THE Premiership roars back into action this weekend with a series of fascinating fixtures, including: top-of-the-table but under-strength Marr hosting a resurgent Hawick who are on a seven match winning streak and eyeing a second place finish in the table; plus three local derbies in Glasgow Hawks versus GHA, Edinburgh Accies versus Currie Cheiftains and Jed-Forest versus Selkirk; plus a huge clash in Aberdeen where Grammar will be desperate to recover from a tricky end to 2019 to keep themselves in the play-off race while Musselburgh look to keep alive their chances of avoiding relegation.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
ABERDEEN GRAMMAR v MUSSELBURGH
VENUE: Rubislaw @ 2pm
Aberdeen Grammar: S Mills; A Ovenstone, M Mitchell, T Aplin D Russell; S Knudson©, T Morrison; C Reddish, A Cook, M Schosser, R Cessford, J Robertson, N Coe, B Inglis, G Ryan. Subs: W Alton, R Anderson, A Robertson, J Spence, F Snedden.
Musselburgh: J Doig; J Ferguson, R Smith, R Watt, G Tait; P Cunningham, D Owenson; C Owenson, J Crain, C Arthur, W Fleming, J Haynes, M Maltman©, C Pryde, P Brown. Subs: E Bonthron, L Hutson, M Outram, R Young, S Watt.
TEAM NEWS –
Aberdeen Grammar: With an extra week off, Grammar will be hoping to tackle 2020 with fresh impetus after a tricky end to 2020, and back on home soil they are boosted by the return of Matthias Schosser, Robin Cessford and Greg Ryan in the pack, as well as Sean Mills at full-back.
Musselburgh: A fairly settled squad from pre-Christmas with the big boost in Michael Maltman’s return from injury as captain. Ruairidh Young earns a spot on the bench as his versatility covers a number of positions.
KEY BATTLE: Nat Coe versus Michael Maltman
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We only have five games remaining of the season and the players are highly motivated to put in a strong performance on Saturday. We have some players back from injury including Greg Ryan and Sean Mills that give us pace and experience in the team. Musselburgh will be fired up and will see a chance to get points on the board. It promises to be a tight game …” – Ali O’Connor (Aberdeen Grammar)
“Always a tough task to go up to Aberdeen and get a result but we are under no illusions that this is what we need to do in order to keep our survival hopes intact. It was a close game down at Stoneyhill earlier in the season and one we could or should have won. Getting a run-out against Preston Lodge last Saturday was a timely bonus and allowed us to hopefully blow some of the festive rustiness out of the system. Having Michael back will provide us with another leader and quality player which is key during these tense periods. Every week is almost a cup final for us now so we can’t hold anything back! …” – Graeme Paterson (Musselburgh)
VERDICT: An under-strength Aberdeen hit the wall down at Riverside last time out, so they must win this one to maintain any sort of interest in the play-offs. Ali O’Connnor will be relieved to be getting back to something like full strength – with Matthias Schosser, who has not played since injuring an ankle against Edinburgh Accies in November, a particularly welcome returnee. There is still no sign of the high scoring Nathan Brown – and they do miss his fire-power.
Musselburgh had a rough afternoon against Marr before the break but they are still hanging in there. Survival might still be in their own hands – but every game is crucial. This is a tough mission – but Michael Maltman’s return will have boosted morale – they are certain to give it a go – and will be well aware of having wasted Gregor Tait’s spectacular try with poor game management in the reciprocal fixture at Stoneyhill earlier in the season.
If Aberdeen play as selected, it feels as though they might have an edge up front – and home advantage is likely to be a key factor.
MARR v HAWICK
VENUE: Fullarton @ 2pm
Marr: G Montgomery; S Bickerstaff, T Steven, C Bickerstaff©, J Scott; C Inglis, J Preston; W Farquhar, O Rossi, C Henderson, E Hamilton-Bulger, C Cunningham, M Pearce, R Brown, B Grant. Subs: B Sweet, A Muir, C Steel, J Drummond, A Mill.
Hawick: K Ford; L Ferguson, W Griebenow, A Mitchell, L Gordon-Wooley; A Weir, G Welsh; S Muir©, M Carryer, C Greer, J Rowley, D Suddon, J Linton, S Graham, S Fairbairn. Subs: C Renwick, D Johnston, A Piotrowski, B McNeil, TBC.
TEAM NEWS –
Marr: Richard Dalgleish, Gregor Paxton, Colin Sturgeon, Fraser Grant and Josh Harvey are either injured or unavailable. Tom Steven will make his first start of the year. Jack Preston returns to scrum-half with Jack Scott moving to the wing. Callum Inglis and Cody Cunningham will start at stand-off and in the second-row, respectively.
Hawick: Only one change to the side which defeated GHA to claim the Bill McLaren Shield before Christmas, with Craig Greer available again to start at tight-head, with Dale Johnstone dropping to the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Conor Bickerstaff versus Andrew Mitchell
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Hawick are in good form and will be motivated and determined to keep up their winning run and challenge for a top two finish which means a home semi in the play-offs. We are expecting a physical game and we will have to match their energy to win. With a number of players unavailable the task of winning is challenging. We are looking forward to seeing how Callum Inglis performs in his first start for club …” – Craig Redpath (Marr)
“This will be a massive challenge for us with the form that Marr have shown especially at home. It will be a test of who has best prepared over the festive break. The next few games are massive for us …” – George Graham (Hawick)
VERDICT: The long list of absentees for Marr is disappointing. Colin Sturgeon will be a huge miss for his tactical strength and reliable goal kicking – but the Bickerstaff boys are both there – Jack Preston is a good player – and Tom Steven has been round the block a few times.
Seven on the trot for Hawick – full strength – and they are looking very good. Shawn Muir has had a mammoth impact since getting back from injury – Wiaan Griebenow and Andrew Mitchell are a real handful in the centre – James Rowley was a revelation in the second-row against GHA and Daniel Suddon has found his feet at this level – Sean Fairbairn is a more than adequate replacement for Bruce McNeil, who is serving an 11 week ban for racial abuse – and they have a powerful looking bench.
It was one way traffic down at Mansfield in early October – but Hawick are a very different proposition now. Fullarton is not an easy place to play – but GHA managed to steal the bacon in the last home game. Marr are under-strength. Hawick are jumping – and they will want it – badly!
George Graham will feign not to agree but …
EDINBURGH ACADEMICAL v CURRIE CHIEFTAINS
VENUE: Raeburn Place @ 2pm
Edinburgh Accies: C Ramm; H Paterson, R Campbell, R Wilson, J Paterson; M Love, M Sinclair; C Imrie, S Crombie, C Lamberton, R McConnell, D Dinnen, C Thomson, J Sole©, J Bruce. Subs: R Simpson, C Lacour, P O’Sullivan, M Campbell, R Mill.
Currie Chieftains: F Sayers; C Meager, A Hall, R Southern, S Hamilton; G Hunter, G Christie; G Carson, F Scott©, M Argiro, M Poole, S Edwards, M Vernel, W Nelson, R Vucago. Subs: R Patterson, G Williamson, H Ferguson, J O’Brien, A Harley.
TEAM NEWS –
Edinburgh Accies: Harry Paterson is released down by the Heriot’s Super6 side for his first run-out of the season, alongside brother Jack on the wing. Robert Wilson comes into inside centre and Max Love moves from scrum-half to stand-off to fill the gaps left by injuries to Jamie Loomes and Neil Armstrong. Mark Sinclair starts at scrum-half. Cole Lamberton replaces the injured David Anderson at prop.
Currie Chieftains: Fergus Scott returns from injury to captain the side from hooker, so Roy Vucago shifts into the back-row in place of Rhys Davies, who is still recovering from a head knock. South African new arrival Ryan Southern makes his first start at 12 with Adam Hall moving to 13, and Steven Hamilton shifting out to the wing.
KEY BATTLE: Max Love versus Gregor Hunter
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Christmas did not bring us any presents, just more injuries, so we have seven selection changes and two positional from our game versus Jed-Forest. But we are excited to be back at Raeburn Place again this weekend against Chieftains and we will be looking to build on our performances before the break. We are aware of the physical challenge Currie bring, but we need to continue to take our game to the opposition …” – Iain Berthinussen (Edinburgh Accies)
“After three losses in a row, the festive period gave us a chance to reflect on how we overcome some setbacks and push on to achieve our goals for the season. The players have worked hard over the festive period to maintain their fitness and training has gone well this week. Accies will be enjoying being back at home and are a talented side capable of performing in big games. They have had good results against Marr and Selkirk this season and we will need to be at our best to get the win …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
VERDICT: A great result for Accies against Jed last time out in their ‘home’ fixture at the new (half-built) Raeburn Place – but losing fly-half Jamie Loomes is a major blow – and Max Love who moves from scrum-half to replace him has a big job on his hands. Their pack is solid – and if they can reproduce the defensive ‘grunt’ they showed against Jed, then they must have a chance now that they have both Callum Ramm and Harry Paterson back in harness to attack from deep.
A mini-crisis out at Malleny with Chieftains having lost their last three games – away to Hawick, at home to Marr and away to Selkirk. They cannot afford to lose this one if they want to ensure a home game in the play-offs – and it will not have escaped their notice that whilst Accies have not yet played Hawick, they have drawn with Marr and beaten Selkirk, both away. But good players do not become bad players overnight, and one would expect that some straight talking over the Christmas break will see them back firing on all cylinders.
A difficult one – but on balance, collective nous should squeeze it Chieftains way.
GLASGOW HAWKS v GHA
VENUE: Balgray @ 2pm
Glasgow Hawks: Y Alagilly; K Gossman, M Stewart, L Armstrong, M Godsman; L Brims, C Holborn; L Archer, A Fraser, G Strain, A Kirkland, J McLean, S Leckey©, J Gammell, R Sweeney. Subs: P Cairncross, P Henderson, J Paterson, P Boyer, N Moffat.
GHA: J Edgar; J Craig, G Mollison, C King, A Purewal; J MacKinnon, A Gillman; E Cavan, H Clark, M Fox, A Barnett, J McCarthy©, A Kerr, M Marinkovic, M Ryan. Subs: S Carson, S Fisher, S Plumridge, G Baird, A Lamb.
TEAM NEWS –
Glasgow Hawks: Spoiled for choice this week. Matthew Stewart comes back into the centre and is joined by Luke Armstrong from the High School of Glasgow, who will make his first senior start. Angus Fraser returns from a long injury lay-off and will look to gain valuable game time at hooker to put himself in the mix for Scotland U20s, with Jack Gemmell moving to the back-row. Jack McLean makes his first start of the season having gotten over his injury woes. Paddy Boyer will look to make an impact off the bench after recovering from his injury, along with another High School of Glasgow prospect John Paterson.
GHA: Grant Mollison and Mike Ryan return from injuries, while James Edgar, Erik Cavan, Hamish Clark and Milan Marinkovic are also added to the starting line-up. An interesting sub-plot is that GHA captain Jamie McCarthy is a PE teacher at High school and is forwards coach of the 1st XV, so is lining up opposite two of his current pupils.
KEY BATTLE: Angus Fraser versus Hamish Clark
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“It has been a busy week for the coaches and players but the lads have embraced the challenge and trained well. It’s a Glasgow derby so the players will be excited. Most of the boys know one another and will look forward to the challenge and will be desperate for bragging rights. The forecast suggests a downpour so it will come down to whoever can win the collisions, make the fewest errors and play in the right areas …” – Andy Hill (Glasgow Hawks)
“I’m sure all the players are looking forward to this local derby which is important for both teams, and Glasgow Hawks will be looking for revenge after our previous encounter which was a great game of rugby. We are looking to start 2020 off on a positive note by stepping up to the challenge that Glasgow Hawks will bring …” – Trevor Carmichael (GHA)
VERDICT: A brilliant game of rugby when this pair met in the reciprocal fixture at Braidholm in October – with a phenomenal fight back and a Michael Fox try in the last play of the game snatching victory for GHA. Local rivalries at their very best – more of the same tomorrow would be great – whatever the weather – but it is not likely to happen.
After a poor showing away to Musselburgh and having lost their last three home games by a combined total of five points, Hawks are very definitely ‘looking over their shoulder’. They need a result here – with a new-look back division and Erland Ogg, Callum Henderson and Max Priestly all missing. Their pack have blown hot and cold all season but now is the time to stand up to be counted. Route One is likely to be Andy Hill’s preferred option – applying the formula which did the business for him down at Mansfield when the chips were really down.
Having played all three top teams twice, GHA have now got half an eye on the fourth play-off slot. Getting Grant Mollison and Mike Ryan back is good news – but still no Charlie Lonergan and Dario Ewing and Tony Brogan are missing in the front row – which could be significant.
Another tight one, but if the weather is as bad as Andy Hill appears to think, then Hawks pragmatism could stifle GHA’s adventure.
Narrow home win.
JED-FOREST v SELKIRK
VENUE: Riverside Park @ 3pm
Jed-Forest: L Young; C Young, R Marshall, R Yourston, J Laing; G Munro, J McGough; P Ferreira, F Campbell, H Meadows, B Saxton, G Law, G Young, M Weekley, D Buckley. Subs: G Paxton, E Lauder, D Grieve, N Stingl, M Mitchell.
TEAM NEWS –
Jed-Forest: A fairly settled side. In the pack, Harry Meadows starts at tight-head with Paulo Ferreira switching across to the loose-head, while Jye McGough swaps in from the bench for Nik Stingl at scrum-half.
VERDICT: Jed did not play well against Accies at Raeburn Place last time out, but they invariably up their game at Riverside – just ask Aberdeen. They were a shade unlucky to get beaten in injury time at Philiphaugh in October – but they had not helped their cause by picking up two needless yellow cards – and the influential Gregor Law was stretchered off early in the second half when they were sitting on a comfortable lead.
Their injury problems have been horrendous – but they now finally appear to be more or less through them and able introduce some sort of continuity into selection.
If they can keep their discipline, their pack now looks strong enough to win enough ball to allow the Young boys and Gary Munro to flourish – and to let Robbie Yourston kick his goals.
Narrow home win.