Tennent’s Premiership: Round One preview – runners, riders and verdict

Marr face a tough trip down to Jed on Saturday in the opening round of this 2019-20 Premiership campaign. Image: Marr Rugby

THE 2019-20 Premiership league line-up looks very different to anything we have encountered before, with Ayr, Boroughmuir, Heriot’s, Melrose, Stirling County and Watsonians dropping down to National One as part of the reconfiguration of the club game required by the creation of Super6.

This has handed clubs such as Aberdeen Grammar, GHA, Jed, Marr and Musselburgh an opportunity to step up in their place, creating a fascinating new dynamic in the top flight of the traditional club structure.

The impact that the creation of Super6 will have on the standard of the Premiership will be assessed over the course of the coming campaign, but the clubs involved are adamant that they can produce a product worth watching, and which can continue to play a valuable development tool for the Scottish game despite ongoing Murrayfield maleficence.

The fact that the governing body is trying to give the Premiership the minimum amount of support it can get away with creates challenges for the teams involved, however it can ultimately be a blessing in disguise if it helps create a truly competitive league in which every club – and not just the big beasts – has a chance of success.

Looking at this weekend’s fixture schedule, it could very easily produce five away wins. But, it is almost just as likely to produce five home wins. When was the last time we were able to say that about a full round of Premiership matches?


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THE LOWDOWN –

MUSSELBURGH v HAWICK

VENUE: Stoneyhill @ 3.00pm

TEAMS –

Musselburgh: N Sweeney; J Ferguson, R Smith, R Watt, T Foley; P Cunningham, D Owenson; C Owenson, E Bonthron, C Arthur, W Fleming, J Haynes, M Maltman©, C Pryde, L Hutson. Subs: P Brown, D Grant, C Champion, A Reddick, G Tait.

Hawick: A Weir; R McKean, A Mitchell, G Johnstone, L Gordon-Wooley; B Donaldson, G Welsh; S Muir, M Carryer, C Greer, D Suddon, K McNeil, S Graham, W McNeil, B McNeil. Subs: C Renwick, D Johnstone, S Fairbairn, J Linton, M Bannerman.

TEAM NEWS –

Musselburgh: Faith is shown to the squad which defeated Glasgow Hawks in the Cup last week with the only changes being through injuries. Euan Bonthron moves from the bench to start in place of Bob Stott at hooker, while a slight reshuffle in the back-line sees the exciting Nathan Sweeney move to full-back in place of Freddie Roddick and Rory Smith start at 13.

Hawick: An unchanged team from the side which ground out a victory at home to Melrose in the Cup last week, but the players have been challenged to raise their performance in the face of stiff competition for selection.

KEY BATTLE: Colin Arthur versus Shawn Muir

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“We started the season well last week against Hawks and we will be looking for a similar performance against Hawick.  We know the pressure they will look to put on us up front so have to be ready for that battle, but if we can get parity in the possession stakes then I think we will give ourselves a good chance of getting a result.  This is an exciting season for us playing at this level and we are looking forward to enjoying the experience and making sure we grab this opportunity to establish the club at the top level of club rugby …” – Graeme Paterson (Musselburgh)

“Musselburgh have lots of new faces and have proved they are a force to be reckoned with after putting Hawks to the sword last week. I am looking for a massive reaction from last week. Our discipline was terrible and that will improve this week …” – George Graham (Hawick)

VERDICT: Two exciting prospects at stand-off will pull the strings for their respective sides but the key to this game is likely to be at the pit-face. Hawick’s top flight experience gives them the edge.

Away win.

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SELKIRK v GLASGOW HAWKS

VENUE: Philiphaugh @ 3.00pm

TEAMS –

Glasgow Hawks: Y Alagilly; M Priestly, M Stewart, CHarrison©, C McCarron; L Brims, K Kay; G Strain, P Cairncross, E Rintoul, L Archer, S Halafihi, J Gemmell, C Shields, R Sweeney. Sus: T McTeir, F Gillies, D Milne, C Holborn, N Moffat.

TEAM NEWS – 

Glasgow Hawks: Ten players are set to make their Premiership debut demonstrating how turbulent life has been for the Balgray men in recent time,. With club captain Stephen Leckey injured, Callum Harrison will lead the side. A familiar face has been named on he bench in former coach Fin Gillies.

WHAT THE COACH SAYS –

““After a disappointing loss versus Musselburgh last week in the Cup, the boys have trained hard and will look to improve on our performance. We look forward to travelling to the borders to take on Selkirk having not played at Philiphaugh for a number of years. Selkirk play an expansive game , like ourselves, which should allow for an exciting game of rugby and it will be a great way to open the league campaign.…” – Andy Hill (Selkirk)

VERDICT: Hawks will be better for the experience of last week’s Cup loss to Musselburgh. It looked pretty bleak at 22-5 early in the second half in that match, but they battled back and kept it respectable. However, this trip to the Borders might be too much soon for Andy Hall’s men as they look to find their feet after a huge shake-up in playing resources over the summer.

Home win


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JED v MARR

VENUE: Riverside Park @ 3.00pm

TEAMS –

Jed: L Young; C Young, R Marshall, R Yourston, G Munro; M Mitchell, N Stingl; G Paxton, K Lamont, A  Keeler, G Young, M Weekley, D  Grieve, J Howe, D Buckley. Subs: C Lothian, G Nagle, J Hynd, E Lauder, S Paxton.

Marr: G Ness; S Bickerstaff, R Dalgleish, C Bickerstaff©, I Turaga; C Sturgeon, J Preston; B Sweet, O Rossi, C Henderson, E Hamilton-Bulger, C Cunningham, M Pearce, R Brown, B Grant. Subs: W F Farquhar, C McMillan, F Grant, F Hazel, G Paxton.

TEAM NEWS –

Jed: Captain. and centre Gregor Young is on holiday, second-rows Dan Wardrop and Gregor Law picked up injuries against Gala last week, Kiwi No 8 Othello Heka broke his foot and tight-head Harry Meadows is also unavailable. On the plus side,  Donald Grieve and Michael Weekley return, each bringing around 300 club appearances worth of experience to the pack.

Marr: With an almost full strength squad, some tough decisions had to be made, and experience has won the day in the back-line as a means of neutralising the opposition’s clear threat in this area.

KEY BATTLE: Robbie Yourston versus Conor Bickerstaff

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“These have been really tight matches the last three years and I can’t see this one being any different. We’ve had a pretty good pre-season with good numbers at training, winning the Peebles and Hawick 7s, and beating Melrose and Gala in the Border League, so we feel we’re as ready as we’ll ever be. We’ve been able to field quite a few lungs guys who have really taken their chance. Ive got a lot of faith in this squad …” – Kevin Barrie (Jed assistant coach)

“An opening match at Riverside Park against Jed-Forest is one of the toughest fixtures we could have had.  Jed are performing very well, pose real threats and will be keen to avenge our beating them to the league title.  We need to be at the top of our game in defence and make sure we convert any opportunities in attack.  Last week, in our win against Aberdeen, we showed some good promise and we need to build on this.  It’s the beginning of a long season but we are keen to get off to good start to get us on the road …” –  Craig Redpath (Marr)

VERDICT: Home advantage has tended to edge it recent years and despite Jed might just be missing too many key men.

Narrow away win

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GHA v CURRIE CHIEFTAINS

VENUE: Braidholm @ 3.00pm

TEAMS –

GHA: G Mollison; A Scott, C Lonergan, A Hamilton Potter, A Purewal; C King, A Gillman; T Brogan, L Barron, S Fisher, A Barnett, J McCarthy©,  S Plumridge, D Ewing, M Marinkovic. Subs: E Cavan , S Carson, L  McCutcheon , R O’Keefe, J Craig.

Currie Chieftains: C Brett; S Hamilton, A Hall, A Harley, A MacLean; G Hunter, C Lessels; G Carson, F Scott©, M Sonzogni Argiro, M Poole, M Vernal, J O’Brien, D Dee, R Davies. Subs: G Williamson, C Ramsay, H Ferguson, W Nelson, J Patterson.

TEAM NEWS –

GHA: Plenty of experience in this squad with a few youngsters getting a chance to make their mark in what will be a big test of this team’s Premiership credentials.

Currie Chieftains: The largely homegrown squad is boosted by the return of Argentinean Matias Argiro at tight-head prop.

KEY BATTLE: Charlie Lonergan versus Adam Scott

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“We played Currie Chieftains in the cup last season so we know exactly the challenge that is waiting for us. I think we are in a better place as a club than we were last season and all involved are looking forward to this game on Saturday with excitement and confidence.…” – Trevor Carmichael (GHA)

“We travel to Braidholm expecting a tough contest against a physical GHA side that finished their season preparations strongly, with a win against Boroughmuir last weekend. We played well in parts last week against Biggar in the Cup and were delighted with the win. This week’s challenge is for the boys to deliver a fuller 80-minute performance and maintain their focus throughouT …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)

VERDICT: Premiership experience gives the visitors  an edge.

Away win.

ABERDEEN GRAMMAR v EDINBURGH ACCIES

VENUE: Rubislaw @ 3.00pm

TEAMS –

Aberdeen: S Mills; N Brown, N Coe, T Aplin, D Russell; S Knudson, T Morrison; C Reddish, B Inglis, M Schosser, J Robertson, R Cessford, C Jollands, W Alton, G Ryan. Subs: M Mhartainn, J Spence, C Robertson, P Ritchie, B Perrott.

Edinburgh Accies: R Wilson, J Pecqueur, N Armstrong, R Mill, J Gordon; J Loomes, M Love©; S Gunn, S Crombie, F Richardson, D Dinnen, A Inwood, P O’Sullivan, C Thomson, R Campbell. Subs: N Hall, D Winning, J Bruce, M Sinclair, R Bonner.

TEAM NEWS –

Aberdeen: The return of physical second-row Robin Cessford and influential flanker Chris Jollands bolsters the home pack.

Edinburgh Accies: With 16 players having moved on since the end of last season due to work commitments and Super6, this team is a bit of an unknown quantity. Captain Jamie Sole is away in New York but the likes of Richard Mill, Josh Pecqueur, Shaun Gunn, Sean Crombie and Ruairi Cambell provide valuable experience.

KEY BATTLE: Robin Cessford versus Angus Inwood

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“We know Accies have had a lot of changes to their squad over the summer so we really don’t know what to expect. We lost few key players as well but have been able to replace from within and are quite happy with how that has gone. It will take half a dozen games before we really have an idea of how this new look league is going to play out.  …” – Ali O’Connor (Aberdeen Grammar)

“A new league, a new group of players and a new coaching team makes for an exciting challenge …” – Iain Berthinussen (Edinburgh Accies)

VERDICT: It’s a long way north for the capital city slickers and they’ll have to make sure that they don’t take too long to shake the journey out of their legs against a home team ready to start their league season with a bang.

Narrow home win.

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The Offside Line is ready for its biggest and best season yet

About David Barnes 3908 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he 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.