AYRSHIRE BULLS have made a host of changes for their final Super6 Championship regular season clash away at injury hit Boroughmuir Bears on Saturday.
The Millbrae men are safely through to the play-offs and will have a home semi-final next weekend, so with that in mind the squad is being rotated and a number of players will get the chance to impress the coaching staff at Meggetland.
Liam McNamara, Jamie Shedden, Elias Caven, Will Hunt, Cam Jones, Ewan Hamilton-Bulger and Archie Smeaton are all in, while Smeaton’s fellow Glasgow academy player Jamie Drummond starts in a new-look front-row alongside Alex McGuire and Calvin Henderson. Scotland cap Simon Berghan on the bench.
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“With Boroughmuir being our possible semi-final opponents it’s really important that we put in a good performance,” visiting head coach Pat MacArthur said. “They are a team that like to move the ball so defensively we will need to be at our best. Their lineout and maul has functioned well so discipline will be key. It’s also the last opportunity for individual players to stake their claim for next week which means motivation will not be a problem.”
The Bears were unbeaten before they went to Millbrae back in August and were thumped 49-7. It hurt them at the time, but they rallied and have since put in some good performances including the first half versus Watsonians last week.
They are already in the play-offs and will be on the road next weekend, but for this final hurrah at home they have 15 players missing and have handed 18-year-old back-row Liam McConnell the captaincy.
Glasgow academy player Euan Ferrie and Trystan Andrews are alongside the Scotland under-20 cap in the back-row, while Jack Fisher comes into the second-row. Brandon Sweet and Luca Alessandri join Jerry Blyth-Lafferty in the front-row.
“Liam will assume the role of skipper this week as part of his development as he continues to impress with his approach to the game and the maturity that he shows along with his willingness to improve,” head coach Graham Shiel said. “He has experience all around him, so we feel that this is a natural decision and fully merited.”
Behind the scrum, Glashow Hawks’ teenager Andrew McLean starts at full-back and Currie Chieftains’ talent Cammy Meager starts on the wing. Tom Brown and young winger Kerr Johnston have joined the aforementioned long injury list.
The Bears stretched resources is highlighted by the make-up of the bench with just seven names currently named including a number of emergency loan players.
The experienced Nicky Hart of North Berwick steps into the breach to help as front-row cover while, at the other end of the experience scale, scrum-half Ross Cadzow – who will turn 18 on Saturday has been released to play by Edinburgh Accies. Former Boroughmuir player Cameron Hogg has joined from Currie Chieftains.
“We are very grateful to Edinburgh Accies’ Iain Berthinussen, Glasgow Hawks’ Andy Hill, Currie Chieftains’ Mark Cairns and Ally Donaldson, North Berwick’s Marc Teague and Southern Knights’ Bruce Ruthven for their support, and we appreciate the gesture greatly when they too are in competition,” Shiel said.
“Back on track? Well, last week against Watsonians was a fantastic performance from the Bears. Although we lost and took nothing material from it, we were proud of the way we played and felt that it was one of the occasions that the ‘scoreboard didn’t look after itself’. The final score was not a true reflection on the competitiveness of the game.
“It took a huge effort from the whole squad, but it did unfortunately take its toll and means that we have a list of injuries as long as Santa’s present list! With 15 players unavailable this weekend – 13 injured – we are finding it a little challenging to field a squad this weekend.
“As has been our trademark, we dust ourselves down, then look at where we performed well and towards the areas that we need to improve.
“We are under no illusions around our standing and the fact that we are sitting 17 points behind Ayrshire Bulls, and, as noted last week, there is ‘some distance’ between ourselves and the competition leaders [Watsonians]
“Our aim is to continue to improve week upon week and to be able to compete with the top two teams in the Super6 competition.”
Boroughmuir Bears (versus Ayrshire Bulls @ Meggetland, Saturday 5pm): A McLean; C Meager, A Scott, S Robeson, J Jenkins; J Bergin, R Swan; B Sweet, J Blyth-Lafferty, L Alessandri, J Fisher, C Atkinson, E Ferrie, L McConnell©, T Andrews. Subs: I Carmichael, C McFeat Smith, N Hart, J King, P Bogie, R Cadzow, C Hogg, TBC.
Ayrshire Bulls: Liam McNamara; A Tait, J Shedden, A Stirrat, E Caven; W Hunt, C Jones; J Drummond, A McGuire, C Henderson, E Hamilton-Bulger, R Jackson, A Smeaton, T Brown, B MacPherson©. Subs: J Malcolm, A Rogers, S Berghan, A Nimmo, G Wilson, J Lenac, T Glendinning, R Simpson.
Referee: Ian Kenny.
Key battle: Euan Ferrie versus Archie Smeaton.
Verdict: Despite a number of changes, the Bulls 23 looks strong and should have too much for the injury hit home squad.