WATSONIANS are without top try scorer Angus Guthrie due to injury, but will still start Friday evening’s first Super6 Championship play-off semi-final with Heriot’s as favourites.
Centre/winger Guthrie scored seven tries during the regular season and will be a miss for the hosts at Myreside, but they have the squad depth to cope, with Glasgow Warriors academy player Ross McKnight replacing him in the number 11 jersey.
Going into this match Watsonians won nine and lost just one in the regular season to top the table. Included in the nine wins was a 27-12 triumph against Heriot’s at Goldenacre in August and they made it a double over them with a 29-21 victory at Myreside last Friday night.
Heriot’s will have taken heart from the closing stages of that most recent meeting when they battled back from 29-7 down to lose by just eight points, but they know they’ll need their best performance of the season to date here to have a chance of going through.
They finished fourth in the regular season table after three wins and seven losses, but they have not had a positive result since mid-September and have lost four on the bounce since then. They do have players who can step things up when needed, it’s just whether they can do it for 80 minutes.
The other changes to the home starting fifteen see Bobby Bratton come in at tight-head prop as Angus Williams is with Edinburgh Rugby. The rest of the starting XV is unchanged meaning that hooker Cal Davies is skipper and scrum-half Murray Scott keeps the starting nine jersey after a man-of-the-match performance last time out.
On the bench, regular captain Lee Millar is back from injury while Kwagga Van Niekerk returns from an enforced week off to replace Neil Irvine-Hess. Edinburgh academy prop Robbie Deans returns to the club from the Southern Knights and the former Merchiston Castle player will look to make an impact if called upon.
“Friday night at Myreside will be the first ever Super6 Championship play-off semi-final and what better fixture for it to be than Watsonians against Heriot’s under the lights,” head coach Fergus Pringle said. “The semi-final really does add another dynamic to the tournament as everything goes on the line for both teams who are desperate to get to the final next week.
“We are relishing the challenge of facing Heriot’s again this week after the game at Myreside last Friday night in round 10. We know the challenge we face will be a tough one against a dangerous Heriot’s team.
“With all the hard work and dedication our squad has put in over the course of the season, we are determined to produce our best rugby when it matters most.
“To do that we need to be clinical when we get opportunities and put in a disciplined 80 minute performance.”
Euan McLaren replaces Dan Gamble at tight-head prop for Heriot’s with the latter, an Edinburgh academy player, on the bench.
Fraser Hastie comes back into the second-row to rekindle his regular partnership with Ronan Seydak. He has replaced Callum Marshall who has dropped out of the matchday 23, while Iain Wilson comes in for the benched Sam Wallace with the teenager – impressive in recent weeks – ready to make an impact later in the game if needed.
According to the Heriot’s coaching staff it has been a rather interesting week preparing a backline between injuries, last minute calls and pro release.
Murdo McAndrew comes in at nine with Jed Gelderbloom on the bench while Nyle Godsmark and Rory Steele replace Cammy Hutchison and Matt Davidson in the centres. Sam Pecqeuer returns on the wing, replacing Edinburgh academy player Jake Henry, who could be used off the bench.
On that bench there is a four/four split with Stirling Wolves’ Gregor Hiddleston, who recently signed a partnership deal with Glasgow, covering hooker as teenager Elliot Young has an ankle injury.
“Watsonians have once again proven themselves to be the best team in the Super6 by securing top spot after the regular season,” co-coach Fin Gillies said.
“Ferg and all his team should be congratulated on their consistently high standards and winning mentality throughout the Championship. However, this is play-off rugby and we cannot wait for this challenge at Myreside on Friday night.
“We had a 10 minute spell last Friday night where we proved to ourselves that we have enough to compete against and really challenge Watsonians.
“Not many people outside of our group expect much from us, however, we are looking to spring a surprise and shock the naysayers.”
Watsonians (versus Heriot’s @ Myreside, Friday 7.45pm): D Coetzer; L MacPherson, L Berg, J Reynolds, R McKnight; J Baggott, M Scott; H Courtney, C Davies©, B Bratton, K Watt, J Berrisford, L Ball, K Main, S Cecil. Subs: C Wilson, R Deans, G Scougall, M Badenhorst, K van Niekerk, R Brand, L Millar, C Eastgate.
Heriot’s: N Sweeney; J Blain; R Steele, N Godsmark, S Pecqueur; B Houston, M McAndrew; J Scott, M Liness, E McLaren, F Hastie, R Seydak, R Leishman©, I Wilson, C Anderson. Subs: G Hiddleston, C Keen, D Gamble, S Wallace, J Gelderbloom, D King, R Jones, J Henry.
Referee: Ruairidh Campbell.
Key battle: Cal Davies versus Michael Liness.
Verdict: Heriot’s will throw everything at this game and will have seen ways they can trouble Watsonians’ normally solid defence in the last half hour of last week’s game. However, ever since they failed to make the Championship final in 2021, Watsonians have been building for this moment, while their bench strength is impressive and that combination should get them through.