AFTER last Saturday’s demoralising defeat to Boroughmuir, which stretched their losing streak in the league to six games, Stirling County will welcome the opportunity to switch focus away from the BT Premiership to BT Cup action this weekend – but they could probably have done without the quarter-final draw pitching them against a team from the league below who have already shown their giant-killing credentials this season, and who will arrive at Bridgehaugh with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Edinburgh Accies booked their spot in the last eight by battling back from 3-14 down early in the second half to secure a 29-24 victory over Heriot’s back in November, and they currently lead the way in National League Division One with 16 wins from 16 matches played so far, picking up 15 bonus points along the way.
“We’re winning a lot of games at the moment and Stirling have been losing a lot recently, so I’d imagine there will be a nervousness about taking us on from their point of view,” says Accies head coach Derek O’Riordan. “But they are the Premiership side so they will go into the game as favourites.”
“Stirling are going to be more battle-tested around the physicality element, but one thing which is pretty evident from the way we play at the moment is that the physical battle doesn’t daunt us. The big thing Stirling have in their favour on the back of playing at Premiership level week-in and week-out is a bit more experience and nous about how to close a game out.”
“If you look at our score-lines this year, we are conceding less than 12 points per game on average and scoring in excess of 45 points – we’ve only been in two really tough games in the league this year against Gala and Jed-Forest so we don’t have a whole lot of experience of playing in these types of big games – and that might give County an edge tomorrow, but we’ll go and have a crack, just as we did against Heriot’s.”
“Nobody gave us a chance against Heriot’s especially when we were well behind at the start of the second half, but we knew we were capable of getting a result, and it is the same against Stirling this week – which is an indication of where the squad is mentally. We set a target of a Cup semi-final at the start of the season, and we know we are not going to get to that if we go there and play conservatively – because that is not going to work against a Premiership side.”
O’Riordan stresses that the league remains the primary focus. After finishing second to Marr in National One last year before losing out on promotion to the Premiership through a play-off defeat to Hawick, there is a determination at Raeburn Place to make it to the top flight by the most direct route of finishing top of the table at the end of this regular season.
“I can pinpoint a couple of times last year when we gave up points that we shouldn’t have done, and a lot of that was my responsibility in terms of the way we prepared for big games – and we haven’t made those same mistakes this year,” he says.
“We spent two years prior to this year building depth, so we gave some young guys a shot and this year we brought in guys we knew would be the right fit in Richard Mill, Sam Johnson and the Hirini brothers [Luther and Conor] from New Zealand – who have experience of playing big game rugby – which has helped us quite a bit.”
Accies are currently ten points ahead of Jed at the top of National One, but have played a game more than the Borderers, which means that their trip to Riverside Park on 17th March is a potential league decider.
“That’s still a long way off. We’ve for Gala at home and Selkirk away to get through before playing Jed, so all it takes is to drop a bonus point in one of those games and we’ve gone from front-runners to chasing it,” cautions O’Riordan.
“If we were winning comfortably every week and nobody else was then it would be pretty hard to keep it all going, so the fact the Jed are tracking us every step of the way is pretty good motivation to keep working hard and keep improving.”
“I remember saying after losing to Hawick in the play-off last year that our focus is on improving this year, and the only way to improve is to finish first and go up as champions, so it just gave us a very narrow focus on what the intended outcome of the season is.”
Meanwhile, a fascinating encounter is on the cards at Myreside, with a Boroughmuir team riding high after that emphatic victory over Stirling County (which significantly reduced their relegation concerns) making the short trip across Colinton Road to take on their old rivals Watsonians.
The home side are in pretty good nick at the moment and will start the game as favourites, but the Cup provides an opportunity for teams to play with a little more freedom than they are afforded in the league, and Boroughmuir showed last week how dangerous they can be when they are able to cut loose.
Ayr make the long trip to Hawick, and will pass the Melrose bus travelling the opposite direction to Marr on the way.
THE LOWDOWN –
WATSONIANS v BOROUGHMUIR
VENUE: Myreside @ 2.00pm
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, M Allen, D Innes, R Steele; R Hutton, A Harris; N Fraser, D Miller, N Borel, E Dods, C Borthwick©, R Drummond, G Nelson, M Fedo. Subs: M Christie, F Hobbis, K Watt, J Miller, W Thomson, L MacPherson.
Boroughmuir: G McConnell; M Brown, R Kerr, G Cannie, J Edmunds; C Laidlaw©, J Adams; D Robertson, J Matthews, T Gracie, J Ure, F Field, A Mncube, R Ure, C Keddie. Subs: R Montgomery, D Marek, M Walker, A Nethery, E McKirdy, R Scott, C Whyte.
TEAM NEWS –
Watsonians: Darren Miller starts at hooker in place of Ross Graham, who injured himself training with the Scottish national team this week, and Rory Hutton returns at 10. Martin Christie comes onto the bench and is joined by exciting age-grade prospects Kieran Watt and Lomond MacPherson. Ruairidh Wilson drops out through injury.
Boroughmuir: An unchanged starting fifteen to the side which picked up that big win over Stirling County in the league last week, while Alan Nethery and Ciaran Whyte are added to the bench to make up the 22.
KEY BATTLE: DJ Innes versus Greg Cannie
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“With the carrot of a semi-final spot dangling, we are looking forward to the opportunity of performing in front of a home crowd. There were many lessons to learn from last week and we have worked hard in training this week to improve. Boroughmuir showed exactly what they are capable of last week with a strong performing forward pack and a backline that looked full of running. We know just how tough a challenge we face. It is 2pm KO due to the sold out International Dinner taking place at Myreside on Saturday evening …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
“A wee distraction from the league. After a good performance and win last week versus Stirling, we must look to keep the momentum going against a very in form Watsonians team …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
VERDICT: Brilliant performance by Boroughmuir against Stirling last week – but the form book favours Watsonians – in what should be a cracker of a game.
STIRLING COUNTY v EDINBURGH ACCIES
VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 2.30pm
Stirling County: J Hope©; A McLean, E McGarvie, G Hughes, K Gossman; R Curle, R Swan; R Chies, R Kennedy, G Holborn, S Yarrow, J Pow, H Burr, S Macdonald, R Leishman. Subs: B Gilchrist, A Wood, R Bundy, H Henderson, L Bonar.
Edinburgh Accies: L Hirini; M Couper, R Chalmers, C Hirini, J Pecqueur; R Mill, S Johnson; J Pearse, C Black, C Lacour, R Lovett, R Seydak, A Inwood, R Simpson, R Snape. Substitutes: C Weetman, M McGinley, C Imrie, A Wood, J Bruce, M Love, W Stephen.
TEAM NEWS –
Stirling County: Hooker Reyner Kennedy, second-row Stefan Yarrow, flanker Hamilton Burr, scrum-half Ruairidh Swan and centre Ewan Macgarvie come in to the starting fifteen, while Ross Curle makes his first start at 10 for the club. Ross Bundy joins the replacements after impressing for the second fifteen.
Edinburgh Accies: Much change in the pack, with hooker Callum Black, tight-head prop Clement Lacour and second-row Robert Lovett all returning to the tight five, plus a new look back-row combination of Angus Inwood, Rory Simpson and Robin Snape. Sam Johnson also returns to the starting team at scrum-half and Josh Pecqueur gets the nod on the wing after an impressive display off the bench last week. Tyro props Shaun Gunn and Finlay Richardson are away with the Scotland Under-20 team.
KEY BATTLE: Ruairidh Leishman versus Robin Snape
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Last weekend [against Boroughmuir in the league] was very disappointing, however, poor performances happen and it is key that we learn, become stronger as a team and move on – putting all our efforts into a performance this Saturday that both the team and club can be proud of. Saturday is a great opportunity to make up for last weekend and to progress to the final four of the Cup. We have to believe and back our ability. …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County)
“Respite from the pressure and grind of league rugby is welcomed and with a change of competition comes a change in approach to the game. ‘Shackles off’ is the intent we brought to our Cup match against Heriot’s and the same goes for Saturday’s opposition, who also happen to be a Premiership club. The physicality of our game against Stew-Mel was perfect preparation for this week as there is a recognition that it will be a physical affair. Whatever County decide to throw at us, we will match it. And will embrace the freedom to go out and have a crack, irrespective of what the scoreboard is telling us …” – Derek O’Riordan (Edinburgh Accies)
VERDICT: Stirling have now lost six games on the trot in the league and were blown away by Boroughmuir last week – so Accies, having beaten Heriots in the last round, have cogent grounds for optimism.
MARR v MELROSE
VENUE: Fullarton Park @ 2.30pm
Marr: T Buchanan; S Bickerstaff, R Dalgleish, C Bickerstaff, T Steven; C Kolarik, G Baird; G Jackson, O Rossi, F Watt, K Hatherall, R Miller, M Pearce, A Johnston©, B Johnston. Subs: C McMillan, F Ferguson, E Bulger, F Grant, A Mill, K Diffenthal.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, N Godsmark, C Jackson, G Taylor; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Anderson (YCx1), N Beavon, A Runciman, J Head, R Knott, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: R Ferguson, R McLeod, A Grievem R Campbell, B Colvine, R McCann.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: One change to the starting team after last week’s league match against the same opposition at the same venue, with Ruaridh Knott starting at blindside flanker. Ross McCann returns after being away with the Scotland 7s squad to take a place on the bench alongside number eight prospect Ruairi Campbell and the rather more experienced Bruce Colvine, who has recovered from injury.
KEY BATTLE: Angus Johnston versus Grant Runciman
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Marr will be determined to reverse the result of last weekend knowing that a place in the semi-final of the BT Cup is up for grabs. I am sure Craig Redpath [Marr coach] will have looked back at last weekend’s game and planned accordingly for this fixture. We have trained and prepared well this week and hopefully this will transfer onto the pitch …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
VERDICT: Unlikely to be repeat of last week’s eight try romp – but there is only one winner – and it is not Marr.
HAWICK v AYR
VENUE: Mansfield Park @ 2.30pm
Hawick: A Weir; G Munro, K Davies, D Buckley, L Ferguson; L Armstrong, G Cottrell; S Muir, F Renwick, N Little, D Redpath, C Hamilton, R Gibson, S Graham, B McNeil ©. Subs: M Carryer, M Landels, D Sudden, S Fairbairn, K Brunton.
Ayr: G Anderson; M Davidson, D McCluskey, F Climo, C Gossman; S Lyle, D Armstrong; R Hislop, L Anderson, S Longwell, S Sutherland, R McAlpine, G Hunter, T Spinks, P McCallum©. Subs: R Sayce, M Badenhorst, J Agnew, G Stokes, H Warr, H McCorkindale, J Armstrong.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: Rob McAlpine returns from injury to start in the second-row in place of the injured Blair Macpherson. George Hunter starts at blindside flanker, with Tommy Spinks switching to openside and George Stokes on the bench. The backline is unchanged.
KEY BATTLE: Shawn Muir versus Steven Longwell
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Hawick have shown a good run of form over the last couple of months and have turned Mansfield into a fortress once again. We will need to be more accurate this weekend than we were in our last outing against Heriot’s but the players are looking forward to the challenge that they face …” – Callum Forrester (Ayr)
VERDICT: Ayr to win – provided they get their heads in gear.