FOUR fixtures are scheduled for Saturday in the Premiership as eight clubs look to end 2023 on a high note.
However, the year could end on a real low note for Jed-Forest because if they lose to Heriot’s Blues – or even if they win and Glasgow Hawks get two or more points at Currie Chieftains – then the Borderers would have their relegation confirmed after a torrid few months. They are bottom by 19 points and have only a possible 20 points to play for.
Meanwhile, Malleny Park will see a rematch of last weekend’s clash at Balgray, when third in the table host ninth placed Hawks.
Marr could draw level on league points with Hawick (who are inactive this weekend) at the top of the table if they manage a bonus-point win at Poynder Park, although it won’t be easy against seventh placed Kelso who will be buoyed by an impressive win at Selkirk last time out.
Selkirk are at fourth placed Musselburgh and if the latter are in the play-off spots at Christmas it will mark a massive turnaround from the start of the calendar year when they were staring down the barrel of relegation – which they later avoided in some style. And as head coach Derek O’Riordan says, Musselburgh are desperate to keep Bill at the ‘Hill [Bill McLaren Shield at Stoneyhill], so that will provide extra motivation for the East Lothian men.
How it stands –
The Lowdown –
Currie Chieftains v Glasgow Hawks
Venue: Malleny Park @ 2pm
Currie Chieftains: C Brett; R Daley, DJ Innes, G Christie, J McCaig; C Beckett, P Boyer; C Anderson, R Stewart, G Carson©, A Bain, C West, K Steel, R Vucago, S Cardosi. Subs: T Jeffrey, S Fisher, J Ramsay, C Lessels, E Crombie.
Glasgow Hawks: J Couper; H Provan, J Pinkerton, J McConkey, S Graham; D McCartney, J Imrie; K Shanahan, P Cairncross©, E Cairns, M Crumlish, H McLeod, S Halafihi, R Howie, L Stewart. Subs: J Thomson, F Muir, B Skinner, W Burrows, R Flett.
Key battle: Callum Beckett versus David McCartney
Team news –
Currie Chieftains: In the pack, Kyle Steel replaces the unavailable Rhys Davies in the back-row. In the backs, Callum Beckett gets his first start at 10 after impressing in training and for the 2nd XV last weekend.
Glasgow Hawks: A few changes due to injuries sustained last weekend. Stephen Leckey popped his shoulder so Glasgow Warriors senior academy player Harris McLeod comes in to replace him with Paul Cairncross taking over as skipper. Marcus Goodwin sustained a concussion so Eben Cairns returns from holiday to start at tight-head. Lewis Stewart is available again so comes in to start at No 8 while Ryan Howie swaps roles with JP Thomson. The backs are largely unchanged other than Harry Provan comes in for Ryan Flett as the latter has been working away all week. On the bench, Wayne Burrows and Ben Skinner come in after impressing with the 2nd XV last weekend while Fraser Muir returns from his holiday.
What the coaches say –
“We were very happy with the result last week in pretty tough conditions against a strong Hawks team. It’s the ‘second leg’ this week and it provides an opportunity for both teams to make changes and try to improve on last week’s performance. On our part, I was pleased with our kicking game and set-piece but our execution needs to be better …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“It’s not very often you get the chance to play a team back-to-back so it makes it important we address and rectify the things that Currie were better than us at last week while also looking to build on our own strengths and what we believe will help us to win the game. For us , t’s simple things – Currie played in the right areas and took the points when they were available. We have to play the conditions better than we did last week and have more of a ruthless edge. Currie will target our set-piece so it’s vital we are strong here and match them up front as inevitably that is where these games are won and lost …” – Andy Hill (Glasgow Hawks)
Verdict: It was a tight match at Balgray last week with Currie eventually coming through it. The hosts will miss the influential Rhys Davies’ carrying, but they have others who can step up to the plate and, on home turf, should have enough in the tank here.
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Jed-Forest v Heriot’s Blues
Venue: Riverside Park @ 3pm
Jed-Forest: L Young; B Irvine, R Marshall, O Cranston, R Shirra-Gibb; D Buckley, L Elder; J Ferguson, H Keith, J Bowie, G Law, C Skeldon©, D Wardrop, E Lauder, B Fotheringham. Subs: N Bates, B Roff, N Stenhouse, B Howe, M Glen.
Heriot’s Blues: A Hunter; P Christie, R Jones, K Kutsuna, C Meager; L Townsend, G Wilson; J Lascelles, R Jackson, S Cessford, N Doherty, M Keough, J Hill, M Dillon, A Johnston©. Subs: D Westwood, B Dineen, C Shand, R Thomson, J MacNaughton.
Key battle: Dan Wardrop versus Jason Hill
Team news –
Jed-Forest: In the forwards, Gregor Law starts for the first time this season after recovering from a knee operation. In the backs, Owen Cranston and Dom Buckley swap places with Lewis Elder moving to scrum-half and Lewis Young returning to full-back.
Heriot’s Blues: Rory Steele, Trent Storen, Angus Munro and Rory Kirkpatrick are unavailable for a variety of reasons.
What the coaches say –
“Last week’s game against Hawick was a hard fought encounter and Saturday’s game will be no different. We’re still desperately needing that first win, it would be great if we could get it at home just before the Christmas break but Heriot’s are strong powerful side so it’s going to be another tough game for us …” – David Grieve (Jed-Forest)
“I get the sense from a number of clubs that this is becoming a fixture too far after a tough few months. However, it is also a very important fixture for us if we want to keep up our hopes of being in the top four alive. While Jed maybe haven’t had the season they want, they are still a proud club who will undoubtedly do everything they can to get the win. This means we need to be ‘on it’ from the first kick-off …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s Blues)
Verdict: Jed need the points to keep up any slim, slim chance of staying up and while they will take the game to Heriot’s, the Edinburgh side’s desire to keep up the pressure on the top four should see them to victory.
Kelso v Marr
Venue: Poynder Park @ 2pm
Kelso: A Barbour; J Thompson, D Patterson, F Robson©, R Tweedie; M Hastie, N Stingl; G Shiells, E Knox, T Logan, C Thompson, K Melbourne, L Tait, C Brown, B McNeil. Subs: J Glendinning, A Frame, A Mcgregor, E Thompson, D Smith.
Marr: G Montgomery; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff©, J Scott; C Sturgeon, R Baird; A Rogers, S Reekie, B Sweet, D Andrew, F Grant, C Young, B Johnston, B Jardine. Subs: C McMillan, W Farquhar, C Folan, E Bulger, J Jacobson.
Key battle: Terry Logan versus Ali Rogers
Team news –
Kelso: Andy Tait and Angus Common both miss out due to being at a wedding, Angus Roberts is also missing, Ashton Asante is with the Scotland under-20s, and Hamish Tweedie and Archie Cowens have just left to travel in Australia. Nik Stingl moves to nine with James Thompson moving to the wing. Duncan Smith could make his Premiership debut from the bench.
Marr: Robbie Baird comes in at scrum-half, while Jack Scott moves to the wing to accommodate Greg Montgomery at full-back. Up front, Cameron Young joins the back-row and Curran McMillan and Ewan Bulger are added to the bench.
What the coaches say –
“We look forward to a battle with one of the league’s top sides, who have consistently been in the top four over the last few years. We will look to carry on our recent good form and try to get a result that will make the town proud heading into the Christmas break. We will need to give our best performance of the season if we are to topple Marr, but anything is possible in sport and I am sure the local support will be right behind us …” – Neil Hinnigan (Kelso DOR)
“We have worked hard this week to right our wrongs from last week which was not one for the spectators. We know Kelso is a tough place to go and it will be a real battle, the boys are prepared for that. Everyone wants to win the last game before Christmas so it should be a good contest …” – Kenny Diffenthal (Marr)
Verdict: This could be a cracking game because Kelso have enjoyed playing at home this season and Marr are having a good 2023-24. Both teams managed to secure wins last week and although Marr will start as favourites, home advantage and a big crowd might just see Kelso cause something of an upset here.
Musselburgh v Selkirk
(for the Bill McLaren Shield)
Venue: Stoneyhill @ 3pm
Musselburgh: P Cunningham; R Hindhaugh, R Watt©, R Smith, S Watt; M McMillan, F Call; C Owenson, D Miller, C Arthur, J Arnold, M Badenhorst, M Maltman, M Crawford, P Bogie. Subs: R Brown, E Bonthron, J Haynes, D Owenson, B Heber.
Selkirk: C Anderson; F Wheelans, B Pickles, R Nixon, J Welsh; Aaron McColm, H Alderson; L Pettie, J Bett, Z Szwagrzak, Andrew McColm, A Cochrane, L Cassidy, S McClymont©, K Westlake. Subs: B Riddell, J Millburn, C Turnbull, A Grant-Suttie, B Cullen.
Key battle: Michael Maltman versus Liam Cassidy
Team news –
Musselburgh: Tight-head Colin Arthur, Macphail Scholarship recipient Joss Arnold and scrum-half Fionn Call rotate in for Euan Bonthron, second-row Jak Haynes and Danny Owenson, respectively, in an otherwise unchanged starting XV.
Selkirk: In the forwards, Liam Cassidy starts at blindside with Andrew McColm moving to the second-row. Callum Turnbull is on the bench, as is Blake Cullen after recovering from a hand injury.
What the coaches say –
“Last Saturday’s loss leaves us with no room for error going into our final block of games. In a lot of ways that brings us back to last season in our fight for survival. Occupying fourth is far cry from where we were, we recognise it as a privilege and not a right, but it’s something we don’t want to give up easy. Equally, we want to keep Bill at the ‘Hill so we are not in short supply of motivation for the weekend …” – Derek O’Riordan (Musselburgh)
“This week’s game can’t come quickly enough for us. The players were honest about their performance against Kelso, it wasn’t near good enough and they are demanding a reaction in this week’s game. Musselburgh will be tough at home so we will need to stay in the fight to earn points …” – Gordon Henderson (Selkirk)
Verdict: Both teams are coming into this one off the back of losses and Selkirk in particular have a point to prove after a home reverse to Kelso. Musselburgh score points on home turf though and with the play-offs in sight they should have enough to end the year with a victory.