Super6: Watsonians and Southern Knights aim to finish regular season in style

Home captain Lee Millar says Myreside men are still striving for a complete perfomance in a season in which they have exceeded external expectations

Lee Millar celebrates a try with Watsonians team-mate Joe Reynolds earlier this season. Image: Graham Gaw
Lee Millar celebrates a try with Watsonians team-mate Joe Reynolds earlier this season. Image: Graham Gaw

WATSONIANS are already assured a home semi-final draw in the play-offs of this first ever Super6 domestic campaign, but the prospect of finishing at the very top of the table will act as a powerful motivational tool as they belatedly bring the curtain down on the league section of the season against Southern Knights at Myreside tonight [Friday].

The Edinburgh side dropped back into second after this encounter was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch last weekend, with their capital city rivals Heriot’s jumping ahead of them courtesy of a 26-15 win over Ayrshire Bulls, but there is only two points in it so the Watsonians squad know that any sort of positive result will put them back at the summit.

However, the opposition have plenty to play for, too, with a third place finish there for the taking if they come out on top, which would be an excellent achievement for the Borderers after a hapless start to the campaign which saw them reach the halfway stage with four losses, one draw and zero wins to their name. The Knights have since been on a four match winning streak, and will enter this match confident of raining on Watsonians’ parade.

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“We’re not looking at the play-offs at this stage, but having sat at the top of the league for the majority of the season we are very focussed on finishing off what we’ve started,” insists Watsonians captain Lee Millar, who has played the full 80 minutes in every game so far and is back in the No 10 jersey for this one.

“Southern Knights had a slow start to the season with a number of boys injured, but they have come into good form since the turn of the year. We’re expecting a physical battle up front, but there are also a lot of players in that pack who have played a bit of sevens, so they are good ball players as well, and both sets of backs can be pretty combative, too. There is going to be challenges right across the park.

“We got a bit lucky when we beat them down at The Greenyards at the start of the season, scoring two second half tries, so there is likely to be a backlash, but we’re ready to front-up to that. I think the forwards is where the game will be won and lost, with the set-piece crucial as usual.”

Never-say-die spirit

From the outside looking in, Millar’s team have been the surprise package of this inaugural season. There was an assumption that as the offspring of the three dominant club sides in the old Premiership in recent years, Ayrshire Bulls, Heriot’s and Southern Knights would lead the way, but Watsonians have developed a happy habit of winning tight games, with their never-say-die spirit best illustrated by the way they came back from 10-21 down against Heriot’s in their last outing on 14th February to secure an excellent 24-21 win.

“From the very start, we’ve had a belief within the squad that we could do well, and that belief has shown in the way we have come back and won games such as that Heriot’s one, and the Southern Knights match down in Melrose back in October,” says Millar.

They are a team fashioned in the image of head coach Fergus Pringle, with the South African being at pains to make sure after every match that the self-belief which has served his team so well does not overheat into complacency. He has continually pointed out that the team remains a work in progress, and Millar is clearly of the same mind-set.

“We always play until the final whistle, which is great, but our main problem is our slow starts that have put us in that situation before we have got going,” stresses the 28-year-old. “So, our sole focus in this game and leading into the play-offs is to put an 80-minute performance, which we haven’t really done yet.”

“There is always things to improve on, and the good thing about Fergus is that he is big on the detail, so he always has something we can do better the next week. The same goes with Nikki and Sneds [assistant coaches Nikki Walker and Richard Snedden], who are determine to get the best out of us every week, and are not happy for us to just float along thinking we are doing alright because we are winning games.

“The coaches are very clear on what they want, and that makes it a lot easier for us to translate that onto the pitch as players.”

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Millar initially hails from Elgin and first really came to prominence on the Scottish rugby scene during three seasons playing under George Graham at Gala as the Borderers challenged at the top of the Premiership between in 2010 and 2013, with his prolific kicking and general game-management marking the youngster out as one of the outstanding young players in the league at that time, but it wasn’t enough to win a professional contract with either Edinburgh or Glasgow. So, he packed his bag and headed off to London Scottish for three years, then had two years at Rotherham, before returning north and joining Watsonians at the start of last season.

“Super6 is definitely a step up from the Premiership in terms of conditioning and the intensity of the games, but it obviously has a long way to go to be comparable to the full-time rugby in the English Championship at the moment,” says Millar, who is now a landscape gardener. “I’ve really enjoyed having that balance between playing part-time rugby and being in a professional environment.”

Michael Badenhorst comes back into the second-row for Watsonians this week in place of the unavailable Finlay Simpson, while Nathan Borel starts at tight-head prop and Jonny Gibson comes onto the bench.

Meanwhile, Southern Knights are unchanged from the side selected for last week’s postponed match. “Friday nights at Myreside are always excellent occasions and hopefully a big crowd will show for what is sure to be a cracking fixture,” said Knights head coach Rob Chrystie. “The chances are we’re going to play each other in the play-off so this will be a bit of a dress rehearsal for both squads!”

Teams –

Watsonians: Jamie Forbes; Lomond Macpherson, Lewis Berg, Joe Reynolds, Ru Smith; Lee Millar©, Ali Harris; Sam Grahamslaw, Cal Davies, Nathan Borel, Michael Badenhorst, Jamie Hodgson, Mesu Kunavula, James Miller, Harry Fisher. Subs: Ross Graham, Finn Hobbis, Harrison Courtney, Jonny Gibson, Gregor Nelson, Murray Scott, Ewan Fox, Angus Guthrie.

Southern Knights: Fraser Thomson©; Ciaran Whyte, Joseph Jenkins, Gavin Wood, Iain Sim; Jason Baggott, Bruce Colvine; Shaun Gunn, Fraser Renwick, Ewan Mcquillan, James Head, Dalton Redpath, Iain Moody, Ruaridh Knott, Neil Irvine-Hess. Subs: Russell Anderson, Calum Crookshank, Grant Shiells, Alan Gregory, Angus Runciman, Struan Hutchison, Patrick Anderson, Nathan Sweeney.

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About David Barnes 3991 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.