IT is still possible that both these teams end up in the top half of the table when this 2022 Super6 Sprint Series splits – if Heriot’s win against Stirling County and score four tries, County pick up two bonus-points in defeat and Ayrshire Bulls get slaughtered at home to Watsonians – but the chances are that the winner of this match will end up shooting for the title while the loser ends up scrapping it out with the also-rans.
So, it is a high stakes game at Bridigehaugh, and home head coach Ben Cairns knows his team are going to have to up their performance levels losing to Boroughmuir Bears in their last hit-out. County’s cause has not been helped by the unavailability of centre DJ Innes and Scotland Under-20s winger Ross McKnight, who have been two of his more consistent performers so far in this campaign. They do, however, have two pretty capable understudies to call on in talented teenager Ben Salmon and Glasgow Warriors pro Ratu Tagive.
There are two more Glasgow pros in the County backline, in the contrasting shapes of right-wing Walter Fifita (6ft 5ins and 118kgs) and scrum-half Sean Kennedy (5ft 9ins and 80kgs).
Meanwhile, second-row Adam Sinclair is delighted to return from injury in time to face his former club, and controlled aggression will be key in this battle against his old comrades. Former Falkirk props John McKenna and Lewis Skinner start together for the first time in County colours, while hooker Gregor Hiddleston, Glasgow Warriors academy second-row Max Williamson, back-row Callum Cruickshank, utility-back Craig Robertson and winger Stevie Hamilton all return from injury to take spots on the bench.
“With both sides losing last time out, it has made this match a must0win for both teams in terms of the top-three play-offs,” said Cairns. “With a break week in between, we’ve had a bit of time to lick our wounds and reflect on an under-par performance in our defeat to Boroughmuir Bears. Credit must go to our opponents, who I thought played with an intent and energy that we could not match on the day. The fact that this was at home in front of another big crowd made it all the more disappointing.
“The off-field team have done a brilliant job in really driving supporters down to the club and improving the whole match-day experience. This is not lost on the players; they are loving the support they are receiving and cannot wait to be back out in front of another big crowd.
“Heriot’s have played some excellent rugby this season and will want to get back to winning ways after two defeats in a row to the top two sides in the league.
“Our focus has been on execution, we did not put Boroughmuir under enough pressure and did not take enough of our chances, which ultimately cost us the game. If we can get that execution right, it allows us to play the brand of rugby we all enjoy and we know we can beat anyone in the league when this clicks.”
For the visitors, Sean Johnstone gets his first Super6 start on Saturday in the second-row. Iain Wilson, Chris Keen and Euan McLaren come back into the starting 15 after having three weeks off due to injury, and former Edinburgh pro Cameron Fenton has also proven his fitness to come on to the bench.
“This will be a really entertaining match for the fans,” promised Heriot’s head coach Andy Kelly. “Both teams want to play rugby and move the ball about.The squad has had a very good couple of weeks of training and are excited to get stuck in on Saturday up at Bridgehaugh.”
Stirling County (versus Heriot’s at Bridgehaugh, Saturday @ 4.30pm): L Trotter; R Tagive, B Salmon, M Holden©, W Fifita; E Cunningham, S Kennedy; J McKenna, A Fraser, L Skinner, J Pow, A Sinclair, H Ferguson, C Gordon©, B Grant. Subs: G Hiddleston, G Breese, C Norrie, M Williamson, C Cruickshank, F Burgess, C Robertson, S Hamilton.
Heriot’s: R Jones; J Blain, R Kay, N Godsmark, S Pecqueur; B Houston, M McAndrew; C Keen, M Liness, E McLaren, J Campbell, S Johnstone, R Seydak, I Wilson, R Leishman. Subs: C Fenton, R Hutchison, A Munro, K Melbourne, C Anderson, J Gelderbloom, L Armstrong, J Couper.
Referee: David Sutherland
Key clash: Connor Gordon versus Iain Wilson
Verdict: Both teams are looking to bounce back from defeats in their last matches, and there is plenty at stake, so it should be a full-blooded encounter. It’s a tough one to call, slightly more firepower in the backline, a stronger bench and home advantage could just edge it.
Narrow home win.