SOUTHERN KNIGHTS head coach Bruce Ruthven has changed his half-back for tomorrow [Friday] night’s visit to The Greenyards by Stirling County, with 18-year-old Ben Afshar and 20-year-old Cameron Scott taking over the No 9 and No 10 jerseys, respectively.
Meanwhile, Robbie Chalmers is handed his first start for the franchise at inside-centre after impressing off the bench in last weekend’s defeat to Watsonians.
In the pack, academy prospect Rudi Brown – who came off the bench for Edinburgh earlier this season – replaces Ruaridh Knott at blindside flanker, while Fraser Renwick come in for Russell Anderson at hooker and Selkirk’s James Bett provides emergency cover on the bench.
Also on the bench is former Melrose Club XV winger Aidan Cross, who is set to make his Knights debut, and winger Jacob Henry, who is back from Scotland 7s duty.
Knights are still winless in this campaign, but gave high-flying Watsonians a real run for their money last weekend, and Ruthven is looking for his team to build on that performance.
“We’ve have had a good week’s training with a big emphasis on making more of our chances to convert opportunities,” he said. “We played Stirling in a pre-season friendly which was a tight affair and they are coming off a strong win versus the Bulls, so we’re under no illusions as to how difficult the game is going to be, but at the same time everyone is looking forward to it.
Meanwhile, County head coach Ben Cairns has tinkered with a winning formula, creating a new look midfield consisting of DJ Innes at 13, Marcus Holden at 12 (having played 15 then 10 the previous two weeks), Euan Cunningham at 10 and Harry Russell (rotating in for 18-year-old Finlay Burgess) at 9.
In the pack, Gregor Hiddleston rotates in for Gus Fraser at hooker, Lewis Skinner returns from injury at loose-head prop, and Benedict Grant makes his debut at No 8.
Jake Spurway, Callum Beckett and Mike Gray are set for debuts off the bench.
“It was a really good day at Bridgehaugh last Saturday, I felt the boys fed off the home support and put in a performance full of heart and determination against a top Bulls squad,” said Cairns. “The challenge this week is to create and harness that same energy away from home. Going back-to-back and getting away wins have both been a rare occurrences for us, however the boys are in confident mood and we will take a lot of belief out of last week’s victory.
“The Knights have been really competitive in both rounds so far and will be targeting this match to pick up their first win of the season,” he added. “Bruce has done a good job of rebuilding his squad and we know it’ll be a big challenge for us to come away with the spoils on Friday.”
Southern Knights (versus Stirling County at The Greenyards, Friday @ 7.45pm): K Clark; I Sim, B Wara, R Chalmers, P Anderson; C Scott, B Afshar; G Shiells, F Renwick, I Brace, D Redpath, D Suddon, R Brown, W Nelson, H Borthwick. Subs: J Bett, C Bowker, B Riddell, R Knott, M Redpath, A Cross, N Chamberlain, J Henry.
Stirling County: L Trotter; R McKnight, D Innes, M Holden W Fifita; E Cunningham, H Russell; C MacMillan, G Hiddleston, L Skinner, J Pow, A Sinclair, H Ferguson, C Gordon©, B Grant. Subs: A Fraser, J McKenna, G Breese, H McLeod, J Spurway, F Burgess, C Beckett, M Gray.
Referee: Ruairidh Campbell
Key clash: Wallace Nelson versus Connor Gordon
Verdict: County showed last weekend that they have the ability and can have the attitude to be title contenders by soaking up the pressure and taking their chances with ruthless accuracy against champions Bulls, but consistency has been a challenge for Ben Cairns’ side. In a sprint series, they simply cannot afford to blow hot and cold, and The Greenyards was not a happy hunting ground when they last visited in a competitive match in October [losing 36-7].
This new-look Southern Knights squad improved from week one to week two, and will certainly take encouragement from the first hour of their match versus Watsonians, when their pack proved themselves to be a match for any team in this league – but County should have the firepower and composure to get what they are after from this trip to the Borders.