PREVIEW: PREMIERSHIP PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINALS

THE only four teams to have won the Premiership title since 2008 are the last men standing in the battle to lift the crown this season. The end of season play-offs see Ayr [who finished the regular season nine points clear of the chasing pack] hosting fourth placed Melrose for the second weekend in succession, while Currie take-on Heriot’s at Malleny Park in the other match.

Heriots’ have lost Glenn Bryce to Glasgow Warriors duty, but the return of Struan Dewar and Jason Hill [at openside flanker and number eight respectively] could be crucial in the battle for front foot ball.

Currie have not played a competitive match since the 12th March, but will be focussed on trying to maintain the league momentum generated before that inconvenient lay-off when they enjoyed a seven match winning streak which allowed them to climb to second in the table and in the process secure a home draw.

However, the fact that their last Premiership defeat was against none other than Heriot’s at Malleny Park back in November, when they dominated possession and territory but couldn’t break down the champions’ resolute defence, will not have been overlooked.

Meanwhile, Melrose will run out at Millbrae full of confidence after last weekend’s Cup success, which means they have now won four games on the bounce against Ayr.

The Borderers will also feel that their potency has been enhanced by the single change they have made to their starting fifteen – with the massively influential Fraser Thompson returning at full-back, allowing Nyle Godsmark to shift into the midfield in place of the injured Andrew Nagle.

Ayr will have revenge on their minds, but they must also be acutely aware of how important it is for them to keep their discipline. Two yellow cards against Will Bordill and skipper Ross Curle cost them dearly last week. During the twenty minutes in which they were at a numerical disadvantage they conceded two converted tries – which you might argue transformed a 13-6 advantage into a 13-20 deficit.

While last week’s defeat was a bitter pill to swallow for Ayr, and a welcome confidence boost for Melrose, neither coach made much effort to hide the fact that the league title is the big prize – meaning that the intensity is likely to go up another notch this afternoon.

THE LOWDOWN –

AYR v MELROSE

VENUE: Millbrae

KICK-OFF TIME: 3pm on Saturday 2nd April

TEAMS –

Ayr: G Anderson; J Bulumakau, R Curle, D McCluskey, C Gossman; F Climo, D Armstrong; G Hunter, D Young, J Sebastian, R McApline, S Sutherland, B Macpherson, W Bordill, P McCallum. Subs: S Fenwick, G Sykes, C Stevenson, A Dunlop, C Taylor, R Dalgliesh, H McPherson.

Melrose: F Thompson; J Helps, N Godsmark, G Taylor, S Pecquer; T Galbraith, B Colvine; J Bhatti, R Ferguson, N Beavon, J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman, G Dodds. Subs: G Turner, R McLeod, E McQuillan, A Miller, R Knott, M McAndrew, R Mill.

KEY BATTLE: Ross Curle v Nyle Godsmark

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

Last week was hugely disappointing so this weekend cannot come quickly enough for the players. After reviewing Saturday’s match, training has been extremely positive and the focus for us will be on putting in a performance for the full 80 minutes and cutting out the errors from our game. This weekend is a great opportunity to bounce back and there is no bigger carrot for our players than the opportunity to host the Premiership Final at Millbrae …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)

After the excitements of last week’s Cup win we have now fixed our full attentions to the biggest match of the season. We have had to get used to playing quality opposition away from home in knock out matches of late and the players need no extra motivation for this one. These are the games the players have prepared all year for and there has been a clear focus this week on key areas for improvements. We are looking forward to another physical and competitive match …” – John Dalziel (Melrose)

VERDICT: Revenge is sweet for Ayr.

 

CURRIE v HERIOT’S

VENUE: Malleny Park

KICK-OFF TIME: 3pm on Saturday 2nd April

TEAMS –

Currie: H Elms; C Gray, F Efthymiou, R Nelson, C Logan; J Semple, R Snedden; J Cox, M Goodwin, A Hamilton, M Vernel, S Ainslie, L Crosbie, T Brooke, R Weston. Subs: G Carson, A McWilliam, S Ruwers, H Bain, T Gordon, C Shiel, M McPhillips.

Heriots: J Semple; J Rae, M Learmonth, C Ferguson, C Simpson; R Carmichael, H Fraser; M McCallum, M Liness, S Cessford, R Nimmo, J Turley, I Wilson, S Dewar, J Hill. Subs: D Mason, M Bouab, R van Heerden, J Syme, A Henderson, T Wilson, G McNeish.

KEY BATTLE: Ross Weston v Jason Hill

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

We have been happy with our preparations in the lead up to Saturday and having not played for a few weeks we are really looking forward to kick off. With the contest being a local derby and a first home play-off match for the club we would hope to see a good crowd for what should be a very entertaining match … – Ben Cairns (Currie)

Having now recovered from last weekend’s exploits the boys have knuckled down well at training trying to iron out the issues from last week, I felt we looked like a team who hadn’t played for a while. Currie may have the same issues as they come in cold, however, I am sure home advantage and a good home support will quickly help them focus. While our most recent games against Currie have seen us edge a few close wins, we are preparing for an even more determined opposition who will undoubtedly feel that they owe us one …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)

VERDICT: Heriot’s are on a roll.

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.