SOUTHERN KNIGHTS are boosted by the return of Donald Crawford ahead of hosting Stirling Wolves at the Greenyards tomorrow [Saturday] afternoon. The full-back will be looking to recreate the form he showed in the opening two rounds before picking up an injury and will slot in behind a recast midfield which features Paddy Anderson and Cal Grieve in the centre, while Chris Bell gets another chance at scrum-half.
“We are really excited for Chris who is a great young player, having played most of his career at 10 he’s making a strong transition to nine,” said Knights head coach Alan Tait.
In the pack, Garry Young misses out through injury and Theo Nwosu-Hope through suspension, but that is offset by the return of Sam Derrick and Johnny Rutherford following their respective injuries.
“It’s always a tough game against the Wolves and as a group, they seemed to have kicked in the competition with a good win against Watsonians last week,” added Tait. “They’ve got a lot of experience now and they’ve balanced that well with younger players coming through, but we look forward to the competition and putting ourselves up against one of the to teams. We know the quality we have in this group and have shown we can cause teams problems in defence.”
Meanwhile, Wolves head coach Eddie Pollock has rewarded Lewis Skinner for his impact off the bench by handing the no 3 jersey for this match, while Ben Afshar – co-captain of Scotland U20s this summer and a Glasgow Warriors partnership players – is making his Wolves debut at scrum-half in place of the injured Kyle McGhie. Skipper Marcus Holden shifts from centre to stand-off in place of Craig Jackson, with Craig Jardine and Mikey Heron joining the three-quarter-line.
Back-rower Shaun MacDonald returns from a three-week layoff on the bench, and Scotland Under-20s prop Moby Ogunlaja is set to make his Championship debut after also being named amongst the replacements.
“Southern Knights have a very physical pack who along with some gifted backs offer a real threat to us at The Greenyards this Saturday,” said Pollock. “Alan Tait will have his team well prepared and highly motivated to produce a top performance at home.
“We have had another hard week’s training and are fully aware of the need to back up our outstanding second half performance against Watsonians, if we are to continue our winning run.”
Southern Knights (versus Stirling Wolves at The Greenyards on Saturday @ 3pm): D Crawford; A Cross, P Anderson, C Grieve, C Barrett; G McNeish, C Bell; C Greer, C Thunder, D Gamble, S Derrick A Ferrie, M Job, J Rutherford, H Borthwick. Substitutes: L Thompson, J Dobie, C Dodds, R Anderson©, A Hall, R Cottrell, H Rutherford, H Bentley.
Stirling Wolves: G Bryce; M Heron, R Southern, C Jardine, R McKnight; M Holden©, B Afshar; L Quarm, G Hiddleston, L Skinner, H Ferguson, J Pow, R Knott, C Gordon, E Hasdell. Substitutes: R Kennedy, G Breese, M Ogunlaja, T Smith, S Macdonald, E Davy, C Scott, S Rockley.
Referee: Rob McDowell
Key clash: Johnny Rutherford versus Connor Gordon
Verdict: Southern Knights could really do with a morale-boosting victory after three losses on the bounce, but they are up against a Wolves side with a bit of momentum building. Away win.
Ayrshire Bulls head coach Pat MacArthur has used the visit of the FOSROC Future XV as an opportunity to shuffle his line-up with Rhodri Tanner, Alex McGuire, Oscar Baird, Fergus Johnston and Christian Townsend all starting, meaning Craig Miller, Grant Stewart, Ryan Sweeney, Reiss Cullen and Brad Rodrick-Evans move to the bench.
Ed Bloodworth (starting in the second-row) and Andrew Stirrat (on the bench) return from injury. Ollie Horne who has joined the squad as a long term injury replacement will look to make his debut from the bench. Blair Macpherson leads the side from No 8 after last week’s red-card was rescinded.
“We’re gearing up for a lively Lady’s Day at the club, promising an electric atmosphere,” said MacArthur. “In addition, the youthful and talented Futures team, known for their dynamic play style, are set to make this fixture truly exciting.
“We have worked hard this week on sticking to our structures because with the addition of their Scotland Under-20 players, the Futures are not a team to be taken lightly. Opting for a dour-four split on the bench will provide us with greater flexibility in our backline options.”
Among the Scotland Under-20 players making the Future XV debut is tight-head prop Callum Norrie, second-row Ruaraidh Hart, outside-centre Ben Salmon and winger Kerr Johnston, while Craig Nolan starts in the back-row after Ollie Duncan was injured in training during the week.
Last week’s first half performance against Heriot’s showed a lot more positives and demonstrated how resilient this group is becoming,” said co-head coach Scott Forrest. “The task this weekend is one of the toughest we will face as we know how formidable the Bulls are when playing at Millbrae.
“We are expecting a very physical encounter with the Bulls strengths clearly evident across the pitch. We have started to build our own identity and will look to build on the positives elements that we showed in our attack in those first 40 minutes against Heriot’s.”
Ayrshire Bulls (versus Future XV at Millbrae on Saturday @ 5pm): L Bardelli; J Shedden, C Elliot, R Beattie,T Glendinning; C Townsend, F Johnston; A Nimmo, A McGuire, R Tanner, E Bloodworth, O Baird, L McNamara, T Brown, B Macpherson©. Substitutes: G Stewart, C Miller, W Farquhar, R Sweeney, R Cullen, B Roderick-Evans, A Stirrat, O Horne.
Future XV: J Hocking; B Riley, B Salmon, C Ferrie, K Johnston; I Coates, C McApline; T Banatvala, F Duraj, C Norrie, R Burkę, R Hart, C Nolan, F Douglas, T Currie ©. Substitutes: E McGeoch, C Smyth, R Deans, L Fergusson, L Townsend, F Burgess, M Urwin, J Craig.
Referee: Ruairidh Campbell
Key battle: Andrew Nimmo versus Callum Norrie
Verdict: It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for the Future XV. They have been boosted by a handful of Scotland Under-20s squad members but this challenge is as tough as it gets in this competition. Home win.