PREMIERSHIP PREVIEW: ROUND THREE

STIRLING COUNTY’S home clash against Glasgow Hawks this afternoon promises to be an intriguing encounter on a number of levels.

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Both teams will be desperate to bounce back after losing last weekend, and with respective head coaches having expressed regret that their sides had not cut loose with the ball in hand  as much as they would have liked, we can expect plenty of attacking ambition to be on display at Bridgehaugh.

Hawks scored their two tries against Melrose last time out when keeping it tight, and they gave away a few scores when attempting to be adventurous from deep, but rather than be encouraged by his team’s adaptability, head coach Finlay Gillies said afterwards that he was slightly disappointed that they had reverted so quickly to route one when their more expansive ambitions did not come to fruition straight away.

“We pride ourselves on trying to play a real high tempo game, and we reverted back to going from maul, to scrum, to pick-and-go. I want us to keep being that young, swaggering, cocky squad,” he said. It will be interesting to see what sort of balance Hawks try to strike today.

County have a giant pack but they found out last week against a young and fairly lightweight Boroughmuir eight that you can’t just steamroller your way to success if the opposition are ready to meet the challenge head-on. Adamson says he wants to see his team show a little more ambition, but converting a noble sentiment into a heroic deed is easier said than done.

With so many new faces arriving at Stirling during the summer, the first few weeks of the season were always going to be a getting-to-know-you curve for the team. Ross Jones [who was capped as a full-back for Ireland at schools level and was part of the Leinster Academy, before moving back to the county of his birth and gaining under-20s and Sevens honours for Wales, as well as playing for the Ospreys on 21 occasions between 2011-12 and 2013-14], makes his first competitive start for the club at stand-off, and will have a big role to play in getting things moving.

A key factor in the outcome of this match is likely to be the influence of the four Glasgow Warriors players released to Hawks this week. That is a whole lot of firepower and if it clicks it could be explosive – but does parachuting so many players into the team negatively impact the chemistry of the squad?

County coach David Adamson is a vociferous advocate of pro players being involved in the Premiership, and says he has ‘no issue’ with Peter Murchie, Junior Bulumakau, Grayson Hart and Greg Peterson being included in the visiting ranks. He may not be quite so generous in his appraisal come 5pm tonight.

Two of the three teams still winless in this campaign face each other at Goldenacre with Hawick taking on Heriot’s. Having come within a whisker of defeating Ayr last week, the hosts seem to be closing in on something like the form which took them to the league and cup double last year, and they will start the match as firm favorites against a Hawick team which has only performed well in patches during the first two rounds of this year’s campaign.

With Cornell du Preez at number eight, skipper Rory Carmichael making his first start of the season in the centre, plus Murray McCallum and Liam Steele ready to make an impact off the bench, Phil Smith’s team should indeed have too much for Hawick.

However, head coach Phil Smith insists that any team which writes off Hawick does so at their own peril, and the return to the visitors; starting line-up of Lee Armstrong, John Coutts and Neil Renwick will give them a cutting edge which Heriot’s will need to be wary of.

The other winless team in the league is Currie, who face the unenviable task of taking on top of the table Melrose at The Greenyards. Rob Chrystie’s men showed Hawks how dangerous they can be if given half a chanced last week, so Ben Cairns will be hoping that his young side are less generous when it comes to handing out opportunities than they have been in the previous two rounds.

Watsonians will look to make it three from three when Boroughmuir nip across Colinton Road to provide the opposition in today’s Edinburgh derby, while Gala make the long and daunting trip to Ayr in relatively high spirits after last weekend’s uplifting win away to Currie.

HOW IT STANDS –

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THE LOWDOWN –

WATSONIANS v BOROUGHMUIR

VENUE: Myreside @ 3pm

TEAMS –

Watsonians: A Chalmers; R Steele, S McLeod, D Innes, K Young; E Scott, R Cullen; M Christie©, S Crombie, S Ruwer, F Morrison, C Borthwick, V Fihaki, A Duckett, E Dods. Subs: D Miller, N Borel, K Beattie, S Kennedy, M Bertram.

Boroughmuir: D Steele; G McConnell, R Kerr, M Hare, J Edmunds; C Laidlaw©, S Johnson; D Robertson, T King, D Winning, J Ure, J Scott, C Keddie, D Hearn, M Tweddle. Subs: J Bett, R Dunbar, A Mncube, TBC, R Cairns.

TEAM NEWS –

Watsonians: Captain Martin Christie is back at loose-head prop, Fraser Morrison makes his debut in the second-row after moving across the city from Stew-Mel, while an injury enforced reshuffle of the back-row sees Edinburgh’s Tongan international Viliami Fihaki come in at blindside flanker and Euan Dodds shift across to number eight.

Boroughmuir: Ronan Kerr comes in at outside centre for the injured Greg Cannie, Aubrey Mncube has finally been cleared to play and will hope to make his overdue first appearance of the season off the bench, and Rab Cairns gets recalled on the wing in place of Michael Allen – who did enough in last week’s victory over Stirling County to merit selection for Edinburgh this weekend.

KEY BATTLE: Viliami Fihaki v Craig Keddie

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

Boroughmuir had a good win last week and we are in good form so it has all the makings of a really entertaining Edinburgh derby…” – Marcus Di Rollo (Watsonians)

After a hard fought victory against Stirling last week we are looking forward to continuing that good work against our local rivals who have started off the season with two confident wins. No games are easy in this league and we are expecting another bruiser …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)

VERDICT: Watsonians’ physicality edges it in a tight contest.

MELROSE v CURRIE

VENUE: The Greenyards @ 3pm

TEAMS –

Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, G Taylor, R Taylor, A Lockington; J Baggott, M McAndrew; J Bhatti, R Anderson, N Beavon, R Knott, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: N Cochrane, D Elkington, A Grieve, B Colvine, G Wood.

Currie: H Elms; M Hooks, R Vernon, R Nelson, C Gray; G Clow, C Shiel; A McWilliam, F Scott, J Firth, H Bain, S Ainslie, R Davies, T Gordon, R Weston©. Subs: G Carson, J Cox, G Temple, R Snedden, M McPhillips.

TEAM NEWS –

Melrose: Ruaridh Knott comes into the boiler-house for James Head, who is away at a family wedding, in the only change to the starting fifteen from last week. Edinburgh pro Neil Cochrane is on the bench, and will be hoping to make a similar impact for his new team-mates as he did against them when fulfilling a similar role for Heriot’s in last year’s BT Cup Final. Ally Grieve also gets a chance on the bench after impressing in the 2nd XV.

Currie: Richie Vernon has been released by Glasgow and should provide a valuable focal point for the visitors’ young backline to rally around. Charlie Shiel has been recalled at scrum-half and AP McWilliam is rewarded for his efforts in the 2nd XV by a starting berth on the loose-head.

KEY BATTLE: George Taylor versus Richie Vernon

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“This weekend’s game has an extra excitement about it due to the planned lunch celebrations for Mark Robertson and his excellent achievement at the Rio Olympics with the GB Sevens team. Currie will be determined to kick-start their season after a narrow loss to Gala last week …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)

“We will go to the Greenyards with nothing to lose. It will obviously be a huge test for us but I have no doubt that the boys will bring huge energy to the game and if we can match this with a higher degree of accuracy then we will give ourselves a chance of an upset …” – Ben Cairns (Currie)

VERDICT: Currie may have to wait another week to get their season rolling.

HERIOT’S v HAWICK

VENUE: Goldenacre @ 3pm

TEAMS –

Heriots: G Parker; J Webster, J Semple, R Carmichael©, J Laird; A Hagart, A Simmers; M Bouab, G Turner, S Cessford, C Marshall, C Smith, S Dewar J McLean, C du Preez. Subs: M Liness, M McCallum, E Jackson, L Steele, A McLean.

Hawick: N Renwick; D Graham, J Coutts, G Johnstone, W Hamilton; L Armstrong, B Campbell; S Muir, F Renwick, M Landels, D Harlen, R Hogg, B McNeill©, A Horne, K Davies. Subs: M Landels, R Gibson, R Scott, K Brunton, W Simpson.

TEAM NEWS –

Heriot’s: Cornell du Preez and George Turned have once again been released by Edinburgh and start at number eight and hooker respectively. Skipper Rory Carmichael returns to the starting fifteen at centre, Josh Laird moves out to the wing, and Liam Steele is available again and ready to do some damage off the bench,

Hawick: A couple of prodigal sons return to the backline in the shape of Scotland club international stand-off Lee Armstrong and full-back Neil Renwick (after brief stints at St Boswells and Kelso respectively), showing that the grass is not always greener elsewhere. John Coutts is also back in the starting team and will add an edge at outside centre, Ryan Hogg will provide some belligerence in the second-row where he links up with South African Dylan Harlan, and the evergreen Matt Landels bolsters the front-row.

KEY BATTLE: Cornell du Preez versus Keith Davies

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“While last Saturday was an obvious step up from the week before, the bottom line is that we were beaten and we need to stop the rot this weekend. Year on year, it is my belief that Hawick are the team with the most raw rugby talent and can threaten you throughout the 80 minutes, so switching off is simply not possible …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)

“Several changes are made after a poor start to the season where we have put together only two good halves of rugby in the four we have played. This is a far more experienced team than we have selected so far this season. With both teams so desperate to get off the mark, and trying to do so by playing a great brand of rugby, we should be in for an exciting afternoon that is full of fire, as always …” – Nikki Walker (Hawick)

VERDICT: Heriot’s make it third time lucky but it is going to be tight.

AYR v GALA

VENUE: Millbrae @ 3pm

TEAMS –

Ayr: G Anderson; J Bova, A Russell, D McCluskey, C Gossman; F Climo, H Warr; G Hunter, J Malcolm, S Longwell, C Stevenson, R McAlpine, W Bordill, G Henry, B Macpherson. Subs: D Young, D Rae, L Scott, C Taylor, R Curle.

Gala: G Speirs©; R Combe, C Dean, P Hendry, C Robertson; G Hunter, G Lott; M Carryer, D Brooker, C Keen, O Palepoi, R Louw, A Emond, J Irvine, S Cairns. Subs: G Robertson, C Reynolds, G Adams, G Mein, C Dods.

TEAM NEWS –

Ayr: Gregor Henry returns to the back-row in place of injured skipper Pete McCallum, while Warriors duo James Malcolm and Darcy Rae bolster the front-row (the former starts at hooker while the latter will come off the bench at prop). Danny McCluskey gets his reward for adding some oomph to the Ayr back-line when coming on as a replacement in recent weeks by being given a starting role ahead of Ross Curle. Harry Warr starts at scrum-half.

Gala: Rotation of the front-row sees Matt Carryer shift from hooker to loose-head prop, so that Chris Brooker can wear the number two jersey, while Chris Keen starts on the tight-head. Chris Weir is best man at a wedding so Rob Louw moves from the back to the middle row, and Alan Emond is promoted from the bench to wear the number six jersey. Edinburgh pro Chris Dean is at outside centre.

KEY BATTLE: Frazier Climo versus Gregor Hunter.

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“We will need to raise the physicality of our defence to tray and combat a strong Gala side arriving on a high following their victory over Currie. We never properly clicked at Heriot’s last week and we will need to improve our accuracy …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)

“Ayr have a massively talented and physical squad and this match represents the yardstick for our young team to measure themselves against. Our performance last Saturday has energised the players and they are looking forward to this challenge …” – Chris Dalgliesh (Gala)

VERDICT: Gala could be on the receiving end when Ayr rediscover their mojo.

STIRLING COUNTY v GLASGOW HAWKS

VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 3pm

TEAMS –

Stirling: J Hope; C Pringle, J Cresswell, F Lyle, R Hughes; R Jones, M Donaldson; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, C Hunter-Hill©, A Sinclair, R Leishman, S McDonald, A Taylor. Subs: M Emmison, C Hutton, H Burr, S Robertson, R Elliston.

Hawks: P Murchie; J Bulumakau, R Beattie, P Kelly, K Gossman; J Henderson, G Hart; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain, K McDonald, G Peterson, A Hill, A Kirkland, T Spinks©. Subs: S Rodgers, P Cairncross, H Schulte, G Horne, D Milne.

TEAM NEWS –

Striling: With Rory Hughes and Fraser Lyle released by the Warriors to play on the right wing and at inside-centre respectively, the hosts will hopefully look to play a more expansive game than they managed last week. That will depend on how the new half-back pairing of Matt Donaldson and Ross Jones go in their first starts of the season. Jonny Hope swaps the number ten for the number fifteen jersey.

Hawks: Bolstered by the release of four Glasgow Warriors players, including three– Peter Murchie, Junior Bulumakau and Grayson Hart – in a dangerous looking backline. Greg Peterson will add serious physicality in the second-row against one of the biggest packs in the league, although the injured Matt Fagerson will be a miss at open-side.

KEY BATTLE: Calum Hunter-Hill versus Greg Peterson

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“Following a thoroughly disappointing loss to Boroughmuir, where we seemed devoid of any ambition or excitement, we welcome a return to Bridgehaugh where we hope to rediscover some of the attacking intent we showed in glimpses against Hawick …” – David Adamson (Stirling)

“We look forward to the physical battle that Stirling will present us. With Eddie Pollock in charge of the forwards we know that we will encounter an extremely organised and well drilled pack and with David Adamson as head coach they will always look to keep that attacking edge and play an expansive brand of rugby …” – Finlay Gillies (Hawks)

VERDICT: Hawks firepower behind the scrum will be too much for Stirling.

Image: Craig Watson Pix

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About David Barnes 2973 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.