THE WATSONIANS bandwagon rolls back into Millbrae this weekend and will be hoping to hang around for longer than the 45 minutes managed at the end of November when a frozen pitch put paid to this match on its initially scheduled date. Fergus Pringle’s team didn’t allow that postponement to upset their momentum and having picked up two more wins since then they lead the pack going into the Christmas shutdown.
But that could all change this weekend because Ayrshire Bulls have got themselves on a bit of a roll themselves since their opening weekend reversal to Heriot’s, winning their next four matches and picking up one more try-bonus point than Watsonians – meaning that they are now only three points off the pace and will go top of the table if they win this one.
In the earlier kick-off, third placed Heriot’s will hope to keep pace with the frontrunners when they host a Stirling County side who have flattered to deceive since edging out Boroughmuir Bears in their season opener, suffering four narrow losses on the bounce [with an average deficit of eight points per match].
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
HERIOT’S v STIRLING COUNTY
Venue: Goldenacre @ 2pm
Heriot’s: R Chalmers; R McMichael, R Kay, C Hutchison, J Spencer; R Jones©, D Nutton; J Scott, A Johnstone, M McCallum, A Sinclair, R Seydak, C Jupp, J McLean, J Hill. Subs: C Keen, A Nimmo, D Gamble, S Riddell, A Ball, S Robeson, J Blain, J Couper.
Stirling County: B Sorbie; E MacGarvie, R Kent, L Hayes, L Trotter; A Goudie, S Kennedy; C Brown, R Kennedy©, M Walker, O Bartlett, C Henderson, G Arnott, C Gordon, D Taylor-Menzies. Subs: G Stewart, A Wood, F Bradbury, J Pow, M Smith, C Korteweg, E Cunningham, G Bryce.
TEAM NEWS –
Heriot’s: James Spencer comes onto the left wing with Jack Blain dropping to the bench. In Ali Johnstone comes in at hooker, Murray McCallum is released by Edinburgh to start at tight-head, and Ronan Seydak joins the second-row so that Charlie Jupp can shift to the back-row in place of missing skipper Iain Wilson.
Stirling County: A pro powered bench with Glenn Bryce, Matt Smith and Grant Stewart all released by Glasgow to make an impact later in the match. Elsewhere, Dean Taylor-Menzies, Connor Gordon and Ollie Bartlett come back into the starting pack, whilst Bruce Sorbie and Sean Kennedy come in for their first start in the backline. Cale Korteweg drops to the bench for the first time this season.
KEY BATTLE: Dan Nutton versus Sean Kennedy
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“The team put in a strong performance last week against the Southern Knights and will be confident going into another home game at Goldenacre. However, we will be fully aware that Stirling County will come well prepared and looking for another win …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
“We have had one of our best training weeks of the season having been well below par, especially in the second half, versus the Bulls last weekend. They showed us a clinical edge that we lacked, the boys have worked tirelessly to try and resolve that for this weekend. Heriot’s are in good form having completed the double versus the Knights and are playing with real confidence. Saturday is a huge match for us, having been in contention in every match but so far only picking up one win. We are determined to put in a performance that we can be proud of and that allows us to go into the Christmas break on a high …” – Ben Cairns (Stirling County)
VERDICT: Home head coach Phil Smith has spoken a fair bit this season about the benefit his team has derived from being able to bring big-hitters off the bench to finish matches off, but with senior forwards such as Struan Cessford, Michael Liness, Ruaridh Leishman, Callum Marshall and captain Iain Wilson not involved this week for various reasons, the strength in depth of the squad is going to be tested – especially as Stirling County have three Glasgow Warriors pros ready to make their own impact.
Narrow away win.
AYRSHIRE BULLS v WATSONIANS
Venue: Millbrae @ 3pm
Ayrshire Bulls: O Smith; C Gossman, D McCluskey, T Jordan, M Davidson; R Thompson, D Armstrong; G Ried, L Anderson, R Sayce, M Sykes, L Morrice, P McCallum©, G Wilson, B Macpherson. Subs: S Kitchen, M Scott, N Griffiths, F Hastie, A McGuire, H Warr, T Beary, L Jones.
Watsonians: J Forbes; L Macpherson, L Berg, A Chalmers, A Guthrie; L Millar©, A Harris; H Courtney, C Wilson, N Borel, F Simpson, J Hodgson. M Badenhorst, C Boyle, M Kunavula. Subs: C Davies, F Hobbis, J Gibson, K Watt, G Nelson, M Scott, E Fox, R Smith.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayrshire Bulls: Lewis Anderson and Ruairidh Sayce come into the front-row and Gavin Wilson starts at open-side. Craig Gossman comes onto the wing and Lee Jones is released by Glasgow Warriors to sit on the bench.
Watsonians: Three changes to the pack that started against Boroughmuir Bears last weekend, with Campbell Wilson taking over at hooker, Finlay Simpson coming into the second-row and Michael Badenhorst at blindside. In the backs, Angus Guthrie replaces Ru Smith on the wing.
KEY BATTLE: Gavin Wilson versus Connor Boyle
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Watsonains are five from five, something that does not happen by accident. They are a well-drilled team who have a number of threats across the park. We were pleased with aspects of our performance against Stirling last week, but we will need to raise the performance level again on Saturday, and for the full 80 minutes to get the desired result. …” – Peter Murchie (Ayrshire Bulls)
“The Bulls have built some momentum over the last few weeks and we are under no illusions as to how tough a task it will be if we are to come out on top. While we’ve been grinding out wins, we feel we still have plenty of room to improve. Our aim is to fix some key areas of our game that weren’t up to scratch against Boroughmuir and then put in a disciplined 80-minute performance on Saturday …” – Fergus Pringle (Watsonians)
VERDICT: The absence of Brian Leitch and Morgan Inness – overseas recruits who have been stalwarts of Watsonians’ march to the top of the table this season – removes a rugged edge from the visiting pack, although youngsters such as Jamie Hodgson and Connor Boyle will be desperate to prove that they are big enough and ugly enough to cope by themselves.
It is going to be tight between the two form teams in the league so far this year, and home advantage might just edge it.
Narrow home win.