THE Stirling Wolves squad will have an early opportunity to pay the best sort of tribute to departing head coach Ben Cairns when they take on top of the table Watsonians at Bridgehaugh tomorrow [Friday] night.
Cairns announced earlier today that he will leave his current role at the end of the current Super6 Championship season, but vowed to do everything in his power to help the team finish the season on a high following a miserable start to the campaign in which a huge amount of player unavailabilities has contributed to six losses from six games.
Claiming the scalp of the recent Super6 Sprint Series champions, who ran out 66-7 winners when the two sides met at Myreside just three weeks ago, would be an ideal start to the Wolves’ revival, and they are boosted by the availability of giant Glasgow Warriors and Tongan international winger Walter Fifita for this match, who is, amazingly, the 46th player used by the Wolves in just seven games this term, taking the place of the benched Euan Cunningham.
Alex Thom starts at centre in place of the injured Craig Jardine, while the fit again Gregor Christie starts at nine with Fin Burgess moving to the bench.
In the pack, co-captain Connor Gordon misses out through injury, so Gregor Hiddleston moves back to seven from hooker and Warrior Angus Fraser starts in the number two jersey. Benedict Grant returns at No 8 in a recast back-row while Rhodri Tanner returns to the replacements bench.
“There is no getting away from how disappointing last week’s result was,” said Cairns. “We made it far too easy for the Bulls to accumulate points and, to be fair to them, they were very clinical. All 10 of their tries came from within the first three phases, six of these were first phase tries and six out of the first seven scored started with us turning over possession.
“However, there were some green shoots, especially in the first half when we had some competitive sets, created some good opportunities and matched them physically. We must take some heart from this and if we can stay in the fight for longer periods then we will give ourselves a chance to compete for results.
“It doesn’t get much easier though with Watsonians this week. They will want to keep the pressure on at the top of the table. They have real strength and depth across their squad with a lot of experienced guys who know how to win at this level.
“Their foundations are very strong and we will need to match them in these areas if we are to give ourselves a chance.
“We have had some outstanding performances versus Watsonians in the past, especially at Bridgehaugh, so we must lean on these experiences and look to turn the tide in what is our last home match of the season.”
With academy prospect Harry Paterson away in South Africa with Edinburgh Rugby, Lomond MacPherson returns on the wing for Watsonians in an otherwise unchanged backline from the one that helped defeat Boroughmuir Bears last time out.
In the forwards, there are six changes to the starting pack with the selection of hooker Cal Davies, and second-rows Kwagga Van Niekerk and Jamie Berrisford amongst them.
Tighthead prop Angus Williams, who started for Edinburgh against the Dragons, is available via pro release as is back-row Connor Boyle.
Cole Lamberton gets his first start of the campaign at loosehead prop with Harrison Courtney unavailable through injury.
Kieran Watt returns to the bench with Luis Ball unavailable for selection and former Scotland under-20 scrum-half Roan Frostwick is a replacement too. He has returned from Australia and has joined the squad as an injury replacement for the rest of the competition. Ryan Daley also replaces Matt Currie (in South Africa with Edinburgh) on the bench.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge of taking on Stirling at Bridgehaugh,” head coach Fergus Pringle said.
“We know Stirling will be desperate to put in a strong performance in their last home game of the season and they will have a strong squad out this week.
“For us, it’s about improving our performance from last week and really focusing on ourselves. We need to do the basics well and be clinical when we get an opportunity to score points.”
Stirling Wolves (versus Watsonians @ Bridgehaugh, Friday 7.45pm): C Robertson; L Jarvie, R Southern, A Thom, W Fifita; M Holden©, G Christie; N McBeth, A Fraser, G Breese, J Pow, M Williamson, J Hill, G Hiddleston, B Grant. Substitutes: R Tanner, A Wood, C Norrie, H Ferguson, G Arnott, F Burgess, L Brims, E Cunningham.
Watsonians: D Coetzer; L MacPherson, L Berg, C Eastgate, A Guthrie; L Millar©, R Brand; C Lamberton, C Davies, A Williams, K van Niekerk, J Berrisford, S Cecil, C Boyle, B Muncaster. Substitutes: C Wilson, B Bratton, G Scougall, K Watt, K Main, R Frostwick, J Reynolds, R Daley.
Referee: Ian Kenny.
Key battle: Benedict Grant versus Ben Muncaster.
Verdict: It is hard to see past a Watsonians victory here. Although it is the Wolves’ final home game and they will be desperate to secure a famous win for departing coach Ben Cairns, the strength in the Watsonians match-day 23 is there for all to see, while someone like Connor Boyle will be relishing game time here alongside his Edinburgh team-mate Ben Muncaster in the back-row here.