THE madness of the draft arrangement which aligns just four Premiership clubs to the pro team with comfortably the biggest and strongest squad [Glasgow Warriors] and the other six clubs to the pro team with the smaller and weaker squad [Edinburgh] is laid bare again this week.
Boroughmuir, Edinburgh Accies, Hawick, Heriot’s, Melrose and Watsonians share just four professional players between them, while Ayr, Currie Chieftains, Glasgow Hawks and Stirling County have 11 [although that includes Charlie Shiel, who is on the books at Edinburgh but is aligned to club of origin Chieftains as a first-year pro].
So far this season, Edinburgh have released 60 players to the Premiership while Warriors have released 68, but if you take out first year pros [who are rightly attached to their club of origin] then that gap widens to 35 for Edinburgh and 49 for Glasgow Warriors – which, split between six and four teams respectively, works out as an average of 5.83 releases to each Edinburgh aligned club this season and 12.25 releases to each Glasgow aligned club.
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Requests to split the draft down the middle [with Boroughmuir or Watsonians in west Edinburgh the most obvious candidates to be re-aligned with Warriors] were rejected by the SRU performance department at the start of this season.
It is not entirely clear what the reasons were for retaining a six-four split, but it has been suggested that player welfare was a concern. Given that Warriors routinely fly to South Africa, Italy, Wales and Ireland for league matches, you would think an 80-mile round trip along the M8 and back wouldn’t be too onerous.
Regardless of the clear inequity of the situation, it is great for the league to have Scotland star Alex Dunbar turning out for Ayr in their eagerly anticipated clash against Heriot’s at Millbrae – and an excellent opportunity for youngster Rob Kay to test himself against a leading internationalist.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
GLASGOW HAWKS v HAWICK
VENUE: Balgray @ 2.00pm
Glasgow Hawks: S Peffers; E Oag, R Beattie, C Symes, J Couper; J Henderson, K Baretto; G Strain©, A Fraser, L Skinner, F Hastie, A Kirkland, G Adams, M Smith, B Flockhart. Subs: C Willis, P Cairncross, C Thompson, P Boyer, L Brims.
Hawick: A Weir; R McKean, A Mitchell, G Walker, D Lightfoot; L Armstrong, G Welsh, S Muir©, M Carryer, N Little, D Suddon, D Redpath, D Lowrie, S Graham, B McNeil. Subs: C Renwick, D Johnstone, G Lowrie, J Linton, L Ferguson.
TEAM NEWS –
Glasgow Hawks: A helpful draft this week with three former players who have turned pro during the last two years released back to the club, plus Grant Stewart – who is still on an academy contract despite touring with Scotland during the summer and regularly appearing in Glasgow Warriors’ match-day squad this season – is at hooker. Hawick boy Scott Peffers comes back into the side at full-back.
Hawick: The loss to injury of Drew Davison is a set-back as he was one of the team’s oustatnding performers in last weekend’s victory over the Chieftains. Daniel Suddon returns to the second-row and David Lowrie shifts to the back-row to fill the gap.
KEY BATTLE: Josh Henderson versus Lee Armstrong
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We are under no illusions as to the enormity of this game on Saturday and what a win will do for either club in the fight for survival. Hawick picked up a very impressive result last week against Currie Chieftains and have moved ahead of us in the table …” – Fin Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
“Huge match this week with a lot at stake for both sides should it ever be decided what is happening with future league structures. Pro release has been, let’s say ‘kind’, once again to Hawks. No pro release for us once again which allows me the luxury of picking homegrown talent who have been maturing game on game. I have huge confidence in my boys after the spirited performance that they gave last week at home – from one-to-20, they gave me all I could ask for. They need to dig deeper again this week. …” – George Graham (Hawick)
VERDICT: A critical match for both clubs within the confusion over league structure. Hawks won comfortably at Mansfield earlier in the season with a blockbusting display from Grant Stewart – but it was tight until the last ten minutes when Hawick’s discipline let them down badly.
Hawks have again been lucky with the pro-draft – though in fairness all four have come through the Old Anniesland development structure. Possession was a huge problem against Boroughmuir last week – but if their beefed up pack can win some ball they have the talent behind to score tries.
Brave stuff from Hawick against Chieftains last week – the challenge is now to take the Mansfield mindset on the road. Daniel Suddon’s return from injury is timely – but losing last week’s man-of-the match, Drew Davison, is a grievous blow.
Hawick’s away form and the pro-draft swing it Hawks way. Home win.
EDINBURGH ACCIES v MELROSE
VENUE: Raeburn Place @ 2.00pm
Edinburgh Accies: V Hart; C Gray, R Chalmers, R Wilson, R Kent; J Loomes, M Love; D Morrison, R Simpson, M McCallum, R Lovett, R Seydak, M Badenhorst, J Sole©, J Mann. Subs: C Black, M McGinley, N Stephen, M Love, W Stephen.
Melrose: F Thomson; B Colvine, P Anderson, C Jackson, G Wood; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Anderson, R McLeod, A Runciman, C Young, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: R Ferguson, C Wilde, D Colvine, S Hutchison, I Sim.
TEAM NEWS –
Edinburgh Accies: Rory Simpson and Duncan Morrison join Scotland internationalist Murray McCallum in a reconfigured front-row, and Scotland Under-20 prospect Jack Mann is at number eight. Behind the scrum, Richard Mill failed to recover from concussion and Paddy Flood is away, meaning Vincent Hart moves to full-back and Jamie Loomes steps in at 10. Robert Wilson returns from concussion at side centre, so Will Stephen – who impressed against Heriots – moves to the bench.
Melrose: Jason Baggott has been released by Edinburgh Rugby to start at stand-off. whilst Craig Jackson takes his place at inside centre after returning from an elbow injury. The same pack starts this weekend that played the whole game against Watsonians last weekend, which means Connor Young – a tight-head prop – continues in the second-row after an excellent performance there against Watsonians as a last minute stand-in.
KEY BATTLE: Jamie Sole versus Grant Runciman
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“It’s nice to get back to the comfort of Raeburn Place for our last home game of 2018. Melrose under Rob and his coaching team are a well drilled outfit who play a very balanced and structured game across their kick, run and set-piece attack. We will need to be well disciplined both as individuals and in our defensive systems if we are to get a decent foothold in the game. We will continue with our attacking mindset on our side of the ball and I look forward to seeing what an attack led by Jamie Loomes will look like on Saturday in front of what will be a decent – if not rowdy?! – crowd for the annual old boys’ lunch …” – Derek O’Riordan (Edinburgh Accies)
“Edinburgh Accies are clearly improving each week and will be looking to put out an impressive performance in front of a large vocal crowd. We have prepared well this week and are looking forward to visiting Accies where we know we will have to be focussed from the start …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
VERDICT: Continuity of selection is a problem for Accies – but no doubt they will give what is for them a very challenging fixture their best shot. Craig Jackson’s return from injury is a major boost for Melrose – and it is difficult to see Accies being able to contain their driving maul.
Comfortable away win.
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v STIRLING COUNTY
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 2.30pm
Currie Chieftains: J Forbes; B Robbins, J Reynolds, R Nelson©, M Hooks; G Hunter, C Shiel; A McWilliam, F Scott©, M Argiro, G Peterson, V Wright, M Vernel, T Gordon, T Tameilau. Subs: G Carson, R Patterson, K MacDonald, S McGinley, G Christie.
Stirling County: J Hope©; L Trotter, R Tagive, E Magarvie, C Dineen; A Goudie, P Jericevich; R Chies, A Orr, M Walker, J Pow, S Yarrow, R Bundy, H Burr, A Mackie. Subs: B Robertson, A Nicol, G Arnott, C Turnbull, C Robertson.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: Four pro players released this week. Glasgow Warriors duo Greg Peterson and Tevita Tameilau start in the pack, and first year Edinburgh pro Charlie Shiel returns at scrum-half in place of Roan Frostwick, who is on Scotland Under-19 duty. Another Glasgow second-row in Kiran MacDonald will look to make an impact as a replacement. Scott McGinley moves to the bench to accommodate, while Rhys Davies and Marc Kelly drop out of the squad completely. Matt Hooks returns from injury on the wing and replaces Steven Hamilton, who also misses out all-together.
Stirling County: Andrew Goudie returns from Dubai to start at 10 with Peter Jericevich reverting back to scrum-half and Colin Turnbull drops to the bench; Glasgow pro Ratu Tagive replaces the injured John Brogan in the centre; and Stef Yarrow starts in place of Cammy Henderson, who is on Scotland under-19 duty. Craig Robertson comes on to the bench for the injured Craig Jardine.
KEY BATTLE: Tevita Tameilau versus Ally Mackie
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Last week’s performance was simply not good enough. Hawick brought an outstanding attitude to proceedings and this translated into an excellent defensive display. However, we did not make it difficult enough for them with a pretty one-dimensional attack. We’ve spent this week ensuring the boys know what we are good at and therefore how we need to play to win games of rugby. Stirling will travel to Malleny full of determination having let another match slip away at the death versus Ayr. Eddie has their forward pack well drilled, they have an excellent set-piece and some really exciting backs. They will see this as a great opportunity to pick up points away from home having beaten us earlier on in the season and I’m sure they will have taken confidence from our display last weekend. However, it’s our last home game before Christmas and we will look to put in another big performance playing the exciting brand of rugby that the Currie faithful have become accustomed to seeing …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Cheiftains)
“Currie at Malleny Park is always a big challenge. They are well coached and have quality players right through the team, and they will be smarting after dropping points at Hawick last weekend. We missed out on a great opportunity to beat Ayr last week having put in a huge shift up-front throughout the 80 minutes. Another top performance will be required to give us a chance of bringing points back down the M9 …” – Eddie Pollock (Stirling County)
VERDICT: Stirling’s young bucks got stuck into Ayr last week – and should probably have won – but they could not close it out. No doubt they have gained from the experience – and they look much more balanced with Peter Jericevitch back at scrum-half and Andrew Goudie at stand-off.
After their shocker at Mansfield last week, this is a must-win for Chieftains both in terms of morale and the play-offs. Stirling scrummed them out of it in the reciprocal fixture at Bridgehaugh and they struggled in the tight again at Mansfield last week. Their set-piece was also a problem in the big game against Ayr – but they compensated by putting in a massively defiant shift elsewhere about the park – which is exactly what they will need to do against Stirling.
Narrow home win.
WATSONIANS v BOROUGHMUIR
VENUE: Myreside @ 3.00pm
Watsonians: J Rowland; A Chalmers, R Hutton, D Innes, L MacPherson; L Millar, M Scott; G Jackson, F Renwick, J Stanley, J Hodgson, C Borthwick©, J Miller, R Graham, M Fedo. Subs: C Fenton, F Hobbis, F Simpson, H Fisher, E Fox.
Boroughmuir: C Gossman; G Parker, J Edmunds, J Steele, R Arthur; G Cannie, T Wilson; R Dunbar, J Matthews©, R Montgomery, W Inglis, S Smith, S Nayalo, M Walker, C Keddie. Subs: D Robertson, A Mncube, R Drummond, M Johnstone, B Renton.
TEAM NEWS –
Watsonians: Fraser Renwick, Jack Stanley and Jamie Hodgson return to the starting pack and Ross Graham reverts from hooker to open-side flanker. Duncan Ferguson, Connor Boyle and Gregor Nelson drop out of the squad, and youngster Harry Fisher starts on the bench, where he is joined by Edinburgh Rugby professional Cammy Fenton, as well as Finlay Simpson, who is promoted after impressing for the 2nd XV last week. Rory Hutton returns to the starting team in place of Angus Guthrie.
Boroughmuir: Full-back Craig Gossman and winger Rory Arthur return from injury, alongside scrum-half Tom Wilson, who survived his comeback out in Dubai. In the forwards, Stuart Smith comes in for the unavailable Tom Drennan in the engine-room, and Senitiki Nayalo is released by Edinburgh to play at blindside. Rory Drummond will look to make an impact off the bench after returning from injury
KEY BATTLE: Rory Hutton versus Jordan Edmunds
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We were pleased with aspects of our performance last week at The Greenyards but it was ultimately a case of close but no cigar. This week we have the massive challenge of Boroughmuir, who have been improving all the time. An impressive display against Melrose in the Cup was followed up with a comprehensive victory last weekend in which they showed their line-out strength and some nifty finishing in behind. With the past players’ Christmas lunch at Myreside scheduled, it is sure to be a busy day …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
“After showing a bit of consistency in the league over the last three games, this is a real test for us. Watsonians will want to bounce back after their defeat last week at Melrose. Local derbies are always fun and should get the best out of both sets of players …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
VERDICT: A great game when these two close neighbours met at Meggetland in September with Darcy Graham’s exuberance and Lee Millar’s goalkicking being the difference between the sides.
No Darcy Graham for Watsonians this week but Lee Millar is still there and Rory Hutton is back in the starting line-up. Still no Charlie McKill up-front but Jack Stanley and Jamie Hodgson should bring much needed stability.
Boroughmuir are undoubtedly on an upwards trajectory – but they have still to keep it all together for the full 80 minutes. Tom Wilson is finally back in harness and should make a difference – with Rory Drummond offering some serious grunt from the bench. Jordan Edmunds was oustanding in the centre last week – but he will be seriously tested by Rory Hutton.
On paper, Watsonians look just to have the edge – and they have Lee Millar kicking their goals.
Narrow home win.
AYR v HERIOT’S
VENUE: Millbrae @ 3.00pm
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: G Anderson; P Dewhirst, D McCluskey, A Dunbar, K Rowe; F Climo, H Warr; B Paterson, R Smith, S Longwell, A North, L Morrice, D Corbenici, P McCallum©, B Macpherson. Subs: A McGuire, R Sayce, W Van Dijk, S Lyle, P Kelly.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; R McMichael, R Jones, R Kay, C Robertson; S Edwards, A Simmers; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, C Jupp, A Sinclair, I Wilson©, J McLean, R Leishman. Subs: A Johnstone, J Scott, M Hughes, C Marshall, D Steele.
Ayr: Ben Paterson makes his first start for the 1st XV this season after impressing in training and with the 2nd XV; Alfie North also gets a start after making an impact off the bench last week, which allows David Corbenici to move to six for the injured Tommy Spinks. Scotland and Glasgow Warriors star Alex Dunbar is in the centre, with fellow pro Paddy Kelly providing cover from the bench.
Heriot’s: Robert Kay and Charlie Simpson retrun to the back-line, while captain Iain Wilson returns to the back-row, with Cameron Lineen, Scott King and Struan Dewar missing out as a consequence. Young Charlie Jupp keeps Callum Marshall on the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Alex Dunbar versus Rob Kay
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Heriot’s are in good form, putting width on the ball – but they also have a pack that can keep it tight if needed. Certain parts of our game were not good enough last week against Stirling but credit to the players as they kept going to the end to get an important win. We know we will have to be much better this week and the players are determined to put on a performance at home …” – Peter Murchie (Ayr)
“If only I could ask Derek [O’Riordan] to challenge our players’ culture every week, then maybe I could guarantee as strong a start as we had last weekend. However, I am hoping the challenge of the league leaders will focus the minds quickly enough to give us the start we need. Millbrae is never easy, and with Ayr looking as if they have more to offer than their recent performances have suggested, it looks like it will be a tough afternoon, though one I am sure the players are relishing. Add to that the opportunity to play against a recent Autumn Test internationalist in Alex Dunbar, and we know there will be no opportunity to switch off …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
VERDICT: The game of the round – and one which neither club can afford to lose. Still no pros for Heriots – but on paper they have the depth to accommodate this disadvantage – so long as they get their heads into gear, as they did last week against Edinburgh Accies. Having Alex Dunbar has to be a big plus for Ayr – which should help them bounce back from the brutal defeat at Currie and their lacklustre performance against Stirling.
Heriots could spring a surprise but home advantage, strength of purpose and Frazier Climo will probably see Ayr through. Home win.