WATSONIANS and Ayrshire Bulls have made minimal changes to their match-day squads for the 2022 Super6 Championship final, but they are able to welcome back key players Angus Guthrie and Ed Bloodworth, respectively.
The two teams finished first and second by quite some distance in the regular season table, so it is fitting that they are meeting in this ‘winner-takes-all’ clash at the DAM Health Stadium in Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon, having emerged unscathed from last week’s tricky semi-final clashes.
Watsonians defeated Heriot’s in the last four last Friday while, the following day, the Bulls saw off Boroughmuir Bears at the same stage.
These sides are evenly matched having defeated each other once apiece during the regular season. While Watsonians head into the game having won 17 out of 18 matches they have played to date in 2022 in the Sprint Series and then this competition, the Bulls reigning champions having defeated the Southern Knights in the 2021 Championship final last October at the same ground.
As well as the return of top try-scorer Guthrie, who is back on the wing after injury in place of Glasgow Warriors academy player Ross McKnight who drops out of the 23, Watsonians also have a change at scrum-half where Rory Brand swaps in for the benched Murray Scott.
In the forwards, Kwagga van Niekerk comes off the bench to start at six, while Luis Ball moves from the back-row to the second-row and Kieran Watt is on the bench.
Also on the bench, Neil Irvine-Hess returns to the squad in place of Michael Badenhorst, while regular captain Lee Millar starts there again having returned from injury just in time for last week’s last four game.
Key for the Edinburgh side could be hooker Cal Davies, back-row Karl Main, centre Lewis Berg and full-back Dom Coetzer.
“It’s exciting for us as a group of players and staff – and the wider club at Watsonians – to be involved in the 2022 Super6 Championship final,” head coach Fergus Pringle said.
“A lot of hard work and commitment has gone into getting us to this point, but we’re also very aware that the job isn’t done yet. The Bulls are a formidable opponent, and have been the form team in the latter rounds of the Championship. They have a strong set-piece, very good defence and a contestable kicking game while they also have dangerous players that can capitalise on any turnover transition opportunities.
“Our focus this week is on ourselves and our plans and processes that we need to deliver on to put in a performance that we can be proud of. High pressure games require discipline and accuracy under pressure. If we can execute the basics well individually and collectively for the full 80 minutes, we’ll give ourselves a chance of coming out on top.”
For the Bulls, Bloodworth’s return from injury in the second-row is a big boost. This means Gavin Wilson drops to the bench with Ewan Hamilton-Bulger missing out on the matchday 23.
The backs are unchanged meaning teenage stand-off Richie Simpson keeps the number 10 jersey. Scotland under-20 player Thomas Glendinning comes in for Jamie Shedden on the bench.
Key for them could be hooker James Malcolm, back-row Archie Smeaton, centre Andy Stirrat and winger Elias Caven, who is the top try scorer in the whole competition. Smeaton and Stirrat are Glasgow academy players.
“What a great way to end the season with the final at DAM Health Stadium against Watsonians,” head coach Pat MacArthur said.
“The league games against the same opposition were very good contests with us sharing the spoils one a piece. The players have worked hard in training to improve a few key areas going into this game and that has taken a whole club effort, including a few intense training sessions against our club XV.
“We know the challenge that Watsonians will pose and we will have to be on top of our game to retain our title. With numerous buses making the trip from Millbrae to Murrayfield we want to do our supporters and ourselves proud.”
Watsonians (versus Ayrshire Bulls @ DAM Health Stadium, Sunday 4.45pm): D Coetzer; L MacPherson, L Berg, J Reynolds, A Guthrie; J Baggott, R Brand; H Courtney, C Davies©, B Bratton, L Ball, J Berrisford, K van Niekerk, K Main, S Cecil. Subs: C Wilson, R Deans, G Scougall, K Watt, N Irvine-Hess, M Scott, L Millar©, C Eastgate.
Ayrshire Bulls: L McNamara; A Tait, R Beattie, A Stirrat, E Caven; R Simpson, J Lenac; A Nimmo, J Malcolm, M Scott, E Bloodworth, R Jackson, A Smeaton, T Brown, B MacPherson©. Subs: A McGuire, W Farquhar, C Henderson, J Drummond, G Wilson, T Glendinning, W Hunt, C Jones.
Referee: Ian Kenny.
Key battle: Seb Cecil versus Blair MacPherson.
Verdict: Both sides have shown real quality throughout the whole tournament and have players up front and behind the scrum who can be match winners on their given day. Like every rugby match, the team that gets the upper hand up front will have a good chance of winning. Expect this game to go to the wire after a cracking contest and both benches to play a big part in the second half.