THE Super Series Championship returns after a break with a Friday night clash between Watsonians and Ayrshire Bulls. The match at Myreside between the third placed team and the second placed team in the standings kickstarts the second half of the regular season and over the last few years these two outfits have built up quite a rivalry.
Watsonians got past the Bulls after extra-time to win last year’s Championship final and then, on the opening weekend of this campaign, the Edinburgh side were victorious 11-3 at Millbrae. They come into this game with morale boosted by a win over the Future XV in their most recent outing, following a couple of tough losses to Heriot’s and Stirling Wolves.
For this one, the home side have brought Lewis Berg back in at 12 in place of Scotland under-20 cap Findlay Thomson. Up front, Bobby Bratton moves from tight-head to loose-head with Cal Davies and Gregor Scougall joining him in the front-row. Finn Duraj and Craig Davidson revert to the bench where ex-age-grade cap Mak Wilson returns from a head injury.
Campbell Wilson, Matt Reid, Murdo McAndrew and Lee Millar are also added to the 4-4 split bench with the latter set to make his first appearance of the season.
“Ayrshire Bulls is always a fixture we look forward to as a group,” said Watsonians head coach Nikki Walker. “They are a very well coached, physical and confrontational outfit that we will need to match up front and on the gain line to get anything out of the match.
“It is very positive to see the return of Lee Miller to the bench – he will add his experience and ultra-competitive nature to the squad.”
The Bulls have not played since September 2nd, but know that a win here would put them top of the table ahead of Heriot’s – at least until Saturday.
New recruit Ollie Horne, who has been training with Glasgow Warriors, makes a first start at full-back with Luca Bardelli moving to the wing. Chris Hyde is in on the other wing while Jamie Shedden shifts in to 13 to team up with Bobby Beattie in midfield.
Reiss Cullen and Brad Roderick-Evans form the half-back pairing while up front Ed Bloodworth, Lewis McNamara and skipper Blair Macpherson are the only forwards retained in the starting XV from the last outing.
Jamie Drummond, Grant Stewart and Craig Miller make up the front-row with Rory Jackson coming into the second-row and Ryan Sweeney into the back-row.
“Watsonians are a team we know well, they are the only team to beat us so far this year and we will be looking to rectify that on Friday night,” Bulls head coach Pat MacArthur said. “Myreside is a difficult place to go and play, so we will need to be prepared for a physical battle and match their power up front.
“It’s been a tough selection with nearly all players available, so the competition in training has been great.”
Watsonians (versus Ayrshire Bulls at Myreside on Friday at 7.35pm): D Coetzer; L MacPherson, G Pringle, L Berg, S King; J Baggott©, C McAlpine; B Bratton, C Davies, G Scougall, K Watt, A Scopes, L Ball, J Kerr, K van Niekerk. Subs: F Duraj, C Davidson, M Wilson, C Wilson, M Reid, M McAndrew, L Millar, F Owsley.
Ayrshire Bulls: O Horne; C Hyde, J Shedden, B Beattie, L Bardelli; B Roderick-Evans, R Cullen; J Drummond, G Stewart, C Miller, E Bloodworth, R Jackson, R Sweeney, L McNamara, B Macpherson©. Subs: A McGuire, R Tanner, W Farquhar, O Baird, T Brown, F Johnston, C Townsend, C Elliot.
Referee: Ian Kenny
Key battle: Lewis Berg versus Bobby Beattie.
Verdict: The bye-week will have given all squads a chance to rest and recuperate. Watsonians got back on the winning trail last time against the Future XV after a loss to Stirling Wolves and a one-sided defeat to Heriot’s. Having Lewis Berg starting will sharpen up their attack, but they are missing regular captain Neil Irvine-Hess and Seb Cecil from the back-row. The Bulls have had three weeks to rest their big guns and will be looking for revenge from the opening day of the campaign.