THERE is plenty of daylight between the two frontrunners in the league and the chasing pack as the second half of the season gets under way this weekend, but even Marr and Currie Chieftains will not feel out of reach. Both won comfortably at home last week, and are back at their own venues this weekend against two teams populating the bottom half of the table – but both Jed-Forest and GHA have shown in flashes during this campaign that they can be very dangerous when they find their groove.
Elsewhere, Edinburgh Accies and Aberdeen Grammar will both be desperate to bounce back after disappointing performances and results last week when they clash at Newfield, Hawick will look to build on their recent big Border derby win over Jed when they welcome bottom of the table Musselburgh to Mansfield Park, and Glasgow Hawks also feel they have a bit of momentum going now so will want to back that up against Selkirk.
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HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
EDINBURGH ACCIES v ABERDEEN GRAMMAR
Venue: Newfield @ 2pm
Edinburgh Accies: W Stephen; J Paterson, R Campbell, N Armstrong, R Wilson; J Loomes, M Sinclair; D Anderson, S Crombie, C Lamberton, A Inwood, D Dinnan, P O’Sullivan, J Sole©, J Bruce. Subs: R Gregor, C Lacour, C Bain, M Love, R Mill.
Aberdeen Grammar: S Mills; C Shepherd, M Mitchell, T Aplin, D Russell; S Knudson©, T Morrison; C Reddish, A Cook, M Schosser, R Cessford, W Alton, B Inglis, J Spence, N Coe. Subs: R Anderson, T Ryan, C Robertson, J Troup, A Ovestone.
TEAM NEWS –
Edinburgh Accies: Jack Paterson returns from injury to make his first appearance of the season on the wing, as one of five changes across the backline, which also sees Jamie Loomes reverting from full-back to his regular stand-off role and Ruairi Campbell switching from No 8 to outside centre. In the pack, Cole Lamberton swaps in to tight-head from the bench, with Clement Lacour heading in the opposite direction, while Jack Bruce takes over the eight jersey.
Aberdeen Grammar: The return of Robin Cessford in the second-row, Andrew Cook at hooker and Murray Mitchell at outside centre should provide a bit more steel after last week’s heavy defeat, but the continued absence of Nathan Brown deprives the team of one of the league’s most potent finishers.
KEY BATTLE: Ruairi Campbell versus Murray Mitchell
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We are delighted to be back at New Field this week and grateful to the Edinburgh Academy for accommodating us. We have made a few changes this week, rewarding performances off the bench and at training …” – Iain Berthinussen (Edinburgh Accies)
“Edinburgh Accies will be a tough game for us as we know they’ve improved since the start of the season. With the weather conditions looking the way they are it could be that defence is key on Saturday. Our recent away form hasn’t been great but the lads have shown great attitude at training this week to try and fix some system errors from the weekend …” – Ali O’Connor (Aberdeen Grammar)
VERDICT: Accies have reacted decisively to last week’s disappointing showing against Hawks – and look forward to what will be their first home league game of the season – though the advantage may be somewhat diluted by its being played at Newfield rather than Raeburn Place.
Aberdeen have had a tough run over the past three weeks– with big defeats at the hands Chieftains, Hawick and Marr – but are bolstered by the return of three important players – though, away from Rubislaw, that may not be enough to turn the tide.
Narrow home win.
GLASGOW HAWKS v SELKIRK
Venue: Balgray @ 2pm
Glasgow Hawks: C Holborn; K Gossman, E Oag, M Stewart, M Priestly; L Brims, P Boyer; G Strain, A Cooper, E Rintoul, A Kirkland, L Archer, S Leckey©, F Christie, R Sweeney. Subs: G Armstrong, P Henderson, C Harrison, N Moffat, Y Alagilly.
TEAM NEWS –
Glasgow Hawks: In the pack, Angus Cooper from Glasgow University provides a helping hand at hooker, Ewan Rintoul is give a start at tight head after impressing off the bench last week and Gary Strain shifts across to loose-head. Rory Jackson and Gregor Brown, who impressed in the second-row last week after being released from Super6 are at a Scotland Under-19 camp, so Lyall Archer shifts from front to middle-row where he teams up with the available again Andrew Kirkland. Behind the scrum, Matthew Stewart come in to partner Erlend Oag in the centre while Connor Holborn gets his first start of the season at full-back.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“It was great to get back to winning ways last week but any team can win a one-off game. The mark of a good team is being able to put together back-to-back winning performances and we have yet to do that this season, so that is the challenge facing our lads this weekend …” – Andy Hill (Glasgow Hawks)
VERDICT: It has felt over the past couple of weeks as though Hawks have turned a corner – but this is a big game for them in term of their play-off aspirations. Home advantage will help – and Andrew Kirkland’s return is a big plus – but much will depend on how Angus Cooper (conscripted from Glasgow University at hooker) shapes up.
Narrow home win.
MARR v JED-FOREST
Venue: Fullarton Park @ 2pm
Marr: G Montgomery; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff©, R Dalgleish; C Sturgeon, J Preston; W Farquhar, O Rossi, C Henderson, E Hamilton-Bulger, F Grant, M Pearce, R Brown, B Grant. Subs: A Muir, B Sweet, C Cunningham, G Ness, J Scott.
Jed-Forest: L Young; C Young, Gregor Young©, R Marshall, G Munro; R Yourston, N Stingl; G Paxton, F Scott, T Jeffrey, D Tjombie, G Law, B Sexton, J McGough, Garry Young. Subs: F Campbell, A Keeler, H Meadows, E Lauder, M Mitchell.
TEAM NEWS –
Marr: Richard Dalgleish returns on the wing with Jack Scott dropping to the bench in the only change to the starting XV. Gregor Ness comes back into the squad on the bench.
Jed-Forest: Jye McGough shifts from scrum-half last week to open-side flanker this week, while the return of Gregor Law to the second-row is a big boost for a tough trip to take on the league leaders.
KEY BATTLE: Benedict Grant versus Garry Young
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“After a good performance last week against Aberdeen we have been working on a few things this week to keep on improving. Jed-Forest will be disappointed with the result last week against Hawick. This will make them more determined to perform well and return to winning ways against Marr. We will have to be at our best as the Jed backline can create and score tries from any position on the pitch …” – Craig Redpath (Marr)
“This will obviously be another big game for us. Fullarton is always a tough place to go and a place where we have had good competitive games in the past. Our focus this week is to go out and put in a good performance and continue to improve over the next few weeks when we have some tough fixtures. Marr have some talented players and I’m sure they will challenge us this weekend. Our lads have played some good rugby this year and we need to remind our selves of that going into this game …” – Gav Kerr (Jed-Forest)
VERDICT: Poor stuff from Jed at Mansfield last week – but on their day -–even on short supplies – so long as they can keep 15 men on the pitch for the full 80 minutes – they can be a match for any team in the league. Marr at Marr is however a very tough mission.
HAWICK v MUSSELBURGH
Venue: Mansfield Park @ 3pm
Hawick: K Ford; L Ferguson, W Griebenow, A Mitchell, L Gordon-Woolley; A Weir, G Welsh; S Muir©, C Renwick, D Johnstone, D Suddon, S Fairbairn J Linton, S Graham, B McNeil. Subs: M Carryer, R Toogood, R Macleod G Welsh, M Bannerman.
Musselburgh: J Ferguson; S Watt, R Smith, P Cunningham, G Tait; F Roddick, D Owenson; C Owenson, J Crain, C Arthur, W Fleming, C Pryde, M Maltman©, M Outram, P Brown. Subs: T Ralls, E Bonthron, J Haynes, G McKinstry, J Doig.
TEAM NEWS –
Hawick: With Craig Greer and Adam Piotrowski in Switzerland on international duty with Poland, the return of club captain Shawn Muir from injury is a timely boost, and Bruce McNeil regains the No 8 jersey so that Sean Fairbairn can shift up to the second-row. Matty Carryer is replaced by Callum Renwick at hooker, and Ruaridh Macleod is on the bench after picking up man-of-the-match for the Force last weekend. The backline is unchanged.
Musselburgh: Scrum-half Aidan Reddick’s injury prompts a backline reshuffle, with Danny Owenson shifting from 10 into 9, and Freddie Roddick moving forward from full-back to stand-off. Paul Cunningham gets a chance at 12 and James Ferguson returns to the side after a couple of strong performances in the 2nd XV. In the pack, Jonny Crain starts at hooker and Max Outram at open-side.
KEY BATTLE: Jae Linton versus Michael Maltman
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Musselburgh are a very good side and we will not be taking anything for granted. They had a tough day up at Malleny last week but we are very aware of how tough a place that is to go. We are starting to play as a team now and I want to see that again this week along with a repeat of the excellent discipline that we showed against a feisty Jed side …” – George Graham (Hawick)
“A tough game last week against Currie and it will be similarly as hard this week at Hawick but our guys are still looking to go out and put in a more complete performance than we have shown in a lot of the games. We have the ability to score but need to tighten up on our game management, as well as deal better physically and mentally with the challenges of the Premiership, which I know we can do. We have selected a side which I know could go out and get a result at Mansfield but our mindset must be right otherwise it will be another tough afternoon …” – Graeme Paterson (Musselburgh)
VERDICT: After their handsome win against GHA a fortnight ago, it was ‘roosters and feather dusters’ for Musselburgh at Malleny last week, and it is not going to be any easier at Mansfield.
The absence of Hawick’s Polish internationalists is well compensated by the return of their inspirational captain Shawn Muir – and the way the fixtures lie, they will be looking at this game as a real chance to nail their colours to the mast of one of the play-off slots.
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v GHA
Venue: Malleny Park @ 3pm
Currie Chieftains: F Sayers; C Meager, S Hamilton, A Hall, A MacLean; G Hunter, G Christie; G Carson, R Vucango, C Ramsay, S Edwards, M Vernel, H Ferguson, W Nelson, R Davies. Subs: R Patterson, M Argiro, M Poole, M Currie, J McCaig.
GHA: G Mollison; J Edgar, C Lonergan, A Hughes, A Scott; J MacKinnon, A Gillman; T Brogan, H Clark, M Fox, A Barnett, J McCarthy©, A Kerr, M Ryan, L McCutcheon. Subs: L Barron, S Carson, M Marinkovic, G Baird, J Anderson.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: Fergus Scott is out so Roy Vucango moves from the back-two into his favoured hooker position, while Cairn Ramsay and Sam Edwards get a chance to start as reward for their recent performances off the bench.
GHA: James Edgar gets his first start of the season on the wing with Charlie Lonergan returning from injury at centre, which moves Grant Mollison to full-back and Andrew Gillman to scrum-half. Adam Kerr returns to the pack after being unavailable last weekend.
KEY BATTLE: Gregor Christie versus Andrew Gillman
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We were excellent in parts last week but we know we can always improve. Tuesday’s session was disrupted by frost, however the boys worked hard in the gym and completed some extra analysis. It’s great to be at home two weeks in a row and we are looking forward to hosting GHA, who play with lots of ambition and have some very dangerous backs when given space. This is matched with a strong pack who scrummaged particularly well last week so we know we will be in for a tough match …” – Mark Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“The last three Premiership results for us have been disappointing and we know we are a better than that. Boys have been working hard and hopefully we can turn a corner this weekend with a tough game away to Currie. They are playing well and we will need to be at our best to win this game and not give them a healthy start like we did in our fixture at the start of the season. ‘Work-Rate, Effort & Belief’ are key this weekend. …” – Trevor Carmichael (GHA)
VERDICT: A neutral’s pick for the game to watch this weekend. GHA play good rugby – but too often it just does not to happen for them – and the scoreboard regularly fails to accurately reflect their efforts. It will help if Charlie Lonergan actually gets on the park this week – but Chieftains are a class act – with their sights firmly set on their showdown with Marr on 14th December – and are not likely to slip up – particularly at Malleny.