Tennent’s Premiership: Round 17 preview – runners, riders and verdict

The big one is at The Greenyards where champions Melrose's hopes of a home play-off are on the line against a resurgent Currie Chieftains

Melrose v Currie Chieftains
Melrose host Currie Chieftains this Saturday in a crucial play-off clash. Image: Fraser Gaffney

AYR will secure top place finish in the Premiership table for the regular season with a game to spare if they pick up a bonus point win this weekend and second placed Melrose get anything less than a full complement of five points. The league leaders are at home to Glasgow Hawks and must be well fancied to keep up their side of the bargain, while Melrose have it all to do when they host third placed Currie Chieftains at The Greenyards.

In fact, rather than looking upwards at the long shot of securing a top place finish, Rob Chrystie’s men will be more concerned about what is coming at them from below. Chieftains have built up a fair head of steam during this run-in towards the end of the campaign and are now just three points behind, meaning they will be buoyed further by the knowledge that their destiny, so far as that coveted second-place finish is concerned, is in their own hands.

To add further spice to the mix, Heriot’s are also still very much in the hunt, being just one point further back and with a much better points differential, so they will be determined to get a maximum haul from their home clash against capital rivals Boroughmuir, knowing that if they do that and Chieftains beat Melrose without securing a bonus point then all of a sudden they are in the driving seat for a home play-off.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh Accies have promised to throw the shackles off when they host Watsonians, and the visitors will want to make a point of their own, so an entertaining fixture is on the cards at Raeburn Place. Similarly, Stirling County will be keen to pick up against Hawick from where they left off against Boroughmuir last week, while their guests will be desperate to get something positive out of the game after a couple of heavy defeats since the resumption of hostilities in the New Year, so Bridgehaugh could be pretty tasty as well.

HOW IT STANDS –

THE LOWDOWN –

EDINBURGH ACCIES v WATSONIANS

VENUE: Raeburn Place @ 2.00pm

TEAMS –

Edinburgh Accies: H Paterson; C Gray, R Kent, N Armstrong, R Chalmers; V Hart, R Davis; C Imrie, C Black, M McGinley, R Seydak, M Badenhorst, C Thomson, R Simpson, J Sole©. Subs: R Jackson, C Taylor, T Welding, M Sinclair, R Mill.

Watsonians: J Rowland; R Steele, A Chalmers, A Guthrie, C Henderson; L Millar©, M Scott; G Jackson, F Renwick, D Ferguson, C McKill, F Simpson, G Nelson, R Graham, M Fedo. Subs: F Hobbis, K Watt, H Fisher, A Harris, E Fox.

TEAM NEWS –

Edinburgh Accies: Rory Jackson and Chris Thomson get the chance of some game time due to the absence of Jack Mann, who is off with Scotland Under-20s. Another exciting  prospect in Robbie Davis returns from injury at scrum-half and will be desperate to prove that he is back up to pace in the hope of pushing his way into contention for the later games in the U20 Six Nations. Robbie Chalmers returns from injury on the wing.

Watsonians: Connor Boyle is with Scotland Under-20s so Ross Graham moves to open-side flanker and Fraser Renwick starts at hooker. Rory Hutton drops out through injury which prompts a reshuffle of the backline and a first start for exciting prospect Corann Henderson on the wing. Kieran Watt and Ali Harris come onto the bench.

KEY BATTLE: Harry Paterson versus Josh Rowland

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“We can take a sigh of relief from the news that there will be no relegation. Our aspirations of building a squad and a system that can go and win the championship in its first year is still on track and we can now go out and enjoy the last two games free from the burden of the permutations of chasing evasive league points. Turning toward Watsonians at the weekend, there is no doubting the dangers they possess across the park and in particular in their backfield. An Accies side free from the contraints and pressures of relegation, however, is a different beast.  We can go out with the shackles off, go back to what we are about, and play the way we did prior to the unnecessary and negative pressures placed on us earlier in the season through the ambiguous process of transitioning to Agenda 3 …” – Derek O’Riordan (Edinburgh Access)

“A disappointing result on Saturday that leaves us requiring maximum points from this weekend’s fixture to stand any realistic chance of qualifying for the play-offs. Edinburgh Accies also require maximum points for different reasons so this should make for an exciting game! …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)

VERDICT:  The pressure appears to be off Accies and optimism for next season abounds, but they still have two very tough games to get through this season against two very strong opponents. First up is Watsonians, whose play-off chances may be all but gone – but who will be anxious to see (possibly leaving) Stevie Lawrie off with a flourish.

Comfortable away win.

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HERIOT’S v BOROUGHMUIR

VENUE: Goldenacre @ 2.00pm

TEAMS –

Heriot’s: C Simpson; J Rae, R Jones, R Kay, S King; 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, A Simmers.

Boroughmuir: C Gossman; K Gossman, G Parker, G Cannie, J Edmunds; C Laidlaw, T Wilson; R Dunbar, J Matthews©, T Gracie, W Inglis, S Smith, A Mncube, M Walker, C Keddie. Subs: C McDevitt, R Montgomery, T Drennan, M Johnstone, R Arthur.

TEAM NEWS – 

Heriot’s: A settled look to the squad with only the wingers – Rory McMichael on Under-20’s duty and Craig Robertson on rugby league duty – changing from after last weekend’s victory over Melrose, meaning Scott King starts and John Rae comes into the squad for the first time this season, Andrew Simmers returns from injury onto the bench.

Boroughmuir: Dale Robertson, Callum Aitkinson, Rory Drummond and Willie Wardlaw are injured.  Thomas Gracie starts at tight-head with Ryan Montgomery dropping to the bench, Stuart Smith starts comes onto the second-row and Aubrey Mncube joins the back-row at blindside flanker with Craig Keddie moving to No 8. Gavin Parker joins the backline at outside-centre, and Kerr Gossman is back on the wing. Fit again Rory Arthur is on the bench.

KEY BATTLE: Iain Wilson versus Aubrey Mncube

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“It will be important that we continue last week’s good form by starting well and not allowing a dangerous Boroughmuir side an early foothold. They arrive with Peter probably making things pretty black and white regarding what he considers acceptable and unacceptable, after last week’s disappointing performance. Despite the win at The Greenyards, the players recognise there are still a couple of areas we need to be better at and for longer periods. This has meant a constructive week of training that we hope will give us greater opportunities to perform. With this being our final home league fixture, we hope to see the Goldie faithful down for their final derby of the season …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)

“Disappointing performance last week against Stirling – training has been difficult with the weather – hopefully it will be kind on Saturday – Heriot’s have been going well this season so we have not underestimated the task …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)

VERDICT: ​It has been a tough week for Boroughmuir – and their injury list exacerbates the prospect of it not getting any better. Heriot’s were on fire at The Greenyards last week – and they need a big score to stay in the hunt for home advantage in the play-offs.

Comfortable home win.

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MELROSE v CURRIE CHIEFTAINS

VENUE: The Greenyards @ 2.00pm

TEAMS –

Melrose: F Thomson; G Wood, P Anderson, C Jackson, M Muelace-Julyan; S Hutchison, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Ferguson, C Young, A Runciman, I Moody, N Irvine-Hess, R Knott, G Runciman©. Subs: B McLean, C Crookshanks, C Wilde, D Colvine, A Jardine.

Currie Chieftains: J Forbes; B Robbins, J Reynolds, R Nelson©, S Hamilton; G Hunter, C Davies; M Argiro, F Scott©, F Watt, V Wright, K McDonald, M Vernel, T Gordon, S McGinley. Subs: G Carson, A McWilliam, M Kelly, R Davies, M Hooks.

TEAM NEWS –

Melrose: The only change to the starting XV is South African Michael Muelace-Julyan replacing the injured Ian Sim on the left wing. Ben McLean is added to the bench after impressing for the 2nd XV (Storm) and in training

Currie Chieftains: Roan Frostwick is on Scotland Under-20s duty so Chris Davies starts at scrum-half. The only other change to a settled team is AP McWilliam coming back onto the bench to replace Reece Patterson who is getting an opportunity to rest an on-going shoulder injury. Thomas Gordon is on the bench for Glasgow Warriors for the first time in a competitive match tonight so his involvement in this crucial play-off clash will depend on how much game time he gets against the Ospreys.

KEY BATTLE: Craig Jackson versus Robbie Nelson

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“Chieftains are at the top of their game and are sure to be full of confidence. They seem to have a settled squad that has strength throughout and are very well organised. We have worked hard this week and if we are to get the desired result it will be crucial we take our chances …” – Rob Chrystie  (Melrose)

“We are relishing the challenge of going to The Greenyards, knowing that a win will give us a great chance of a play-off semi-final at Malleny. The Chieftains has endured a lot this season and it’s testament to the club and players that we have continued to improve. We are a very close-knit group and we will require a complete performance against a Melrose team who we expect to come out the blocks firing after last weekend’s defeat to Heriots …” – Mark Cairns (Melrose)

VERDICT: The match of the day – with a home play-off slot very much on the line. Fraser Thomson has been passed fit for Melrose – but Russell Anderson, James Head and Rory Darge are all missing up-front. Thomas Gordon is a big player for Chieftains – so they will be watching the Glasgow v Ospreys game with more than passing interest. But, the bottom line is that Malleny men are buzzing just now – and Melrose are not.

Away win.

STIRLING COUNTY v HAWICK

VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 2.30pm

TEAMS –

Stirling County: J Hope; L Trotter, E Macgarvie, C Robertson, B Sorbie; A Goudie, P Jericevich; G Holborn, A Orr, A Nicol, S Yarrow,  L Bruinsma, G Arnott, H Burr©, A Mackie. Subs: B Robertson, A Wood, A Rutherord, R Swan, C Dineen.

Hawick: A Weir; L Ferguson, A Mitchell, G Walker, L Gordon-Wooley; L Armstrong, G Welsh, S Muir©, C Renwick, N Little, D Lowrie, D Redpath, J Linton, S Graham, B McNeil. Subs: M Carryer, D Johnstone, D Suddon, D Davison, K Davies.

TEAM NEWS –

Stirling County: Gary Holborn, Stef Yarrow and Louis Bruinsma replace Scotland Under-20s squad members Murphy Walker, Cammy Henderson and Ross Bundy. Bruce Sorbie comes in for Glasgow pro Ratu Tagive. Adam Wood, Ruaridh Swan and Andrew Rutherford join the bench after strong recent performances for the 2nd XV (Wolves), while Colin Turnbull heads in the opposite direction to get some game time

Hawick: Jae Linton is rewarded for his impact off the bench against Ayr with a starting slot this week. Teenager Andrew Mitchell returns from a minor injury to the midfield so Keith Davies returns to the bench

KEY BATTLE: Hamilton Burr versus Stuart Graham

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“We played well at Meggetland last week scoring some excellent team tries. The performance showed the quality in the side and it was great to get another away win. It’s our last home game of the season and a different test. I expect nothing less than a fully committed 80 minute effort which will be needed to match a hungry Hawick side who outplayed us at Mansfield earlier in the season …” – Eddie Pollock (Stirling County)

“Tough shift again last week against an impressive Ayr team. This week we travel to Bridgehaugh to face a buoyant Stirling side who looked very physical  against a decent Boroughmuir side last time out. We have two games remaining in the league and we need to get back on track to where we were pre-Christmas. Stirling will be looking to make amends for their defeat at Mansfield back in November … ” – George Graham (Hawick)

VERDICT: George Graham returns to his old stomping ground with his Hawick side under the cosh. They played with more conviction against Ayr than they had against Edinburgh Accies – but they still have some way to go. Andrew Mitchell’s return in the centre will help – but to have any chance against Stirling they will need to scrummage and kick a lot better than they have been doing of late. Stirling played outstandingly well against Boroughmuir – and though they have been hard hit by call-ups for the U20 Six Nations, they still look strong enough to do the business here.

Home win.

 

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AYR v GLASGOW HAWKS

VENUE: Millbrae @ 3.00pm

TEAMS –

Ayr: G Anderson; P Dewhirst, P Kelly, D McCluskey, J Bova; F Climo, H Warr; R Sayce, A McGuire, S Longwell, A North, L Morrice, T Spinks, P McCallum©, B Macpherson. Subs: S Collier, B Paterson, D Corbenici A Rademaker, J Pinkerton.

Glasgow Hawks: S Peffers; J Couper, M New, L Masaga, G Faulds; L Brims, K Barreto; G Strain©, P Cairncross, L Skinner, F Hastie, A Kirkland, C Thompson, S Dow,  S Leckey. Subs: A Nimmo D York, G Wilson, P Boyer, C Symes.

TEAM NEWS –

Ayr: Alex McGuire replaces the injured Pat MacArthur at hooker, and Jamie Bova comes onto the wing for Rory Hughes, who is back on Glasgow Warriors duty. Stuart Collier and James Pinkerton are rewarded for their form this season in the 2nd XV with spots on the bench. Euan Mclaren and Ollie Smith are away with Scotland Under-20s.

Glasgow Hawks: Ross Thompson and Angus Fraser are away with Scotland Under 20s, so Scott Peffers and Paul Cairncross come into start at full-back and hooker, respectively. Prop Andrew Nimmo is also in the Under-20s squad which was named yesterday ahead of the Six Nations, but is in need of game time after a lengthy lay-off so is on the bench.

KEY BATTLE: Harry Warr versus Kaleem Barreto

WHAT THE COACHES SAY –

“Hawks have been playing some good rugby of late and we will have to be switched on to the threats they pose. With this being our last regular season home fixture and a local derby, we hope to have a good crowd, and the players will be looking to put in the performance we need to get a result …” – Pete Murchie (Ayr)

“A good result last week against a determined Accies side who were relentless and never gave up, We have watched the game and we know that if we play with 14 men for 60 minutes against Ayr we will not be so fortunate with the result. As ever, Ayr look strong in every facet of the game and they do not give their opposition many chances to score, so what few chances we may get we are going to have to be extremely accurate with, and convert any slight opportunities into points. We still have a lot to play for and there will be absolutely no complacency in the continued fight for Premiership rugby next year  …” – Fin Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)

VERDICT: Any way you look at it, it is very difficult to see Hawks getting any change out of Ayr at Millbrae.

Comfortable home win.


Watsonians coach Steve Lawrie in line to replace Roddy Grant at Edinburgh

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