ONE more game to play for eight of the ten sides in the Premiership this season, before a chance to catch breath, over-indulge on wine and turkey, and then refocus on the season run-in in the New Year.
Aberdeen Grammar and Glasgow Hawks are already in holiday mode, with their match being the only one to have survived the arctic conditions back end of November, while the four rescheduled matches going ahead this weekend offer some fascinating match-ups which could be season-defining for a number of teams.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
EDINBURGH ACADEMICALS v JED-FOREST
Venue: Raeburn Place @ 2pm
Edinburgh Accies: C Ramm; R Wilson, R Campbell, N Armstrong, H McLean; J Loomes, M Love; C Imrie, S Crombie, C Lamberton, R McConnell, D Dinnen, C Thomson, J Sole©, J Bruce. Subs: C Black, C Lacour, C Bain, B Grainger, R Bonner.
Jed-Forest: L Young; C Young, R Marshall, R Yourston, J Laing; G Munro, N Stingl; T Jeffrey, F Scott, P Ferreira, B Saxton, G Law, G Young, M Weekley, D Buckley. Subs: F Scott, H Meadows, A Keeler, F Harkness, J McGough.
TEAM NEWS –
Edinburgh Accies: Callum Ramm and Jamie Loomes return to the backline with Robert Wilson moving to the wing. In the pack. Ross McConnell gets his chance in the second-row and Cameron Bain drops to the bench. Callum Black returns to the match day squad for the first time this season.
Jed-Forest: Dom Buckley is back at No 8 with last week’s man-of-the-match Garry Young switching to blindside flanker. Behind the scrum, Josh Laing comes onto the wing and Rory Marshall switches to outside centre in place of the missing Monty Mitchell.
KEY BATTLE: Jamie Sole versus Michael Weekley
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Games don’t get bigger than this weekend for us. We need to start righting some of the wrongs and we have shown when we get into the opposition half we can score points …” – Iain Berthinussen (Edinburgh Accies)
“. …” – Gav Kerr (Jed-Forest)
VERDICT: Bottom of the table (but with a game in hand), it is difficult to see Accies getting much change out of their first four fixtures after the Christmas break – Chieftains, Marr and Hawick twice – so Iain Berthinussen is right: they need this one.
But easier said than done – Jed have worked their way through their horrendous injury list and now field a pack well capable of winning enough ball for their back division to wreak havoc.
GHA v HAWICK
(for the Bill McLaren Shield)
Venue: Braidholm @ 2pm
GHA: A Lamb; J Craig, A Hughes, R McCallum, A Purewal; J MacKinnon, A Gillman; T Brogan, D Ewing, M Fox, A Barnett, J McCarthy©, A Kerr, E Hardie, L McCutcheon. Subs: K Chernick, S Fisher, M Marinkovic, G Baird, C King.
Hawick: K Ford; L Gordon-Wooley, A Mitchell, W Griebenow, L Ferguson; A Weir, G Welsh; S Muir©, M Carryer, D Johnstone, D Suddon, J Rowley, J Linton, S Graham, S Fairbairn. Subs: C Renwick, R Macleod, B McNeil, B Donaldson, R McKean.
TEAM NEWS –
GHA: First starts of the season for Andrew Lamb at full-back and Elliott Hardie at openside flanker for the injured Grant Mollison and Mike Ryan. Stage 3 Academy player Robbie McCallum is again released by Boroughmuir Bears to play at inside centre.
Hawick: Matty Carryer comes back into the starting line-up at hooker with Calum Renwick dropping to the bench, Adam Piotrowski is unavailable so James Rowley makes his first start of the season, and Sean Fairbairn returns at No 8 in place of Bruce McNeil.
KEY BATTLE: Luke McCutcheon versus Sean Fairbairn
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Hawick will be coming to Braidholm full of confidence with a five game winning streak and will be looking to cement their position in the league. We don’t underestimate the challenge that Hawick will bring but we have gained our own confidence from our last two games. Nothing more than a committed 80 minute performance will do for us to end 2019 on a high …” – Trevor Carmichael (GHA)
“GHA are going very well and we know that we will have a challenge on our hands in our last game before the Christmas break …” – George Graham (Hawick)
VERDICT: Match of the day – two in-form teams – both targeting the play-offs – but both missing key personnel.
Hawick put GHA to the sword in Round Two at Mansfield back in September – but, having found their Premiership footing, and at home, GHA are now a totally different proposition.
GHA will miss Grant Mollison – particularly in Charlie Lonergan’s continued absence – and much could depend on how Andrew Lamb shapes up at full-back. He will be tested by Ali Wear’s astute tactical kicking – that is for sure.
For Hawick – no worries with Sean Fairbairn coming in for Bruce McNeil –but it is a big test for Adam Piotrowski’s replacement, James Rowley, who is something of an unknown quantity at this level – and with Craig Bachurzewski also missing their bench does not feel quite as imposing as of late.
Nothing Hawick would like more for Christmas than the Bill McLaren Shield back home at Mansfield – but they will need to be at the top of their game.
Narrow away win.
MUSSELBURGH v MARR
Venue: Stoneyhill @ 2pm
Musselburgh: J Ferguson; T Foley, R Smith, R Watt, G Tait; P Cunningham, D Owenson©; C Owenson, J Crain, E Bonthron, W Fleming, G McKinstry, C Pryde, M Outram, P Brown. Subs: C Arthur, C Champion, L Hutson, B Walls, S Watt.
Marr: G Montgomery; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff©, R Dalgleish; C Sturgeon, F Hazel; W Farquhar, O Rossi, C Henderson, E Hamilton-Bulger, J Harvey, M Pearce, R Brown, F Grant. Subs: C McMillan, B Sweet, C Steel, J McCulloch, G Beckwith.
TEAM NEWS –
Musselburgh: James Doig is unavailable so James Ferguson moves to full-back and Tom Foley starts on the wing. Neil McNairn picked up an injury last week against Hawks so Jonny Crain returns to hooker, and Euan Bonthron at tight-head with Colin Arthur on the bench.
Marr:With Benedict Grant, Jack Preston and Ben Johnston unavailable, Jack Scott switches from wing to scrum-half, Fraser Grant moves to No 8 and Josh Harvey gets his first start in the second row. Scott Bickerstaff returns onto the wing after missing the last few weeks on Scotland 7s duty, while Callum Steel, Kyle McCulloch and Gregor Beckwith come on to the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Danny Owenson versus Jack Scott
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“We have improved over the last few games and we know that we will need to keep that momentum going if we want to get something from the game against Marr as they are a quality outfit who have strength across the pitch. We know that this will be a tough examination of our resolve and skills but we are looking to test them as well and come away with a positive result. …” – Graeme Paterson (Musselburgh)
“After an extremely physical game and win against Currie last week, we are away again to Musselburgh. This will be a tough game as they are playing well and obtained a couple of good results recently against Edinburgh Accies and Glasgow Hawks to move up the table. Their pack has been to the fore and half-backs have been controlling the game for them. We know every game in this league is tough and will need to play well to get a positive result …” – Craig Redpath (Marr)
VERDICT: Musselburgh have fought their way through some pretty tough times this season – but they managed to bring home the bacon against Hawks last week. With nothing to lose they will throw the kitchen sink at Marr – and the best of luck to them.
Marr were maybe a bit lucky at Malleny last week – but they did what they needed to do – and are now firmly ensconced at the top of the league – there to be shot at by all and sundry. No easy games – and a banana skin around every corner. Realistically they should be too strong all over the park for Musselburgh – but you never know – and you only need to go back a fortnight to GHA at Fullarton for the proof of that particular proposition.
SELKIRK v CURRIE CHIEFTAINS
Venue: Philiphaugh @ 2pm
Currie Chieftains: J McCaig; C Meager, S Hamilton, A Hall, A McLean; G Hunter, G Christie; G Carson, R Vucago, R Patterson, M Poole, S Edwards, M Vernel, W Nelson, R Davies. Subs: M Argiro, G Williamson, H Ferguson, C Lessels, F Sayers.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: An unchanged backline. Roy Vucago starts at hooker in place of injured captain Fergus Scott, and Sam Edwards comes in to the second-row so that Mike Vernel can move into the back-row.
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Although we were disappointed to lose last week to Marr, there were lots of positives we could take from the match. We held possession and dominated territory but we need to be more clinical when we create opportunities. Selkirk will be looking to end the year on a high in front of their home crowd so it’s going to be a really tough game and one we need to win in order to get back on track after two straight defeats. …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
VERDICT: Good players do not become bad players – but they sometimes do not play to their potential. After two disappointing defeats on the trot, Chieftains face a season defining match at Philiphaugh – which they simply cannot afford to lose. Nor are they likely to – even without Fergus Scott.