THE battle for play-off spots is set to heat up this weekend in the Premiership. For the last two seasons the same four clubs – Hawick, Marr, Currie Chieftains and Edinburgh Accies – have contested the post-regular campaign action. That quartet are up there again this year, but fifth placed Heriot’s Blues, sixth placed Musselburgh and, if they can go on a great run, seventh placed Kelso will be looking to shake the status quo up over the next six games.
That starts on Saturday and Heriot’s have a massive home game in the context of their season against third placed Currie Chieftains. These Edinburgh derbies are normally entertaining and the Goldenacre men will be out to prove they are a far better team than the 46-5 defeat at Malleny Park in September suggested.
Musselburgh were put to the sword by Currie last weekend and will look to get back on track versus bottom side Jed-Forest whilst defending the Bill McLaren Shield once again.
Kelso were edged out by Hawick last week and they are on the road to ninth placed Glasgow Hawks.
Leaders Hawick are at home to fourth placed Edinburgh Accies with second placed Marr on their travels to eighth placed Selkirk.
Players from all squads also have the added incentive from now on of impressing their regional coaches after the Inter-District Championship was confirmed as being in March and April earlier this week.
How it stands –
The Lowdown –
Glasgow Hawks v Kelso
Venue: Balgray @ 2pm
Glasgow Hawks: J Couper; S Graham, J Pinkerton©, C Ferrie, R Flett; D McCartney, J Imrie; K Shanahan, P Cairncross, M Goodwin, M Crumlish, S Halafihi, L Stewart, A Syme, C Nolan. Subs: R Howie, E Cairns, JP Thomson, E Davey, H Provan.
Kelso: A Barbour; A Roberts, D Patterson, F Robson©, R Tweedie; M Hastie, N Stingl; G Shiells, E Knox, A Asante, A Common, C Thompson, K Melbourne, m Woodcock, B McNeil. Subs: J Glendinning, A Frame, A Mcgregor, E Thompson, C Brown.
Key battle: David McCartney versus Murray Hastie
Team news –
Glasgow Hawks: In the pack, some important ‘player leaders’ return in Paul Cairncross and Lewis Stewart while Max Crumlish has recovered from illness and Andrew Syme has finished his return to play protocol following a concussion. The backs remain largely unchanged with David McCartney coming in at 10 while Euan Muirhead has sustained a concussion which sees Sam Graham come into the starting team on the wing, with James Couper returning to his favoured role at full-back. On the bench, Ryan Howie has completed his return to play and Eric Davey has rejoined the club for a short period from Stirling Wolves, while Harry Provan does not have school commitments this weekend.
Kelso: Nik Stingl gets a start at scrum-half as Andy Tait drops out the squad and Cammy Brown returns to the bench, with Angus Common and Cammy Thompson making up a new second-row partnership. Keith Melbourne starts at six for the injured Liam Tait and Ashton Asante starts at tight-head with Terry Logan out of the squad. Young Angus Mcgregor and Allan Frame return to bolster the front-row options from the bench.
What the coaches say –
“Last week was difficult with trying to integrate lads returning from the Future XV or drafted from Super Series, never mind the fact we had multiple changes throughout the week due last minute availability, injury and then sickness issues. This allowed some lads an opportunity to stake a claim for a 1st XV jersey and the likes of Craig Nolan, Calum Ferrie and, in particular, Sione Halafihi grabbed this with both hands. It will be good to get back to Balgray after back-to-back away games. In our first meeting, Kelso came at us with a very simple but effective game-plan and battered us. The lads were shellshocked and didn’t match their physicality and aggression. In the last two weeks, while we haven’t had the results, we have definitely been back to our best physically in defence and we will need to be there again this week to stop an in-form Kelso team …” – Andy Hill (Glasgow Hawks)
“After winning 29-14 at home earlier in the season, we are expecting a backlash from Hawks who have a very respectable home record, and this will be a very tough outing. We hope to have learned a lot from last week’s narrow defeat to Hawick …” – Kevin Utterson (Kelso)
Verdict: When Kelso beat Hawks earlier in the campaign they played some of their best rugby since promotion. Hawks on their own patch will be a different proposition though and this could be a tight one. Hawks are still searching for a settled spine to their side and have been unlucky with injuries and such like of late. If Kelso’s talismanic No 8 Bruce McNeil and and the likes of Ashton Asante and Murray Hastie can have big games they should just sneak it.
Hawick v Edinburgh Accies
Venue: Mansfield Park @ 3pm
Hawick: K Ford; C Welsh, A Mitchell, L Armstrong, R McKean; K Brunton, H Patterson; S Muir©, R Anderson, N Little, D Redpath, C Sutherland, J Linton, C Renwick, S Graham. Subs: M Brogan, T Hope, F Wilson, D Lightfoot, E Hamilton.
Edinburgh Accies: R Chalmers; C Ramm; N Armstrong©, G Woods, F MacNeill; B Appleson, P Ritchie; R Dunbar, F McAslan, C Crookshanks, C Bain, S Whittaker, G Napier, A Inwood, J Sole. Subs: G Hall, A Hain, T Thompson, B Grainger, F Lindsay.
Key battle: Andrew Mitchell versus Neil Armstrong
Team news –
Hawick: Edinburgh Rugby Academy player Hector Patterson is available and starts at scrum-half in place of Gareth Welsh. Russell Anderson is at hooker after Ross Graham’s red card at Kelso and Margus Brogan joins the bench along with Deaglan Lightfoot. After being an unused replacement at Poynder Park, teenager Eli Hamilton could debut from the bench.
Edinburgh Accies: Robbie Chalmers returns at full-back with Callum Ramm moving to the wing and Finlay MacNeill returning on the other wing. Angus Inwood returns to the back-row and Richard Thompson and Fraser Lindsay come onto the bench.
What the coaches say –
“We are back at home this week after a good five points at Poynder last weekend. With only two home games left of the regular season we will be doing our best to ensure we continue to keep the pressure on teams around us at the top of the table and will need to be at our best against an Accies team who are very good on their day. Special mention to Kirk Ford [100 first team appearances] and Stuart Graham [200 first team appearances] on reaching those milestones last week against Kelso and to Connor Sutherland [50 first team appearances] appearances and Lee Armstrong [200 first team appearances] who will mark milestones this week – all great players and contributors to the club …” – Matty Douglas (Hawick)
“Matty Douglas and his coaching team are doing a fantastic job down at Mansfield Park with great consistency in performance and selection. We need to turn up physically this week to have a chance. For us, it is about getting back to enjoying our rugby, so our focus will be to go out and enjoy ourselves on both sides of the ball …” – Iain Berthinussen (Edinburgh Accies)
Verdict: Accies will have been frustrated by recent losses to Musselburgh and Heriot’s Blues while, although it was not pretty at times, shorthanded Hawick got over the line against Kelso last weekend. Accies are looking to go out and play with freedom by the sounds of things, but Hawick on their own patch like to get on the front foot and Andrew Mitchell just needs half a sniff to do real damage.
Heriot’s Blues v Currie Chieftains
Venue: Goldenacre @ 2pm
Heriot’s Blues: R Steele; P Christie, A Hunter, K Kutsuna, C Meagher; L Townsend, G Wilson; A Munro, R Jackson, S Cessford, P Spence, M Keough, R Kirkpatrick, M Dillon, A Johnston©. Subs: D Westwood, J Lascelles, J Hill, K Singleton, T Storen.
Currie Chieftains: C Brett; J McCaig, E Crombie, G Christie, R Daley; A Harley, P Boyer; C Anderson, R Stewart, G Carson©, A McCallum, C West, R Davies, R Vucago, S Cardosi. Subs: S Fisher, O Blyth-Lafferty, A Bain, C Lessels, S Leto.
Key battle: Graham Wilson versus Paddy Boyer
Team news –
Heriot’s Blues: Scotland Club XV cap Jason Hill returns this weekend after an extended absence with ACL injury. He is on the bench while, also among the replacements, Trent Storen returns from a shorter-term injury. The rest of the squad is fairly settled.
Currie Chieftains: Chris Anderson in at loose-head is the only change in the starting pack and Euan Crombie at 13 the only change in the backs. On the bench, Ali Bain and Cameron Lessels return. Hooker Ryan Stewart will play his 50th 1st XV game.
What the coaches say –
“Positive attack meant we were able to get the result we needed last week. Our attention now turns to Currie who gave us a real schooling at Malleny earlier in the season. However, we feel we are now better equipped to compete, and with the 2nd XV playing alongside the main pitch we are hoping for a couple of positive outcomes. We also have a sold-out Ladies Lunch taking place which should ensure a level of noise, albeit it will be noisier should they choose to venture away from the bar …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s Blues)
“We again stepped up our performance last week and it was really pleasing to see how well we performed defensively, resulting in turnovers to set up two of our seven tries. The tough matches keep coming and we will need to improve yet again to take the points against Heriot’s. After a strong performance against Accies last week they are only a couple of points off a play-off spot so will be very motivated in front of their home support …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
Verdict: With two settled starting XVs, two experienced scrum-halves in Graham Wilson and Paddy Boyer set to go at it, and Jason Hill making his return to action, this could be the game of the day in the top flight. As Phil Smith references, it was a very one-sided affair in Currie’s favour last time, but this will be a lot closer. Heriot’s winger Paul Christie is a real handful in space, if their pack have a big game they may just be able to turn the tables.
Musselburgh v Jed-Forest
(for the Bill McLaren Shield)
Venue: Stoneyhill @ 3pm
Musselburgh: P Cunningham; O Craig, B Heber, R Smith, S Watt; D Owenson, F Call; C Owenson, D Miller, E Bonthron, J Arnold, J Haynes, M Badenhorst©, M Crawford, P Bogie. Subs: A Forbes, R Brown, J Lister, A McLean, M McMillan.
Jed-Forest: M Cullen; B Irvine, G Young, R Marshall, R Shirra-Gibb; O Cranston, M Glen; J Ferguson, H Keith, N Bates, C Skeldon©, J Hynd, E Lauder, B Roff, B Fotheringham. Subs: M Weekley, G Law, D Buckley, B Howe, K Grieve.
Key battle: Craig Owenson versus Nicky Bates
Team news –
Musselburgh: The backline remains unchanged. In the pack, Paul Bogie returns to the starting line-up at No 8, with Craig Owenson returning any loose-head and Euan Bonthron earning a start at tight-head after impressing off the bench last week. Andrew Forbes returns on the bench having won his world powerlifting title and he is joined there by Andrew McLean (Boroughmuir Bears), who will make an appearance as part of the Super Series draft.
Jed-Forest: Scrum-half Mark Glen returns to the starting line up to form a half back partnership with Owen Cranston. Gregor Young moves into the centre with Brodie Irvine starting on the wing. In the forwards, Harry Meadows is unavailable this week, so Nicky Bates is his replacement at tight head. Dan Wardrop is out injured and is replaced by Jamie Hynd in the second-row.
What the coaches say –
“We learned a lot about ourselves last week and recognised that with the resources we have available to us it’s not always going to be a level playing field. In saying that, we have come through the first three games of the second round with more league points than we had first time round albeit at the price of a couple of key injuries. Attention turns to Jed at home this weekend and we know from last year how they will be feeling when they come to us on Saturday. We need to keep our feet on the ground and attack the game in the same way we fought for survival last year. The difference between the teams in the middle of the pack is wafer thin so any slip ups could see our targets fall out of reach. We need the sleeves up, heads down and we will work for everything on Saturday …” – Derek O’Riordan (Musselburgh)
“We were slow to get off the mark last Saturday, and we paid the price for not turning early pressure into points while Selkirk did which meant we were playing catch up all afternoon. Musselburgh will be wanting to make up for last Saturday so we’ll be expecting a backlash at Stoneyhill. They’ve a strong scrum and backs that will try and run from anywhere on the park so I’m expecting another tough game against them …” – David Grieve (Jed-Forest)
Verdict: Musselburgh will have been frustrated with how the second half in particular went in the defeat to Currie and back on home turf they will want to show that they are still in the play-off hunt. Jed have a fairly settled pack for this one and know an upset could see them claim the Bill McLaren Shield, but it looks like another tough day at the office for the Borderers.
Selkirk v Marr
Venue: Philiphaugh @ 3pm
Selkirk: C Anderson; F Wheelans, B Pickles, R Nixon, J Welsh; C Easson, H Alderson; L Pettie, J Bett, Z Szwagrzak, Andrew McColm, A Cochrane, K Westlake, S McClymont©, M Job. Subs: B Riddell, J Millburn, L Cassidy, J Beveridge, B Cullen.
Marr: C Inglis; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff©, J Jacobson; C Sturgeon, G Baird; A Rogers, S Reekie, A Apthorpe, D Andrew, C Young, C Smith, B Johnston, B Jardine. Subs: B Sweet, F Grant, K Vallance, R Baird, J Scott.
Key battle: Monroe Job versus Blair Jardine
Team news –
Selkirk: The only change in the backline sees Cameron Easson starting at stand-off in place of the unavailable Aaron McColm. In the forwards, Andrew McColm moves to second-row with Munroe Job starting at No 8. Blake Cullen is on the bench after returning from injury alongside Josh Beveridge who is available this week from the Boroughmuir Bears.
Marr: A very settled squad with only Jack Scott replacing Greg Montgomery on the bench.
What the coaches say –
“Last week we put in a solid performance to get a vital win for us against Jed. This week’s game against Marr will give us an opportunity to see how much we have improved when we take on a top four team. The squad are buzzing for this challenge and we know that we will need to bring an edge to our defence and take scoring opportunities to stay in the game …” – Gordon Henderson (Selkirk)
“It’s another massive test for us in the Borders against Selkirk. We have prepared really well this week and we are fully aware we need to be on it for 80 minutes. Selkirk are a tough side who have won a couple of key games over the last few weeks so we know they will be ready for us. We will need to match them physically and make sure we manage the game correctly if we are to take anything from it …” – Stephen Adair (Marr)
Verdict: Selkirk have pushed Currie hard and then defeated Glasgow Hawks and Jed in recent weeks, so they will be feeling good going into this one. Marr have also won two of their last three, and with both teams able to select relatively unchanged match-day 20s, they will both feel well prepped. Key for Selkirk will be how the 8-9-10 axis of Monroe Job, Hugo Alderson and Cameron Easson clicks while Marr will look for their players in the same positions – Blair Jardine, Grant Baird and Colin Sturgeon – to get the team playing in the right areas.