THE team which wins this match will ensure that their destiny in terms of winning this Super6 Sprint Series remains in their own hands (all they’ll need to do is beat Watsonians in their final match!), while the loser will be all but guaranteed also-ran status at the end of the campaign. So, there is a lot at stake at Bridgehaugh tomorrow [Friday] night.
County head coach Ben Cairns has been able to bolster his pack through the availability of Glasgow Warrior Murphy Walker at tight-head prop, and George Arnott replaces Hamish Ferguson at blindside. Meanwhile an injury to academy stand-off Euan Cunningham requires co-captain Marcus Holden to shift from No12 to No10, with Ryan Southern making his first appearance of the campaign ay inside-centre. Apart from that, the players who got the better of Heriot’s last weekend have been rewarded with re-selection.
“We are back at Bridgehaugh for the third match in a row and home advantage has played a big part in our relative success so far this season,” said Cairns. “We have two massive matches to come in the play-offs and everyone is working as hard as they can to ensure we give ourselves the best chance of competing for the Sprint Series title.
“Although we would like to have started and ended better, we were very pleased with large chunks of our performance versus Heriot’s last week. We played some outstanding rugby at times with some excellent transition tries. The challenge now is to back that performance up.”
“The Bulls will come to Bridgehaugh with massive motivation. They will be disappointed with their first half performance against Watsonians last week but will take confidence from how well they came back into the match.
“They will also be looking to get revenge after we won the same fixture in round two. That result was built on a strong defensive performance, with everyone working so hard for the team and really digging in. We will need to lay similar foundations if we are going to get a similar result this time around.”
Opposite number Pete Horne has also been boosted by pro player release which has conjured up a couple of tasty match-ups in the front-row, with Thomas Lambert set to go head to head against Walker at scrum-time, while recently released Grant Stewart faces Angus Fraser, the man who is being promoted from the academy to take over the fourth hooker spot in the Warriors squad next season.
That means Alex McGuire, a star performer for the Bulls at hooker this season, moves to the back-row, while Scotland Under-20s star Andy Stirrat comes in at inside-centre and Tom Jordan shifts inward to take over from Christian Townsend at stand-off.
“Although it was disappointing to come out on the wrong side of the scoreboard in what was an excellent game last weekend against Watsonians, we were really pleased with large parts of our performance,” said Horne. “There are some things to tidy up defensively, especially around set-piece, but apart from that our game is coming along nicely.
“We face another huge test this weekend travelling to Bridgehaugh to play an in form Stirling team that knocked us over earlier in the season. If we are to get the desired result we will need a bit more fire in defence and a ruthless edge to our attack. As always, I am excited to see our group of men take to the field and express themselves.”
Stirling County (versus Ayrshire Bulls at Bridgehaugh, Friday @ 7.45pm): L Trotter; R Tagive, B Salmon, R Southern, W Fifita; M Holden©, S Kennedy; L Skinner, A Fraser, M Walker, J Pow, A Sinclair, G Arnott, C Gordon©, B Grant. Subs: G Hiddleston, J McKenna, G Breese, M Williamson, C Cruickshank, H Russell, C Robertson, S Hamilton.
Ayrshire Bulls: Liam McNamara; E Cavan, B Beattie, A Stirrat, A Tait; T Jordan, J Lenac; T Lambert, G Stewart, M Scott, E Bloodworth, R Jackson, A McGuire, J Knight, B Macpherson©. Subs: J Drummond, W Farquhar, C Henderson, J Shedden, E Bulger, L McNamara, C Townsend, C Jones.
Referee: Keith Allen
Key Battle: Murphy Walker versus Tom Lambert
Verdict: County are looking to make it three wins on the bounce against the Bulls at home, and have the momentum of last weekend’s win over Heriot’s on their side. However, the Bridgehaugh men have struggled in the past to double-up on good performances and anything off 100 percent against a Bulls team packed with experienced and classy performers is likely to be punished.
It is on a knife edge, but County should – just – have enough.