AND then there were four…
After 90 matches in the 2021-22 regular season between September 4th and March 12th, a few Covid interruptions and plenty of drama along the way, the Tennent’s Premiership has reached the play-off stage.
Currie Chieftains head into the next couple of weeks – the final is on April 2 – as favourites given they have won 17 games on the spin since an opening day loss at Hawick, topping the regular season table by 10 points from nearest rivals Marr. However, this is knockout rugby and anything can happen in two tasty-looking last four ties on Saturday at 3pm.
Currie take on Edinburgh Accies at Malleny Park. the visitors finished 23 points behind the Chieftains in the table in fourth spot and lost 31-5 at Malleny in October. But they pushed Currie very close earlier this month before losing out 24-20 at Raeburn Place and that will certainly have given them hope.
The home side are pulling out all the stops to make it a great day out for all the family at Malleny and there will be an ice cream van, a local pipe band, a raffle, a pitch-side bar and various other initiatives which will add to the atmosphere. Accies are running a supporters bus across from Stockbridge, too, to make sure the away team have plenty of support.
In the other semi-final, Hawick, who finished third, will be followed to Troon by a supporters bus too as the Borderers take on Marr. And the home club are also set-up, like Currie, for a big day on and off the pitch.
The Ghillie Dhu Kiosk will be in operation, food and drink will be available, and a collection will be taken for the people of Ukraine.
When Marr hosted Hawick in February, the Ayrshire outfit turned the screw in the last 20 minutes to win 21-10. Hawick did triumph 26-19 at the end of October at Mansfield Park, but the home, who were nine points clear of the Greens at the end of the regular season, will start as favourites.
The clubs are allowed seven replacements at this point rather than the usual five, so the benches could play a big part in both games.
HOW IT STOOD (AT THE END OF THE REGULAR SEASON) –
THE LOWDOWN –
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v EDINBURGH ACCIES
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 3pm
Currie Chieftains: C Brett; R Daley, J Reynolds, DJ Innes, C Meager; J Forbes, P Boyer; G Carson, R Stewart, AP McWilliam, H Ferguson, C Roman, W Nelson, F Scott©, R Davies. Subs: S Fisher, G Scougall, C Ramsay, G Nelson, C Lessels, J McCaig, F Sayers.
Edinburgh Accies: V Hart; M Sinclair, R Kent, N Armstrong, B Appleson; J Loomes, B Grainger; C Imrie, C Black©, C Lacour, J Mills, F Simpson, J Sole, M Walker, R Campbell. Subs: F McAslan, A Winnington-Ingram, R Montgomery, S Whittaker, S Hegarty, M Love, M Wallace.
KEY BATTLE: Graeme Carson versus Clem Lacour
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: It’s a fairly settled team which is boosted by the return of Cammy Meager on the wing and tight-head prop Gregor Scougall back from Scotland under-20 duty as part of a very strong bench.
Edinburgh Accies: Jamie Troup and Hamish Janes miss out through injury, otherwise it is a fairly settled group who have performed well for the club this season. Jamie Loomes returns at stand-off with Vincent Hart switching to full-back and Ben Appleson onto the wing. In the pack, Jake Mills, Matt Walker and Ruari Campbell start. Max Love comes into the squad on the bench for the first time this season.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Accies have continued to improve throughout the season and will have taken a lot of confidence from our last game at Raeburn Place. We were a little disappointed in some of our set-piece execution last time round, so have been working hard on this, whilst also reflecting on where Accies were successful against our defence. It’s a massive day for the club and we are expecting a big crowd and a great atmosphere, we are all really excited to host such a big game at Malleny again …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“Semi-final play-off weekend away at Malleny Park against the stand-out team of the season, what a challenge …” – Iain Berthinussen (Edinburgh Accies)
VERDICT: If Accies’ big players can put in big performances then they have a chance. They need the likes of Clem Lacour, Finlay Simpson, Ruairi Campbell and Jamie Loomes to step-up to the plate if they want to progress. The way they pushed Currie recently will be fresh in their minds, but you get the feeling the Chieftains will have sharpened up since then. On home turf, roared on by the vocal Malleny support, it is hard to see past Mark Cairns’ boys. Graeme Carson, skipper Fergus Scott and Jamie Forbes are key.
MARR v HAWICK
VENUE: Fullarton Park @ 3pm
Marr: D Steele; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Sturgeon©, J Scott; C Inglis, G Baird; B Sweet, B Jardine, C Miller, D Andrew, F Grant, A Johnston, R Brown, B Johnston. Subs: C McMillan, W Farquhar, G Reid, M Pearce, S Broad, M O’Sullivan, N Calder.
Hawick: B Donaldson; M Tait, A Mitchell, Glen Welsh, R McKean; K Ford, Gareth Welsh; S Muir, R Graham, T Hope, R Smith, S Fairbairn, C Renwick, C Sutherland, S Graham. Subs: M Carryer©, R Macleod, C Tait, M Renwick, D Lightfoot, L Gordon-Woolley, J Delaney.
KEY BATTLE: Colin Sturgeon versus Andrew Mitchell
TEAM NEWS –
Marr: Scott Bickerstaff returns to the wing for the injured Jamie Shedden. Fraser Grant replaces the injured Jordan McLean in the second-row.
Hawick: Only one change to the team which started at Marr in their last league game with Tom Hope coming in at tight-head prop and for Ruaridh Macleod dropping to the bench, so a very settled squad. Murray Renwick and James Delaney are added to the replacements list.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“After a good away win at Jed-Forest three weeks ago, we face a tough home play-off semi-final against Hawick. We are expecting a very close, physical game as Hawick will be confident of leaving Fullarton with a win to progress to the final. We have prepared well over the last couple of weeks and the players know that only our best performance of the season will be needed to win this game …” – Craig Redpath (Marr)
“We know the challenge that is ahead of us on Saturday, a huge game for both teams and we know exactly how good a side Marr are at home. We have worked hard over the last couple weeks with good numbers at training and a real focus on the semi-final. It’s a huge occasion for the club and hopefully we have plenty supporters heading through. It’s great to be back at the top end of the table and to have a crack at a play-off semi-final. We have worked hard all season and its now knockout rugby, so if we play to anywhere near the levels I know we can and can start to take our home form on the road then hopefully we are on the right end of the result when the full-time whistle goes …” – Matty Douglas (Hawick)
VERDICT: Hawick are wary about how they fell out of the game in the closing stages the last time they were at the same ground, so they will need guys like Shawn Muir, Ross Graham and Stuart Graham to use all of their experience up front to get and keep a foothold in the game. Jamie Shedden, the injured winger, will be a big loss for Marr, but they very much see Fullarton as a fortress and have a strong bench which may just see them through this one after a ‘ding dong’ battle.