BOROUGHMUIR BEARS head coach Graham Shiel has urged his players to continue striving for self and collective improvement as they look to consolidate their play-off credentials tomorrow night, when they host a Stirling Wolves side who are still winless in this Super6 Championship but produced their best performance of the campaign to date against top of the table Watsonians last weekend.
“It is week 35 for Bears in 2022, and it is clear for the group to see that there have been overall improvements in our performances throughout the year which is very pleasing,” said Shiel.
“It was a slow start to proceedings last weekend, with Bears giving Heriot’s a head start, but it was very pleasing that we found a solution to firstly claw our way back into the game and then to go ahead going into the last play of the game. As always, there was a huge number of positives to take from last weekend, but also more than a few areas in which to find improvements.”
“Stirling Wolves were back to something like their best last week, and this will be another huge challenge for the Bears,” he added. “As has been the case in all our previous games, the players and management are seeking improvement individually and collectively to allow us to be competitive in our performance and whether win, lose or draw, the outcome will be what it will be.”
Shiel has made seven personnel and three positional changes to his starting XV due to injuries and unavailabilities, and he has been forced into a six-two split on the bench.
Mikey Jones comes in at loose-head having made his return from injury off the bench last weekend, with Callum McFeat Smith moving to tight-head, while 18-year-old Jerry Blyth Lafferty is rewarded for his impact off the bench in previous rounds with his first Super6 start at hooker.
Scott McGinley returns at openseide, joining a back-row which also features 18-year-old in Liam McConnell and a player at the other end of the age-spectrum in 36-year-old Craig Keddie.
Behind the scrum, Duncan Munn moves to outside-centre in place of the injured Ronan Kerr, with fit again Scott Robeson at inside-centre.
And it is all change in the back-three with Glasgow Warriors duo Josh McKay and Rufus McLean not released this week while Callum Ramm is injured, so Joe Jenkins starts on the left, Tom Brown is at full-back and 17-year-old Kerr Johnstone from Gala makes his first start for the Bears on the right.
Meanwhile, Stirling Wolves have the highly-experienced former Scotland stand-off Duncan Weir released by Glasgow Warriors for this match, with co-captain Marcus Holden shifting out to replace the injured Alex Thom in an otherwise unchanged backline.
In the pack, Murphy Walker is also released by Warriors to start at tight-head prop with George Breese moving to the bench. Hamish Ferguson starts in the second-row in place of Max Williamson, who has not been released by Warriors, with Harris McLeod coming onto the bench.
“We have a settled side after a much-improved performance last time out against the league leaders saw us in the lead at 50 minute,” said head coach Ben Cairns. “However, inaccuracies when we had momentum really cost us through the final 20 minutes of the match.
“Whilst we would loved to have picked up our first ‘W’ of the season, the boys took a lot out of the performance, and it’s been an energized group in training this week. The challenge now is to recreate that same feeling on the road against one of the form sides.
“The Bears have been in excellent form throughout the Championship. They look like they are loving their rugby at the moment and have a really cohesive group who are desperate to fight for each other week in week out.
“They are a side we have always struggled to produce our best against but we know it’ll take our best to get our first win of the season.”
Boroughmuir Bears (versus Stirling Wolves @ Meggetland, Friday 7.45pm): T Brown; K Johnston, D Munn, S Robeson, J Jordan; J Bergin, R Swan; M Jones, J Blyth Lafferty, C McFeat Smith, J Fisher, C Atkinson, L McConnell, S McGinley, C Keddie©. Subs: I Carmichael, B Sweet, M Goodwin, L Alessandri, T Andrews, M Johnstone, P Bogie, A Scott.
Stirling Wolves: C Robertson; L Jarvie, R Southern, M Holden©, W Fifita; D Weir, G Christie; A Wood, A Fraser, M Walker, J Pow, H Ferguson, J Hill, G Hiddleston, B Grant. Substitutes: R Tanner, G Breese, C Norrie, H McLeod, G Arnott, F Burgess, L Brims, E Cunningham.
Key battle: Scott McGinley versus Gregor Hiddleston
Verdict: After a turbulent start to the season scarred by crippling list of injured and unavailable players, Stirling Wolves have finally managed to get some consistency in team selection, and after easily their best performance of the campaign to date against league leaders Watsonians last weekend they will enter this game feeling bullish about their prospects of achieving a first win.
Bears have winning momentum but head coach Graham Shiel has been forced into a raft of changes to the team he sent out against Heriot’s last weekend.
Narrow away win.