THE Premiership season gets underway today with intriguing match-ups right across the country.
The top two teams during last year’s regular season clash at Millbrae, with both sides determined to get back to winning ways after they came unstuck against nerveless Heriot’s in the play-offs. An injury time drop-goal did for Currie in the semi-final, while Ayr relinquished a nine point lead with eighteen minutes to go in the Grand Final.
Ayr were undoubtedly the most consistent side in the league last year and finished nine points clear at the top of the table, but when it came to the crunch they allowed themselves to be rattled by Heriots’ staying power. It is going to be interesting to see if they have learned a lesson from that experience.
Heriot’s have lost several key men who have been instrumental in their success of recent seasons and have a few injury problems, so they are going to have their work cut-out against a Watsonians team which won National League One at a canter last year, The Premiership is a significant step up in class, but the Myreside men have recruited ferociously over the summer and have a raft of new faces in their team with extensive experience of playing in this league.
The Scottish Rugby Union will be producing a live video stream from Netherdale where Gala take on Glasgow Hawks as part of a six match trial aimed at helping raise the profile of the club game in Scotland. Gregor Townsend will be guest summariser.
Elsewhere, Hawick’s visit to Stirling has all the hallmarks of a captivating ding-dong battle; while Melrose will start as firm favorites at home to Boroughmuir after an impressive demolition of Heriot’s in the Charity Shield last weekend, but that will suit visiting coach Peter Wright (who played for both clubs during his heyday) just fine. There is nothing the erstwhile Scotland prop enjoys more than upsetting the applecart.
The Offside Line will publish full match reports from all five matches online this evening.
THE LOWDOWN –
AYR v CURRIE
VENUE: Millbrae @ 3pm
Ayr: C Gossman; J Bova, A Russell, R Curle, C Taylor; F Climo, D Armstrong; G Hunter, D Young, S Longwell, C Stevenson, R McAlpine, L Scott, G Henry, P McCallum©. Subs: R Smith, A Prentice, B Macpherson, D McCluskey, S McDowall.
Currie: H Elms; M Hooks, M McPhillips, R Nelson, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; J Cox, F Scott, G Carson, H Bain, S Ainslie, R Davies, T Gordon, R Weston©. Subs: P Mundell, A McWilliam, G Temple, R Snedden, G Clow.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: Jamie Bova, who came through the ranks at Ayr before moving away to Australia, has returned to his old stomping ground and starts on the left wing. Scotland under-18 graduates Robbie Smith and Stafford McDowall will get an opportunity off the bench after impressing during pre-season, alongside Adam Prentice who has joined from Dumfries.
Currie: Ben Robbins has been sent off to London Scottish but there is still four players in the visiting squad who were involved in the Scotland under-20s side during the Junior World Cup campaign earlier in the summer. There is a sense of changing the guard at scrum-half where Charlie Shiel gets the nod ahead of stalwart Richard Snedden. Matthew Hooks and Graeme Clow make their competitive debuts, while Fergus Scott, Rhys Davies and Jamie Forbes are returning heroes.
KEY BATTLE: Pete McCallum v Ross Weston
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Ben has built a strong squad over the last couple of seasons and I am sure it will be stronger again going into this fixture. Millbrae is set to be packed out with it being the annual ladies day so there will be a good atmosphere around the club to welcome in the new season…” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
“The strength of squad, which will be required for another positive league season, will be tested from the off with a number of players missing through injury, However, there have still been some tough selection decisions with a number of players putting their hand up through our pre-season fixtures. We are looking forward to testing ourselves against the most consistent team from last season. However, we have been largely happy with our own preparations and the boys are massively looking forward to getting in to competitive action.…” – Ben Cairns (Currie)
VERDICT: Ayr have a point to prove this season.
STIRLING COUNTY v HAWICK
VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 3pm
Stirling: B Sorbie; M Lamb, J Cresswell, R Elliston, C Pringle; J Hope, A Black; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, C Hunter-Hill©, A Sinclair, R Leishman, S McDonald, A Taylor. Subs: M Emmison, M Hunter, H Burr, C Turnbull, R Jones.
Hawick: K Ford; D Graham, G Johnstone, G Huggan, N McColm; A Weir, B Campbell; S Muir, F Renwick, C Mackintosh, B McNeill©, M Robertson, A Horne, S Graham, K Davies. Subs: M Landels, R Gibson, R Scott, K Brunton, W Simpson.
TEAM NEWS –
Stirling: Recruitment has been overdrive during the summer meaning that the home team are a bit of an unknown quantity. Eight players in the squad (Bruce Sorbie, Craig Pringle, Jake Cresswell, Ryan Elliston, Alex Taylor, Ross Jones, Matt Emmison and Hamilton Burr) due to make their league debut, while two more (Adam Sinclair and Mike MacDonald) are returning after several years away from the club.
Hawick: Three new faces in the squad in the shape of Callum Mackintosh, Andrew Horne and Wesley Simpson; while Neil McColm, Gary Johnstone and Michael Robertson return to the line-up after season long sabbaticals. Matt Landels has dusted down his boots for another season beefing up the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Craig Pringle v Darcy Graham
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We have had a good pre-season with new players being brought in and fitting in seamlessly and instantly buying in to the strong ethos the club has. The squad still has a familiar look to it with half our players coming through our youth ranks …” – David Adamson (Stirling)
“This will be a good test that will give our young team a full understanding of what to expect for the season ahead. We feel if we perform to the standards that have been set in pre-season training we can win any match on our day and will concentrate on what we can control to ensure we give ourselves plenty opportunity to do so…” – Nikki Walker (Hawick)
VERDICT: Home advantage is decisive.
VENUE: The Greenyards @ 3pm
Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, G Taylor, C Jackson, A Lockington; J Baggott, M McAndrew; J Bhatti, R Anderson, N Beavon, J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: C McKay, R McLeod, R Knott, R Taylor, B Colvine.
Boroughmuir: D Steele; J Edmunds, A Cox, M Hare, R Cairns; C Laidlaw©, S Johnson; D Robertson, T King, T Gracie, J Ure, M Tweddle, C Keddie, A Rose, A Mncube. Subs: J Bett, D Winning, J Scott, G McConnell, R Bradford.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: The same backline as started in last weekend’s comprehensive victory over champions Heriot’s in the Charity Shield is being sent out, meaning that club captain Bruce Colvine is stuck on the bench. Nick Beavon and Lewis Carmichael, who signed pro contracts with Edinburgh during the summer, have been released to add even more ballast to the pack. I
Boroughmuir: Sam Johnson and Chris Laidlaw will be calling the shots for the visitors from half-back in a fairly familiar looking back-line. Newcomer number eight Aubrey Mncube will keen to show opposite number and former Boroughmuir stalwart Iain Moody that his boots have been adequately filled. Matthew Tweddle, Tristan King and Jamie Ure also make their debut.
KEY BATTLE: Iain Moody versus Aubrey Mncube.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“The pace of the game is sure to be fast with mistakes inevitable. We are raring to test ourselves against a Boroughmuir side that finished only one place behind us in last year’s Premiership …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
“A great match to start the new season with Melrose on a high after winning the Charity Shield last week. Our players have worked very hard over the pre-season and with a number of new characters at the cub training has been pretty competitive…” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
VERDICT: Melrose to hit the ground running.
GALA v GLASGOW HAWKS
VENUE: Netherdale @ 3pm
Gala: G Speirs©; A Turner, P Hendry, R Jeffrey, C Robertson; G Hunter, G Lott; C Keen, M Carryer, G Robertson, R Louw, C Weir, A Emond, S Chapman, S Cairns. Subs: D Brooker, R Tod, J Irvine, G Mein, R Combe.
Hawks: J Steele; R Beattie, E Oag, D Milne, K Gossman; J Henderson, G Horne; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain, K McDonald, A Kirkland, A Hill, M Fagerson, T Spinks©. Subs: S Rodgers, B Cullinane, M Smith, P Boyer, H Schulte.
Gala: Premiership debuts in store for Paul Hendry, Aiden Turner, Dean Brooker and Ross Combe, while Gregor Mein will be looking to reacclimatise quickly after his return from Jed-Forest.Gregor Hunter faces his old team-mates.
Hawks: Tommy Spinks is back after a spell playing for Jersey in the English Championship and captains the side in the absence of Brendan McGroarty. Fresh out of school, Matt Fagerson gets his first league start at open-side flanker after impressing in pre-season and with Scotland under-20 star Matt Smith on the bench after recovering from injury, Hawks have an embarrassment of riches in this position
KEY BATTLE: Chris Weir versus Andrew Kirkland
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We have worked as hard as possible to get our guys ready and are now looking forward to seeing how this group take things forward…” – Chris Dalgleish (Gala)
“Last year Gala played their best rugby of the season against us in a convincing 27-19 win at Netherdale where they scored three driving maul tries so we are perfectly aware of the physical challenge which awaits us this weekend …” – Finlay Gillies (Hawks)
VERDICT: Hawks too strong.
WATSONIANS v HERIOT’S
VENUE: Myreside @ 3pm
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, S McLeod, J King©, K Young; E Scott, R Cullen; N Borel, S Crombie, E McQullin, M Poole, C Borthwick, E Dods, D Dee, R Drummond. Subs: D Miller, S Ruwers, A Duckett, E McKirdy, D Innes.
Heriots: G Parker; J Webster, L Steele, J Semple, J Laird; A Hagart, A Simmers; M McCallum, M Liness, S Cessford©, R Nimmo, C Smith, D Mason, J McLean, C Marshall. Subs: L Sinclair, M Bouab, J Kuru, T Wilson, TBC.
Watsonians: James King deputises as captain in place of the injured Martin Christie. Only six members of the 20 man squad (Mark Bertram, Scott McLeod, James King, Reiss Cullen, Nathan Borel and Rory Drummond) were involved when Watsonians clinched the National One championship back in March. Ewan McQuillin is one of seven players making their competitive debuts for the club, despite being involved in London Scottish’s heavy defeat to Saracens in Richmond on Thursday.
Heriot’s: One Day you’re a peacock and the next you are a feather duster. He champions have lost several key players over the summer and now find themselves in the midst of a minor injury crisis, but the return of Liam Steele should give them a focal point at centre, with the nimble footed Josh Laird moved to winger, where he will hope get some more space to show his dancing skills. Hooker Dylan Mason is pressed into action at blindside flanker.
KEY BATTLE: Scott McLeod versus Liam Steele.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Heriot’s won everything last season and we know it will be tough, but we will give it our all …” – Marcus di Rollo (Watsonians
“Traditionally, our opening games of the season are not the most positive in terms of the scoreboard so we are just hoping to get into our stride a bit quicker than seasons gone by…” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
VERDICT: An upset may be on the cards for last year’s Premiership champions.
Image courtesy of Scottish Rugby/SNS Group