SCOTLAND caps Ross Thompson and Ollie Smith will step-up their recovery from injury with outings for Ayrshire Bulls in their Super6 Championship match at Heriot’s on Saturday lunchtime.
Both have been out of action since the summer with back issues, but increased their training load with Glasgow Warriors this week. Thompson will start at 10 at Goldenacre while full-back Smith set to see game time off the bench. The pair played for the Bulls whilst in the academy during the inaugural Super6 season before breaking into the Warriors senior squad.
The Bulls, second in the table at the start of this round of action, also have the use of Warriors Tongan international No 8 Sione Vailanu. Captain Blair MacPherson moves to blindside to make room for him.
The away team have also made changes in the front-row with Andrew Nimmo, James Malcolm and Calvin Henderson starting this time around.
“We are building a strong squad which allows us to rotate and create competition for places which is seen in our selection,” head coach Pat MacArthur said. “We welcome back two former Ayrshire Bulls in Ross Thompson and Ollie Smith to our squad for this week’s game.
“A game against Heriots at Goldenacre is always a big challenge which the players are looking forward to. We continue to work hard at training to try and challenge our players skills, mental strength and style of play.
“All at the club are very aware that we will require to be at our best to challenge Heriot’s at home in an important game for our season.”
The hosts, fourth in the table before any action this weekend, looked great for the first 30 minutes or so against the Boroughmuir Bears last time out, but then their se- piece began to struggle and in the end the Meggetland men won 25-22.
In the next couple of weeks they need some points to make sure of their play-off semi-final spot and for this match the starting pack is unaltered, but there is a whole host of changes to the backline.
Murdo McAndrew returns from a concussion and starts at scrum-half while there is a new centre partnership this week with Kyle Browne and Rory Steele linking up there, while Scotland Sevens cap Matt Davidson (formerly of the Bulls) moving to full-back. Edinburgh Rugby academy player Jake Henry comes in to start on the wing.
Three players on the bench have arrived at Goldenacre this week thanks to the emergency loan scheme. “Thank you to Stirling Wolves who have loaned us Cameron McMillan to cover loose-head prop and Callum Cruickshank to cover the back five of the scrum,” co-coach Fin Gillies said. “Watsonians have also been kind enough to loan us Michael Badenhorst to help ease our woes in the back-row.”
Looking ahead to the game, Gillies continued: “A lack of discipline and maturity at key points of the game against Boroughmuir saw us throw away a 17-0 lead.
“This was particularly disappointing as we feel for large parts of the game we attacked and defended quite well. We are gunning for a battle and we need to make sure we don’t give the game away as we have done before. We know we are good enough to beat any team in this league – we now need to prove it.
“Ayrshire Bulls are a team brimming with confidence, they are physical, well organised and ruthless when they enter your ‘gold zone’. We know we cannot allow the Bulls any cheap entries into our ‘22’ because they are particularly clinical in that final third of the pitch.
“The pro draft has been kind to them this week, but we are excited to welcome them to Goldenacre and we hope to see a more disciplined and mature performance.”
Heriot’s (versus Ayrshire Bulls @ Goldenacre, Saturday 1pm): M Davidson; N Godsmark, R Steele, K Browne, J Henry; B Houston©, M McAndrew; J Scott, M Liness, D Gamble, F Hastie, R Seydak, C Anderson, I Wilson, J Mann. Substitutes: E Young, C McMillan, E McLaren, M Badenhorst, C Cruikshank, J Gelderbloom, D King, S Pecqueur.
Ayrshire Bulls: Liam McNamara; A Tait, T Glendinning, A Stirrat, E Caven; R Thompson, C Jones; A Nimmo, J Malcolm, C Henderson, E Bloodworth, A Samuel, B MacPherson©, Lewis McNamara, S Vailanu Substitutes: A McGuire, J Drummond, M Scott, R Jackson, G Wilson, J Lenac, W Hunt, O Smith.
Referee: Finlay Brown
Key battle: Jack Mann versus Sione Vailanu
Verdict: Heriot’s were frustrated last week by not seeing off the Bears and there will be a reaction from them. However, the Bulls have a strong squad and with pros Sione Vailanu and Ross Thompson likely to lead from the front, the visitors should have enough here to get another win in the bag.