’s first 40 minutes into an 80 minute performance. If we do that we will hopefully be in a strong enough position to come away with the points come full-time on Saturday …” – Gary Muir (Hawick DoR)
Verdict: This has the makings of an early season classic. Marr will have been frustrated at not winning their opener at Heriot’s Blues while Hawick got the job done against Hawks, but know they need another level to win in Troon. A four-one bench selection shows how physical a game Hawick are expecting and Russell Anderson, Gary Lowrie and Stuart Graham will be important here late on if they are to get over the line.