Premiership play-off semi-finals preview: runners, riders and verdict

Relegated Jed-Forest also have a chance to bow out in style when they host Glasgow Hawks in a re-arranged final league fixture

Hawick host Kelso in the Premiership play-off semi-finals this weekend, with the other match being Marr versus Currie Chieftains at Fullarton Park. Image: Malcolm Grant
Hawick host Kelso in the Premiership play-off semi-finals this weekend, with the other match being Marr versus Currie Chieftains at Fullarton Park. Image: Malcolm Grant

AFTER a couple of weeks talking about changes in Scottish club rugby off the field, it’s good to now be able to focus on the Premiership play-off semi-finals on the field, with two cracking last four ties on the agenda this Saturday.  Hawick, who finished first in the regular season standings, host fourth placed Kelso in a Border derby and second placed Marr welcome third placed Currie Chieftains to Fullarton Park.

Three of these teams have recent experience of play-off rugby while Kelso have been the surprise package this term, marking their return to the top flight for the first time in two decades by building up an impressive head of steam to claim fourth spot.

Meanwhile, already-relegated Jed-Forest take on ninth placed Glasgow Hawks in a rearranged regular season match.


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The Lowdown –

Hawick v Kelso

(for the Bill McLaren Shield)

Venue: Mansfield Park @ 3pm

Teams –

Hawick: K Ford; C Welsh, A Mitchell, L Armstrong, R McKean; K Brunton, G Welsh; S Muir©, F Renwick, N Little, D Redpath, F Wilson, S Graham, C Renwick, J Linton. Subs: R Anderson, R Graham, C Sutherland, D Brooker, D Lightfoot, B Donaldson, M Tait.

Kelso: A Barbour; J Thompson, D Patterson, F Robson©, R Tweedie; M Hastie, A Tait; G Shiells, E Knox, T Logan, C Thompson, K Melbourne, B McNeil, M Woodcock, C Brown. Subs: J Glendinning, A McGregor, A Asante, E Thompson, N Stingl, M Wilson, A Sweenie.

Key battle: Stuart Graham versus Bruce McNeil

Team news –

Hawick: The same starting XV that played versus Selkirk in the last regular season game at the start of February. Ross Graham, Connor Sutherland and Bailey Donaldson have been added to bench.

Kelso: A generally settled side, but missing the physical edge that Liam Tait has brought this season as he has not recovered from injury in time. Bruce McNeil moves to six with Cammy Brown in the No 8 jersey while Cammy Thompson gets the nod in the ‘boiler house’ and Euan Thompson is on the bench. Grant Shiells makes a timely return to the fold at loose-head with Charlie Marshall missing out from the Hawks outing.

What the coaches say –

“What a game Saturday looks to be, two Borders teams in a Premiership semi-final. We know the task that’s in front of us and we know how much Kelso have improved over the season, but we are back in front of our home crowd, we are playing some exceptional rugby at the minute and have prepared really well for this. It may come down to who takes their opportunities and can deal with the pressure better on the day. It’s one I’m personally excited for and I know the players are dialled in and ready to go come 3pm on Saturday afternoon …” – Matty Douglas (Hawick)

“This is an opportunity that the players themselves have created against all odds. We must front up more than we have done so far to get a result, but it can be done. Our last outing at Hawks was a good game to prepare us for a physical battle, defence will need to be watertight here and going the other way we need to be very clinical. Hawick have not lost a match at home for nearly five years hopefully that record is broken this Saturday …”  Neil Hinnigan (Kelso, DoR)

Verdict: The regular season meeting between the two at Mansfield back in September was 61-7 to Hawick, but that can almost be discounted such has been Kelso’s improvement since then. They pushed Hawick closer at Poynder Park in November before losing 28-20 and their key will be trying to take the edge they find so often at home on the road. Hawick have a very settled team and are not used to losing on their own patch – October 19th 2019 the last time – so they should have enough to reach a second successive final after a cracker.

Home win.

 

Marr v Currie Chieftains

Venue: Fullarton Park @ 3pm

Teams –

Marr: G Montgomery; J Jacobson, C Bickerstaff©, N Calder, S Bickerstaff; C Sturgeon, G Baird; A Rogers, B Sweet, W Farquhar, D Andrew, F Grant, A Apthorpe, B Johnston, B Jardine. Subs: C McMillan, E Bulger, C Young, K Vallance, R Baird, J Scott, C Inglis.

Currie Chieftains: C Brett; J McCaig, DJ Innes, J Forbes©, R Daley; C Beckett, P Boyer; T Jeffrey, R Stewart, G Carson, A Bain, C West, R Davies, A Fletcher, S Cardosi. Subs: R Vucago, O Blyth-Lafferty, A Hoggarth, K Steel, C Lessels, C Gray, C Taylor.

Key battle: Alex Apthorpe versus Rhys Davies

Team news –

Marr: Jake Jacobson and Scott Bickerstaff come in on the wings from the team that beat Currie recently. The pack is unchanged while Kyle Vallance and Calum Inglis earn bench spots.

Currie Chieftains: The starting forward pack remains unchanged while, in the backs, Callum Beckett starts at 10 and Jamie Forbes moves to 12. Gregor Christie is replaced by Paddy Boyer at scrum-half due to a head knock picked up by the latter against Marr last time round. Andrew Hoggarth, Kyle Steel, Cameron Lessels, Cammy Gray and Colby Taylor all take bench spots.

What the coaches say –

“Currie will be hurting after the game at Malleny and Mark Cairns will have his troops ready for the big game. Myself and Stephen [Adair] have worked on fixing our mistakes from the last game and the boys have responded brilliantly. We look forward to welcoming Currie to what will be a busy Fullarton …” – Kenny Diffenthal (Marr)

“Marr got it spot on against us last time round at Malleny and it was a tough one to take having started so well. The boys have picked themselves up quickly and we’ve had the last couple of weeks to prepare for the match and put things right. The last couple of encounters at Fullarton have come down to the final play and we are hoping to be in the fight right to the end …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)

Verdict: A repeat of the 2021-22 final, albeit at a different ground, and these sides have had some really good tussles over the last few seasons. The regular season game at Fullarton Park in October was 34-28 to Marr while they also won 27-17 at Malleny Park a fortnight ago. They were two high quality encounters, so those in attendance this weekend will be in for a treat. Both sides have unchanged packs, so it’ll be interesting to see who can get the upper hand there, while it is a big day for Currie’s new-look half-back pairing Paddy Boyer and Callum Beckett. Marr’s bench strength may help them in the second half as may their home support.

Home win.

 

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Jed-Forest v Glasgow Hawks

Venue: Riverside Park @ 3pm

Teams –

Jed-Forest: L Young; M Glen, O Cranston, R Hogg, R Shirra-Gibb; D Buckley, L Elder; J Ferguson, H Keith, D Campbell, D McNeil, R Thomson, C Skeldon©, D Wardrop, B Fotheringham. Subs: N Bates, J Bowie, B Howie, R Douglas, K Grieve.

Glasgow Hawks: J Couper; B Morriss, F Callaghan, J McConkey, T Macleod; D McCartney, J Imrie; K Shanahan, P Cairncross©, M Goodwin, M Crumlish, S Leckey©, Y Shaheen, B Skinner, C Nolan. Subs: F Muir, E Cairns, T Sofidaya, W Burrows, R Speers.

Key battle: Lewis Young versus James Couper

Team news –

Jed-Forest: Gregor Young and Gregor Law sustained injuries in the last game against Kelso so miss out, replaced by Robert Hogg and Dougie McNeil. Robbie Thomson retains his place in the second-row with captain Clark Skeldon moving to the back-row.

Glasgow Hawks: Sione Halafihi has been unwell this week so Max Crumlish comes in to start in the second-row and Craig Nolan replaces Tiaan Wright at No 8 after he was injured in the last outing. The ‘young pups’, Ben Skinner and Yousuf Shaheen, come in to start in the back-row with Ryan Howie and Lewis Stewart working.

What the coaches say –

“I’m sure both sets of players would rather have played this game back in January when it was originally scheduled. It’s been a month since our last fixture so it’ll be good to get playing again. Hawks have had a game more recently than Jed, and their win against Kelso will give then confidence for the trip to Riverside. It’s been a very tough season for us, a win at home on Saturday would certainly lift the spirits of the players …” – David Grieve (Jed-Forest)

“I think both teams will be relived to finish the league campaign which has been a difficult and frustrating one given form and the length of time it has run for due to the weather. Nonetheless, there is a game of rugby to win and both teams will be looking to finish it on a high. Jed will be desperate for their first win and will see this as a massive opportunity given we are only one place above them. While we have eventually strung together back-to-back wins, which has been too little too late, we are looking to maintain this momentum going into the Cup …” – Andy Hill (Glasgow Hawks)

Verdict: Jed will be desperate to end a miserable league season on a high, but Hawks recent win over Kelso will have given them confidence.

Away win.


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About Gary Heatly 457 Articles
Gary has loved rugby ever since he can remember and since 2004 he has covered the sport and others in a professional capacity for many publications and websites and runs his own company, GH Media.

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