IT is getting close to crunch time for a number of clubs. Not least Currie Chieftains, who need to recapture some of their early season sparkle soon or risk losing out on a home play-off draw. They are currently six point ahead of Hawick in the race for that second place finish, but the Borderers have a game in hand, so another slip-up this weekend against Glasgow Hawks at Malleny could have significant consequences for Mark Cairns’ men.
Hawick fancied their chances at Marr last Saturday and were frustrated when the game was called off, but it at least means that they go into this week’s home clash against Edinburgh Accies feeling fresh and with plenty of energy to get out of their system.
GHA’s season could still swing two very different ways. A win at home against Aberdeen Grammar this weekend, and against Hawks in next weekend’s re-arranged Glasgow derby, could see them shoot right back into the play-off race – but a couple of losses would drop them perilously close to the relegation battle.
Grammar travel to Braidholm in fine fettle after last Saturday’s big home win over Musselburgh and will be spurred on by the incentive of knowing that they will climb back up to fourth place if the results go their way this weekend.
And there is also plenty at stake at Stoneyhill where bottom of the table Musselburgh will look to make another break for the swing doors to escape the last chance saloon, but have to find a way past a Jed-Forest team who picked up a valuable home win over border rivals Selkirk last weekend but aren’t quite in the clear yet.
League-leaders Marr are at Philiphaugh.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
MUSSELBURGH v JED-FOREST
VENUE: Stoneyhill @ 2pm
Musselburgh: J Ferguson; S Watt, R Watt, R Young, G Tait; P Cunningham, D Owenson©; N McNairn, C Owenson, C Arthur, W Fleming, P Brown, C Champion, M Outram, L Hutson. Subs: J Crain, J Haynes, C Pryde, F Roddick, J Doig.
Jed-Forest: L Young; C Young, R Yourston, M Mitchell, R Marshall; G Munro, N Stingl; P Ferreira, F Campbell, H Meadows, B Saxton, G Law, D Grieve, M Weekley, G Young. Subs: G Paxton, A Nother, E Lauder, J McGough, J Laing.
TEAM NEWS –
Musselburgh: Sandy Watt and Ruaridh Young get starts in the backs after coming off the bench last week at Aberdeen. Captain Michael Maltman is unavailable and there are a few changes in the pack, with experience added in the shape of Neil McNairn in the front-row and William Fleming in the second row. Paddy Brown who moves forward to the second-row from No 8 to accommodate Luke Hutson. Max Outram starts at 7 with Jonny Crain, Jack Haynes and Cameron Pryde moving to the bench.
Jed-Forest: No Dom Buckley this week so Garry Young moves to No 8 and Donald Grieve comes in at blindside. Nik Stingl comes in at scrum-half with Jye McGough dropping to the bench, and in a reshuffled three-quarter line, Monty Mitchell starts at inside centre and Josh Laing drops from the wing to the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Danny Owenson versus Nik Stingl
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Another poor start at Aberdeen cost us the chance of anything last week so that must change against Jed and I am sure the guys will respond to that challenge. Jed picked up a good win against Selkirk and will be keen to relieve pressure on themselves but we will be out to get a vital win as we attempt to keep our survival hopes alive. We have picked a very experienced starting XV and will be looking to exert pressure from the start of the game and not allow Jed a flow of ball which they can use to good effect …” – Graeme Paterson (Musselburgh)
“It was encouraging for us to finish the stronger against Selkirk last week and that’s what we have to take forward into the next few games …” – Gav Kerr (Jed-Forest)
VERDICT: Both clubs got a game last week but with disparate consequences.
Musselburgh never really got into it up in Aberdeen, but they dug in to keep it respectable. With Michael Maltman unavailable and seven changes in personnel from last week’s starting line-up, a cynic might think that all they have done is shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic – but they are not that sort of club.
Jed’s free wheeling attacking prowess is much admired – but last week against Selkirk in atrocious conditions they showed that when needs must they can roll their sleeves up and slug it out with the best of them – and in doing so they gave themselves a modicum of comfort, which they will not readily forfeit.
Musselburgh will give it their best shot – but Jed’s better all round game should see them home.
HAWICK v EDINBURGH ACADEMICALS
VENUE: Mansfield Park @ 2pm
Hawick: K Ford; L Ferguson, W Griebenow, A Mitchell, L Gordon-Wooley; A Weir, G Welsh; S Muir©, M Carryer, C Greer, S Fairbairn, D Suddon, J Linton, B McNeil, S Graham. Subs: C Renwick, D Johnston, A Piotrowski, B Donaldson, M Bannerman.
Edinburgh Accies: C Ramm; H Paterson, R Campbell, R Wilson, M Campbell; R Mill, M Love; C Imrie, S Crombie, C Lamberton, R McConnell, D Dinnen, P O’Sullivan, C Thomson, J Sole©. Subs: R Simpson, C Lacour, C Bain, B Grainger, B Appleson.
TEAM NEWS –
Hawick: An unchanged squad from last week.
Edinburgh Academicals: Max Love moves back to his accustomed position of scrum-half, with Richard Mill returning to the starting line-up at stand-off, while Ben Grainger and Ben Appleson come back into the squad on the bench. Jamie Sole moves to number 8 and Patrick O’Sullivan comes onto the flank, with Cameron Bain on the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Stuart Graham versus Jamie Sole
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Our first meeting with Accies this season. They are building confidence after some good results over the past few games. They will be fighting hard to ensure survival in the league. We learned the hard way last season just how good they can be. We are making sure we try to get the preparation right this week …” – George Graham (Hawick)
“We have a mixture of youth and experience for our trip to Hawick this week. Mansfield Park is a fantastic place to play rugby and we are all excited about the challenge of taking on George Graham’s resurgent Hawick side – and what a challenge it will be …” – Iain Berthinussen (Edinburgh Accies)
VERDICT: With Fullarton Park absolutely unplayable last week, Hawick enjoyed an extended Christmas break and go into their first defence of the Bill McLaren Shield at full strength – and looking good.
Having Callum Ramm, Harry Paterson and Richard Mill all on board, plus Max Love back at scrum-half, this is maybe the strongest side Accies have been able to stick on the park this season – and it is certainly geared to play attractive running rugby.
Hawick are, however, on a roll – playing at Mansfield – and looking for a home tie in the play-offs.
GHA v ABERDEEN GRAMMAR
VENUE: Braidholm @ 2pm
GHA: J Edgar; J Craig, G Mollison, A Hughes, A Purewal; C King, A Gillman; E Cavan, H Clark, M Fox, A Barnett, J McCarthy©, A Kerr, M Marinkovic, M Ryan. Subs: S Carson, S Fisher, L McCutcheon, G Baird, A Lamb.
Aberdeen Grammar: S Mills; N Brown, M Mitchell, T Aplin D Russell; S Knudson©, T Morrison; C Reddish, A Cook, M Schosser, R Cessford, J Robertson, N Coe, B Inglis, G Ryan. Subs: W Alton, R Anderson, A Robertson, J Spence, F Snedden.
TEAM NEWS –
GHA: Jamie McKinnon misses out through injury, so Cameron King moves to 10 and Andrew Hughes comes back in at inside centre.
Aberdeen Grammar: Only one change to the starting XV with Nathan Brown, who was in prolific try-scoring form at the start of he season when he chalked up nine tries in the first six weeks, returns from injury on the wing.
KEY BATTLE: Aaron Purewal versus Nathan Brown
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“It was a very high scoring game the last time around, so defence will be key this weekend. It is all to play for in the ;eague at the moment with it being pretty tight between fourth to tenth place, so a home win is a must for us. Aberdeen have done well this season and will be coming down to Glasgow with some confidence, which we will need to wary of with a disciplined and accurate performance. …” – Trevor Carmichael (GHA)
“Our recent record at Braidholm is pretty miserable so defensively we really need to step up in that area. GHA are a dangerous team ball in hand with threats all over the park so we have to be up for it mentally and physically for the full 80 …” – Ali O’Connor (Aberdeen Grammar)
VERDICT: It was a try-fest when this pair met at Rubislaw earlier in the season and a great game is in prospect at Braidholm tomorrow – with both clubs having an eye on the play-offs – but with GHA having the easier run-in.
Missing Dario Ewing and Tony Brogan from their front-row does not help GHA’s cause – but living on scraps has not been a problem for them – so long as they keep their defence solid.
Aberdeen bossed the game at home to Musselburgh last week with Greig Ryan having a huge impact on his return from injury. They did, however, go to sleep in the fourth quarter – and any similar lapse against GHA will be punished.
It should be won and lost up front – where Aberdeen appear to have an edge.
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v GLASGOW HAWKS
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 3pm
Currie Chieftains: F Sayers; C Meager, A Hall, R Southern, S Hamilton; G Hunter, G Christie; G Carson, F Scott©, M Argiro, M Poole, M Vernel, R Vucago, W Nelson, R Davies. Subs: R Patterson, S Edwards,, J O’Brien, A McLean, J McCaig.
Glasgow Hawks: Y Alagilly; K Gossman, M Stewart, L Armstrong, E Oag; L Brims, C Holborn; L Archer, P Cairncross, G Strain, A Kirkland, J McLean, J Gammell, S Leckey©, R Sweeney. Subs: T McTeir, G Armstrong, P Boyer, C Harrison, M Godsman.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: Rhys Davies is back from injury at No 8 so Sam Edwards drops to the bench. The backline is unchanged from last week’s cancelled fixture versus Edinburgh Accies. Archie McLean and James McCaig come back onto the bench.
Glasgow Hawks: The only change in the pack from the side selected for last week’s postponed Glasgow derby is at hooker where Paul Cairncross comes in for the unavailable Angus Fraser. Erlend Oag come in on the wing and Paddy Boyer returns from injury on then bench.
KEY BATTLE: Wallace Nelson versus Stephen Leckey
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“It was disappointing to not have a game last week but the weather made this a very easy decision in the end. We have trained well this week and our intensity has been the best it has been all year. The guys are focussed on getting our season back on track. Hawks have some really strong players and we know they will be relishing the trip to Malleny. It’s set to be a fiercely contested game …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“It looks like the weather is to be kind on Saturday which should hopefully allow for a good game of free-flowing rugby. Last time against Currie, we were out-coached and out-played and we all feel it is the only game we haven’t given a good account of ourselves. The lads are desperate to get out on the pitch and challenge themselves against a well drilled outfit …” – Andy Hill (Glasgow Hawks)
VERDICT: After three defeats on the trot, Chieftains need to get the show back on the road – and it would be a brave man who bet against them. Rhys Davies should win them enough front-foot ball for Gregor Hunter to be able to dictate terms – and bring their new highly-rated South African centre Ryan Southern into the game.
Desperate times for Hawks, who came a poor second when the sides met at Balgray earlier in the season – and it will take a mammoth effort up front to find any sort relief from the relegation pressure at Malleny tomorrow.
Home advantage and injured pride will drive Chieftains on.
Comfortable home win.
SELKIRK v MARR
VENUE: Philiphaugh @ 3pm
Marr: G Montgomery; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff©, J Scott; C Sturgeon, J Preston; W Farquhar, O Rossi, C Henderson, E Hamilton-Bulger, F Grant, M Pearce, R Brown, B Grant. Subs: C McMillan, B Sweet, C Cunningham, C Inglis, T Steven.
TEAM NEWS –
Marr: Richard Dalgleish is unavailable due to injury, but Colin Sturgeon, Gregor Paxton and Fraser Grant return.
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Selkirk at home is always a tough game. They have a good record against us at Philiphaugh. They will be determined to win to remain in fourth for a playoff place. We have prepared for a tough physical game against good team and look forward to the challenge …” – Craig Redpath (Marr)
VERDICT: Marr are practically back to full strength – and should have enough to see the other team off fairly comfortably.