GAVIN MCCOLL, QC, the independent chair of the Scottish Rugby Council Standing Committee on Governance, presented his conclusions/recommendations to the Council last night following his review of the domestic league format, with the thorny issue of whether or not there will be relegation from the Premiership at the end of this season one of the key areas he was asked to address.
The Council will now make their recommendation to the SRU Board next Thursday, after which the wider club game will hopefully get some much-needed clarity on what the future is going to look like [pending an approval of a general meeting of the clubs], although that is not likely to happen until the Premiership clubs have played their penultimate league match next Saturday.
In the meantime, Edinburgh Accies, Glasgow Hawks and Hawick must battle on assuming that relegation is back on the table, which makes this afternoon’s meeting between the first two of those teams at Balgray a huge clash.
Edinburgh v Montpellier: ‘We’re good enough to go and do it’ – Richard Cockerill
Saracens v Glasgow Warriors: ‘We won’t change our approach for anyone’ – Ryan Wilson
Tennent’s Premiership Leaderboard – after round 15
Tennent’s Premiership Dream Team – round 15
Accies are seven points adrift of Hawks at the bottom of the table but are on a high after picking up their first win of the season over Hawick last week. This is a must-win game for the Raeburn Place men if they are to have any chance of climbing out of the basement before the end of the campaign, so they are certain to throw the kitchen-sink at it. But Hawks have shown a bit more steel since Christmas with two plucky performances against play-off contenders Currie Chieftains and Watsonians, so will be battle-hardened and up for the fight. It should be fascinating.
Top of the table, Ayr make the long trip to Hawick for a match which they should have the firepower to win fairly comfortably, but they will be mindful of the fact that the Greens are a very different beast at home compared to their pussycats we so often see on the road. They also need points to ensure they are not sucked into the bottom two, so this will be an almighty scrap and a real test of the away team’s stomach for the fight.
There are a couple of intriguing contests at the top of the table with four of the five play-off contenders facing each other.
Last season’s champions Melrose have a bit of breathing space in second spot, but fourth placed Heriot’s could rein them back in if they get a result at The Greenyards, to make the final few rounds very tense. Conversely, if Heriot’s lose, they could very well end up outside the play-off placings and relying on other teams doing them a favour during the run-in.
Meanwhile, third placed Currie Chieftains visit fifth placed Watsonians, and with only two points separating those west Edinburgh rivals, there is an awful lot at stake.
Finally, Boroughmuir host Stirling County with both teams keen to generate some momentum ahead of the launch of Super 6 next Autumn, as we draw towards the end of this final Premiership campaign in which they have both sparkled at points but failed to demonstrate the sort of consistency to be genuine play-off contenders.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
MELROSE v HERIOT’S
VENUE: The Greenyards @ 2.00pm
Melrose: F Thomson; G Wood, P Anderson, C Jackson, I Sim; S Hutchison, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Ferguson, C Young, A Runciman, I Moody, N Irvine-Hess, R Knott, G Runciman©. Subs: F Scott, C Crookshanks, C Wilde, D Colvine, M Muelace-Julyan.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; R McMichael, R Jones, R Kay, C Robertson; S Edwards, A Ball; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, R Leishman, C Marshall, I Wilson©, J McLean, S Dewar. Subs: A Johnstone, J Scott, A Sinclair, J Hill, S King.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: Ruaridh Knott, who had his own knee injury earlier in the season, comes into the starting XV for Rory Darge who was hurt against Stirling last week. Angus Runciman replaces James Head – who picked up a red card last week – in the middle-row. South African flyer Michael Muelace-Julyanjoins the bench.
Heriot’s: Andrew Simmers drops out through injury, Adam Sinclair drops to the bench, so Alex Ball and Struan Dewar join the starting XV with Ruaridh Leishman shifting from number eight to the middle-row. Charlie Jupp is also injured, so Jason Hill makes his long-awaited comeback on the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Iain Moody versus Callum Marshall
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“There is no doubt that this weekend’s fixture against Heriot’s is going to be a cracker. Heriot’s have assembled an extremely strong squad this year and have the ability to dominate teams physically. We are excited to be back home at the Greenyard’s for this challenging fixture and are determined to put in a performance that we can all be proud of …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
“Last week’s disappointment [against Currie Chieftains] has been tempered by the knowledge that we were only beaten by a fantastic piece of skill under pressure by Gregor Hunter. Looking forward to this weekend’s fixture with Melrose, we aim to be a bit more alert with our attack and make sure we don’t turn over ball as easily. With both teams working hard to get a play-off spot, it will undoubtedly be a tense affair, maybe one for the purists…” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
VERDICT: Neither club hit top gear last week. Heriots’ ball retention was poor against Chieftains – and they shot themselves in the foot catastrophically in injury time. Phil Smith chose to look at the bigger picture – and suggest that any damage done was marginal. We shall see!
There was not much life about Melrose at Stirling even before they lost James Head to a red card – but they dogged it out.
Nothing in it on paper – but home advantage might shade it Melrose’s way.
Narrow home win.
GLASGOW HAWKS v EDINBURGH ACCIES
VENUE: Balgray @ 2.00pm
Glasgow Hawks: R Thompson; J Couper, M New, L Masaga, E Oag; L Brims, K Baretto; G Strain©, A Fraser, L Skinner, F Hastie, A Kirkland, C Thompson, S Leckey, G Adams. Subs: P Cairncross, D York, S Dow, P Boyer, G Faulds.
Edinburgh Accies: H Paterson; C Gray, R Kent, N Armstrong, J Pecqueur; V Hart, M Love; C Imrie, R Simpson, M McGinley, R Seydak, M Badenhorst, J Mann, N Stephen, J Sole©. Subs: C Black, C Taylor, A Inwood, M Sinclair, R Mill.
TEAM NEWS –
Glasgow Hawks: Erland Oag replaces Jack McCready on the wing, Ross Thompson comes in to start at full-back for Scott Peffers, Gary Adams and Stephen Leckey replaced Glasgow Warriors pros Bruce Flockhart and Matt Smith, and Struan Dow, Dan York and Glen Faulds all join the bench.
Edinburgh Accies: The only change to team which picked up that big win over Hawick last week is on the wing where Josh Pecqueur comes in to replace Edinburgh pro Tom Brown, who is not released in the draft this week.
KEY BATTLE: Mark New versus Robbie Kent
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“This is as big as it gets for both teams and Accies certainly have some wind in their sales after a very impressive performance and victory against Hawick last weekend. There is no hiding from the enormity of this game for both teams and we know that for the loser it could very much look like either straight relegation or the play-off spot. We have prepared really well this week, nobody has shied away from the task at hand and we are all trying to do all the little extra bits that put us in the best place for a performance on Saturday. Derek has been very patient with his squad, he has never lost faith in his players, and they repaid him last weekend. I know my boys cannot wait for the challenge this weekend and this should be a hell of a match with two teams desperate to perform as we are both running out of chances to secure top flight rugby next year …” – Fin Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
“This week throws up a completely different challenge for us, but our focus will be about delivering consistency with the aim of doubling up and going back-to-back. This will not be easy given Fin’s ability to squeeze a lot out of his limited playing resources, coupled with his nous, meaning our approach cannot change to the one we took against Hawick – tons of ticker driven by an unwavering desire to work hard for each-other …” – Derek O’Riordan (Edinburgh Accies)
VERDICT: Crunch time at Balgray. Accies did the business on Hawick last week – a flash in the pan or the real deal? Hawks have tightened up their act since Christmas – but a couple of losing bonus points were there for the taking at Myreside on Saturday – and, true to past form, they blew it.
Difficult to call – but Accies must have taken a huge psychological fillip from breaking their duck.
Narrow away win.
HAWICK v AYR
VENUE: Mansfield Park @ 2.00pm
Hawick: A Weir; L Ferguson, K Davies, G Walker, L Gordon-Wooley; L Armstrong, G Welsh, S Muir©, C Renwick, N Little, D Lowrie, D Redpath, S Graham, D Davison, B McNeil. Subs: M Carryer, D Johnstone, D Suddon, J Linton, K Ford.
Ayr: G Anderson; P Dewhirst, P Kelly, D McCluskey, R Hughes; F Climo, H Warr; R Sayce, P MacArthur, S Longwell, A North, L Morrice, T Spinks, P McCallum©, B Macpherson. Subs: A McGuire, E McLaren, D Corbenici A Rademaker, R Nairn.
TEAM NEWS –
Hawick: Callum Renwick gets the nod ahead of Matt Carryer at hooker, Drew Davison returns from injury on the flank so David Lowrie moves to the second-row and Daniel Suddon drops to the bench. Logan Gordon-Wooley will look to spark thigs on the wing after being promoted from the Force (2ndXV), while centre Andrew Mitchell picked up an injury so Keith Davies steps in at centre.
Ayr: No changes to the starting XV after last week’s narrow victory over Boroughmuir, with two alteartions on the bench courtesy of Euan McLaren returning from injury and Robbie Nairn being released by Glasgow Warriors.
KEY BATTLE: Drew Davison versus Pete McCallum
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Last week was disappointing for everyone at the club. That is now in the past and we need to get straight back to how we know we can play. Ayr will pose a massive challenge to us but that’s not a bad thing. We are back at home so we must show our supporters what we can do …” – George Graham (Hawick)
“I am sure that Hawick will be disappointed with the result last week, and there will be a reaction in front of their home crowd. Before that set-back, they had caused a number of teams big problems and picked up some standout results. We know that we will have to be ready for the challenge and perform well to get a result …” – Peter Murchie (Ayr)
VERDICT: Amidst detritus of the humiliating rout at Raeburn Place, George Graham threw down the gauntlet: ‘That is not what I am about but that is the basket case which is Hawick rugby – we are capable of playing like that – but we are also capable of beating the top of the league’. Ravaged pride – at Mansfield – there is no question that Hawick won’t come out fighting – but Ayr, bolstered by three pros, are surely too strong all over the park – and the best Hawick can be looking for is a modicum of restored self respect.
BOROUGHMUIR v STIRLING COUNTY
VENUE: Meggetland@ 3.00pm
Boroughmuir: C Gossman; G Parker, W Wardlaw, G Cannie, J Edmunds; C Laidlaw, T Wilson; D Robertson, J Matthews©, R Montgomery, W Inglis, T Drennan, C Keddie, M Walker, R Drummond. Subs: T Gracie, A Mcnube, S Smith, J Hamilton, K Gossman.
Stirling County: J Hope; L Trotter, E Macgarvie, C Robertson, R Tagive; A Goudie, P Jericevich; M Walker, A Orr, A Nicol, R Bundy, C Henderson, G Arnott, H Burr©, A Mackie. Subs: B Robertson, G Holborn, S Yarrow, C Turnbull, C Dineen.
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmuir: Tom Drennan comes in to the second-row for the injured Callum Atkinson in the only change to last week’s squad.
Stirling County: Glasgow Warriors pro Adam Nicol starts at tight-head with Murphy Walker shifting across to loose-head to replace the injured Remy Chies. The rest of the squad is unchanged.
KEY BATTLE: Will Wardlaw versus Ewan Macgarvie
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Disappointing last week – but training has gone well with a settled squad – so we look forward to the challenge that Stirling will give us. Hopefully the weather doesn’t play a part …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
“Boroughmuir have had a good run of results recently and offer a lot of attacking threats throughout their team along with a well organised, hard-working defence. We will need to put in another strong performance to match last week’s effort against Melrose if we want to take points from what is always a difficult trip to Meggetland.…” – Eddie Pollock (Stirling County)
VERDICT: Both Boroughmuir and Stirling played well last week – but both were disappointed to have come off second best against Ayr and Melrose, respectively. Boroughmuir are a much better balanced side with Chris Laidlaw back on board – and their improved all-round focus could give them a decisive edge. Stirling are young, keen and uninhibited – but they struggle to keep it all together for sustained stretches of play.
WATSONIANS v CURRIE CHIEFTAINS
(for the Bill McLaren Shield)
VENUE: Myreside @ 3.00pm
Watsonians: J Rowland; A Chalmers, R Hutton, A Guthrie, R Steele; L Millar©, M Scott; G Jackson, R Graham, D Ferguson, C McKill, F Simpson, G Nelson, C Boyle, M Fedo. Subs: F Renwick, F Hobbis, H Fisher, E Fox, P Cunningham.
Currie Chieftains: J Forbes; B Robbins, J Reynolds, R Nelson©, S Hamilton; G Hunter,R Frostwick; M Argiro, F Scott©, F Watt, V Wright, K McDonald, M Vernel, T Gordon, S McGinley. Subs: G Carson, R Patterson, M Kelly, R Davies, M Hooks.
TEAM NEWS –
Watsonians: Jack Stanley and Jamie Hodgson are rested ahead of travelling to South Africa with Edinburgh Rugby next week, so Duncan Ferguson gets the nod at tight-head and Finlay Simpson comes in to the second-row following an impressive display for the 2nd XV. Gregor Nelson replaces the injured James Miller, while Harry Fisher is on the bench. The backline is unchanged.
Currie Chieftains: Andrew McWilliam is rested after picking up a knock against Heriot’s last week, so Fraser Watt’s return form injury is timely and Argentinean Matias Sonzogni Argiro shifts across to loose-head. Kiran McDonald is released again after being pulled back by Glasgow last week, and Scott McGinley replaces Tevita Tameilau at number eight. Roan Frostwick gets another chance at scrum-half with Charlie Shiel not being released by Edinburgh.
KEY BATTLE: Josh Rowland versus Jamie Forbes
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Saturday’s match against Currie presents the extremely exciting opportunity to jump into the play-off spots. Mark has his team playing well and showing confidence. We recognise the threats they have and must ensure we play with the upmost competence in order to obtain the required performance. With a full lunch, it should be a busy and exciting day at Myreside …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
“Last weekend’s nail-biting win against Heriot’s has put us in a good league position going into the Watsonians match at Myreside. The big matches just keep coming and we are looking forward to the challenge that Watsonians will present to us on Saturday. It’s going to be really tough and if we are to get a win then we will need to take the form we have shown at home onto the road …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
VERDICT: Two form teams – both desperate for points. Rugby in the raw against Heriot’s at Malleny last week – and Chieftains deep-rooted grit got its just reward with Gregor Hunter’s last gasp drop goal. They will be looking for more of the same against Watsonians – who are now a pretty well organised outfit – but who will miss Jack Stanley at scrum time.
Basically, it will be down to how the big players perform – Josh Rowland, Rory Hutton, Lee Millar, Ross Graham, Connor Boyle and Michael Fedo for Watsonians – Jamie Forbes, Joe Reynolds, Robbie Nelson, Gregor Hunter, Mike Vernel and Thomas Gordon for Chieftains. Oodles of talent – boys who like to play. And with little to choose between them – whichever way it goes – it will be worth watching.
Chieftains won fairly comfortably when they met at Malleny in October – but Watsonians are a much improved team – who have all the bits and pieces and are distinctly mobile up front – which could be a big factor .
Narrow home win.