HERIOT’S head coach Ben Cairns has refreshed his side by making 12 changes, including two positional, to the weakened starting XV he sent out to play Southern Knights last weekend, ahead of tomorrow [Friday] night’s Super Series Championship play-off semi-final clash against Stirling Wolves at Hawthornden in Lasswade.
With George Barber returning to the wing following a stint in the 13 jersey and Edinburgh’s Charlie Savala not involved this week, the potent centre duo of Matt Davidson and Grant Hughes are reunited, while the prolific Jack Blain will look to add to his tally of nine tries in three matches after being recalled on the left wing.
Liam Richman and Fin Campbell return as the half-backs in place of the benched Ross Jones and the not selected Sinjin Broad. Meanwhile, second-row Jamie Campbell, openside flanker Sam Wallace and Charlie Jupp, moving from the middle to the back-row, are the only survivors in the pack.
“These are the matches everyone wants to be involved in,” acknowledged Cairns, ahead of facing his old team. “It’s why the players and staff have grafted all season and we are all really looking forward to the challenge that knock-out rugby presents.
“We’ve been on an amazing journey together this season and we want that to continue into next week. However, I know how much Stirling Wolves will be relishing the challenge also and we know they will leave nothing out there on Friday.
“Part of the challenge when the stakes are so high is trusting the process and not feeling like you have to do something different or extra special. Both teams generally play a very similar brand of rugby, both like to move the ball and play a high tempo, offloading type of game. The team that can execute this game-plan best will likely be the team that comes out on top.”
Heriot’s qualified for home advantage in this match after finishing top of the Super Series table but the game has been moved to Lasswade for practical reasons.
“We would obviously have loved to play this match at Goldenacre but with no floodlights on pitch one and the kick off time set in stone, that wasn’t an option,” explained Cairns. “However, we could not have asked for a better host than Lasswade RFC. They have been so accommodating, their facilities are excellent and Hawthornden is an awesome venue for rugby under the Friday night lights. We hope our Heriot’s faithful make the journey and are joined by a sizeable local crowd to add to what should be a great night of entertainment.”
In contrast, Stirling Wolves head coach Eddie Pollock has retained the same 23 players as he sent out against Boroughmuir Bears last weekend, with the only change in the line-up being Ed Timpson starting at blindside flanker this week and Ruaridh Knott reverting to the bench.
“Last Saturday at Meggetland was another strong defensive performance resulting in a win away from home,” said Pollock. “It’s been a real bonus having key performers such as Connor Gordon and Gregor Hiddleston back playing at the sharp end of the season, their quality and energy has given the team a big lift leading into this semi-final.
“Heriot’s under Ben Cairns are a much-improved side and have been the form team throughout the Championship, only losing one match so far. Knock-out rugby, however, is a different animal, and we are looking forward to what I am sure will be a great contest on Friday night at Lasswade RFC.”
Heriot’s (versus Stirling Wolves at Hawthornden on Friday @ 7.35pm): D King; G Barber, M Davidson, G Hughes, J Blain; L Richman, F Campbell; C Keen, M Liness©, E McLaren, R Seydak, J Campbell, C Jupp, S Wallace, B Smith. Substitutes: D Hood, J Scott, S Cessford, W Nelson, C Anderson, E McAra, R Jones, L Wells.
Stirling Wolves: G Bryce; M Heron, R Southern, M Holden©, R McKnight; C Jackson, B Afshar; G Breese, G Hiddleston, M Tamosaitis, T Smith, J Pow, E Timpson, C Gordon, E Hasdell. Substitutes: J Roberts, L Quarm, L Skinner, H Ferguson, R Knott, K McGhie, E Cunningham, S Rockley.
Referee: Ruairidh Campbell
Key clash: Grant Hughes versus Marcus Holden
Verdict: Heriot’s rested most of their big-hitters for last week’s final regular season outing against Southern Knights, so they will be fresh in mind and body ahead of this weekend. The (lack of) lights situation at Goldenacre means home advantage has been compromised, and the two previous wins for Heriot’s in this fixture during the regular part of the season will count for little in a one-odd knock-out game, but the fact that they have consistently been the best team in the league over the course of the whole season must surely count in Ben Cairns’ side’s favour.