AT the bottom end of the Premiership table, GHA (eighth, 26 points), Musselburgh (ninth, 26) and Heriot’s Blues (10th, 25) are in a real scrap to avoid being the one team that will drop down to National League Division One.
For most of this season it has looked as if Musselburgh would be the team going down, but recent positive results have given them hope and on Saturday, in their final match of the campaign, they are away to sixth-placed Glasgow Hawks, who have little to play for.
GHA’s form has taken a nosedive and in their final match they are on the road to unbeaten Hawick, so it doesn’t get any easier for them.
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Heriot’s still have two matches left, but they will want to get a positive result at play-off-chasing Selkirk this weekend to ease the pressure, and perhaps even seal their survival if results elsewhere go their way.
The fourth match between seventh-placed Jed-Forest and third placed Edinburgh Accies has the least riding on it, but the play-off-assured visitors will want to keep positive momentum going.
How it stands –
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The Lowdown –
Glasgow Hawks v Musselburgh
Venue: Balgray @ 2pm
Glasgow Hawks: A McLean; R Flett, J Pinkerton, C Ferrie, R Speers; L Brims, E Davey; A Al-agilly, P Cairncross, G Strain, M Crumlish, R Burke, V Carlsson, S Leckey©, S Hastings. Subs: D Irvine, K Shanahan, C Nolan, C Harrison, B McGroarty.
Musselburgh: P Cunningham; J Ferguson, R Watt, R Smith, S Watt; M McMillan, D Owenson©; C Owenson, R Stott, N McNairn, W Fleming, J Campbell, M Badenhorst, P Bogie, L Hutson. Subs: R Hanning, C Arthur, J Haynes, M Crawford, F Thomson.
Key battle: Gary Strain versus Craig Owenson.
Team news –
Glasgow Hawks: In the front row, Adam Al-Agilly comes in to start at loose-head replacing Mike Downer who is unavailable. Ryan Burke comes back into the 1st XV after an outstanding performance for the 2nd XV and then training with the Scotland under-20s. Vilhelm Carlsson makes his first start at six with Oscar Baird on holiday. In the backs, Liam Brims starts at 10 having impressed in training, while, in the back three, Ryan Flett returns, Andy McLean has recovered from his concussion and Ross Speers is set to make his first start. On the bench, Daniel Irvine and Craig Nolan are set to make their debuts.
Musselburgh: A return for James Ferguson this week on the wing after injury means Calum Marshall misses out despite a decent performance against Highland in the Cup a couple of weeks ago. Max Outram’s unavailability means a reshuffle of the back-row and William Fleming returns in the second-row.
What the coaches say –
“This will be an entirely different Musselburgh to the one we played in October. They have picked up a few results and have a fair bit of belief compared to the last time we played them. The position they have put themselves in is a credit to their players and their resilienc, and we know they will fight for the entire 80 minutes to keep their chance of Premiership survival alive …” – Andy Hill (Glasgow Hawks)
“It’s been a pretty difficult week for us as a coaching group as we had to make some tough calls with players who have helped change our fortunes in the second half of the season. We recognise and acknowledge those contributions and are aware that we carry a degree of responsibility to them to perform at the weekend in what is the biggest game for the club since finding ourselves in the Premiership. The only thing that is in our hands at the moment is how we respond to the challenge placed in front of us, but it wouldn’t be there if not for the character we have shown since mid-January. Our motto since then has been to play with a willingness to lose in order to earn a result. That will be present in our minds in the build-up to what is a significant and meaningful game for us as a club and a community …” – Derek O’Riordan (Musselburgh)
Verdict: As Andy Hill says, he expects to face a very different Musselburgh side than the one Hawks swatted aside 56-0 in October. Recent league wins over GHA and Jed-Forest have given Musselburgh confidence and their big players have been stepping up at the right time. They may well just do the same here.
Hawick v GHA
(for the Bill McLaren Shield)
Venue: Mansfield Park @ 3pm
Hawick: K Ford; L Ferguson, A Mitchell, E Reilly, R McKean; K Brunton, H Patterson; S Muir©, F Renwick, R Macleod, D Redpath, S Fairbairn, C Sutherland, C Renwick, S Graham. Subs: R Graham, T Hope, J Linton, G Welsh, C Welsh.
GHA: G Mollison; R O’Keefe, C Hyde, C Lonegan, L Bardelli; C Townsend, F Johnston; J Low, A Falconer, M Fox, S Callaghan, A Barnett, M Ryan, D Ewing©, L McCutcheon. Subs: L Barron, T Brogan, R Hay, G Baird, C King.
Key battle: Kyle Brunton versus Christian Townsend.
Team news –
Hawick: Kyle Brunton is back at 10 having missed the Cup win over Jed-Forest, so Kirk Ford shifts back to 15. Teenage scrum-half Hector Patterson starts after Edinburgh Rugby under-18 duty. Fraser Renwick starts at hooker and brothers Gareth and Charlie Welsh are on the bench.
GHA: A welcome return of experience in the shape of Charlie Lonergan, Chris Hyde, Grant Mollinson and Ruari O’Keefe across the backline. In the pack, Josh Low starts at loose-head and Sean Callaghan comes in for the unavailable Adam Kerr to the second-row.
What the coaches say –
“Saturday is a massive game for both clubs. GHA are in a relegation battle and have played some very good rugby this season at times, so they know that they need to win to give themselves hope of staying up. We are expecting a battle, they will have a clear game-plan so it’s up to us to bring a big performance and stick to what we are good at. The boys have worked really hard so far this season and if we win on Saturday we will finish top of the league with a game to spare. The players have dug deep more than once this season and we need a final push going into the biggest month in recent years for the club …” – Matty Douglas (Hawick)
“The players have trained well over the last couple of weeks and are fully focused on what is required this weekend. Hawick have been the form team in the Premiership and we are under no illusions that we will need to put in our best performance of the season down at Mansfield on Saturday …” – Calum Forrester (GHA)
Verdict: GHA will give this everything and it will certainly not be easy for Hawick, but the Borderers will want to make sure of top spot in the regular season table and they have a settled squad, so it’s hard to see them coming unstuck here.
Jed-Forest v Edinburgh Accies
Venue: Riverside Park @ 3pm
Jed-Forest: M Cullen; O Cranston, Gregor Young, B McNeil, R Shirra-Gibb; C Young, L Walker; J Story, F Scott, P Ferreira, M Atkinson, C Skeldon©, Garry Young, B Roff, B Fotheringham. Subs: E Lauder, J Ferguson, R Briggs, L Elder, R Nichol.
Edinburgh Accies: B Appleson; M Wallace, V Hart, N Armstrong, L Wells; J Loomes©, M Love; A Winnington-Ingram, F McAslan, C Taylor, J Mills, R Thompson, F Simpson, J Sole, R Campbell. Subs: H Campbell, G Ratcliff, C Bain, S Broad, F Lindsay.
Key battle: Ben Fotheringham versus Ruairi Campbell.
Team news –
Jed-Forest: Owen Cranston moves from centre to wing from the team that played Hawick in the Cup, and Ben McNeil joining the midfield. Finlay Scott switches from back-row to hooker with Blake Roff back, while James Ferguson, Rya Briggs and Ross Nichol join the bench.
Edinburgh Accies: Max Wallace moves to the wing and Vincent Hart returns to the starting team at outside-centre. Max Love starts at nine with Sinjin Broad rotating to the bench where he is joined by Fraser Lindsay. Archie Winnington-Ingram starts at loose-head, Cameron Taylor comes in a tight-head and Finlay Simpson returns to the blindside.
What the coaches say –
“We are excited for the final fixture, the aim is to finish well and leave a marker …” – Andrew Brown (Jed-Forest)
“This weekend we head down to Riverside Park to take on Jed-Forest and while we have not played for two weeks the players have trained well during this period. Jed-Forest are always a tough team to play against and we must make sure we are at our best and start to build momentum over the next two weeks, I know this group of players will look forward to staking a claim…” – Iain Berthinussen (Edinburgh Accies)
Verdict: Jed have an improved season from 2021-22, but would still like to have competed for the play-offs more. Accies have been consistently in third place for a large chunk of the season and their players will want to get their names inked onto the team-sheet for the play-offs in a couple of weeks’ time.
Selkirk v Heriot’s Blues
Venue: Philiphaugh @ 3pm
Selkirk: R Cottrell; L Ferguson, C Easson, C Jackson, J Welsh; Aaron McColm©, J Hamilton; L Pettie©, J Bett, B Riddell, A Cochrane, C Turnbull, R Nixon, S McClymont, Andrew McColm. Subs: F Easson, C Mackintosh, J Head, C Ward, E MacVicar.
Heriot’s Blues: C Simpson; M Gray, O Quinn, R Kay©, F Stanier; R Carmichael, G Wilson; M Bouab, D Dineen, J Lascelles, C Jupp, S Johnstone, M Hughes, S Wallace, A Johnston. Subs: I Hill, A Munro, M Keough, R Thomson, C Dineen.
Key battle: Luke Pettie versus John Lascelles.
Team news –
Selkirk: Co-captain Luke Pettie and experienced second-row James Head return to the pack.
Heriot’s Blues: Sean Johnstone’s return to the pack is a big boost. Mike Gray and Fraser Stanier come in for their first league matches of the season on the wings.
What the coaches say –
“We know the task at hand with Marr having now finished all of their games, but we have no doubt Heriot’s will be coming down to Selkirk fighting for everything given their league position and after such a positive result against Biggar in the Cup …” – Scott Wight (Selkirk)
“The players recognise the importance of the match, hence the plan is simple: do whatever it takes to get the win …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s Blues)
Verdict: Both teams have a lot to play for, so it should be a cracker. Selkirk’s season has lost a bit of momentum of late while Heriot’s are scrapping for their lives, but the return of Luke Pettie and James Head could help the Borderers get the upper hand up front. It’ll be nervy.