THE top two teams in the league lock horns at Malleny Park on Saturday. And with Currie Chieftains on a bit of a role after impressive wins over Ayr and Boroughmuir in their last two outings, and Melrose losing for the first time all season last week, it has the makings of an absolute cracker.
But there is also plenty at stake at Goldenacre, Fullarton Park, Mansfield Park and Bridgehaugh. With five games to go in the regular season, every match on this weekend’s card really matters – which is surely all you can ask for from a league structure.
Watsonians are perhaps the form team in the Premiership at the moment, and their recent run of victories has taken them to fifth in the table, just four points behind both Heriot’s and Ayr, who currently occupy third and fourth slot. A convincing victory here will lift them into the play-off places at the expense of their hosts, who are reeling after losing at Hawick last weekend.
The fact that Watsonians head coach Stevie Lawrie cut his senior coaching teeth as an assistant to Phil Smith at Heriot’s before making the switch across the city to take over at Myreside during the summer will add another element of intrigue to the occasion. You can bet that the former Edinburgh and Scotland hooker has been giddy with excitement all week about the prospect of playing the pantomime villain when he returns to his old stomping ground.
Across on the west coast, Marr host Boroughmuir in a clash which could very well decide which team will be playing top fight rugby next year. The visitors dropped to the foot of the table after last week’s 41-7 demolition at the hands of the Chieftains, but they have a game in hand over their opponents, who are only one point ahead.
Marr are notoriously hard to beat on their narrow pitch at Fullarton Park and it is not a venue which seems naturally suited to the likes of Jordan Edmunds, Grant McConnell and Ciaran Whyte – the dangerous runners in the Boroughmuir back three. But the Premiership new boys have experienced a fairly significant wobble in recent weeks after an impressive start to their first campaign in the top fight, suffering demoralising defeats to Heriot’s away, Hawick at home and, most painfully of all, Watsonians away by 59 points last week.
Their long unbeaten record at home is now a distant memory, given that they have lost three out of their lost four home matches in the league – but they have been highly competitive in all three of those defeats and they will come out the blocks firing on all cylinders this weekend, boosted by the availability of two Glasgow Warriors professionals within their pack.
Hawick’s recent mini-revival has seen the Borderers climb away from the foot of the table, although they are still a long way from being out of the woods. They will fancy their chances at home against a desperately inconsistent Glasgow Hawks outfit this weekend, but the away team have shown this season that they are more than capable of pulling a performance out the bag when the mood takes them.
Ayr head to Bridgehaugh looking to consolidate their place in the play-offs against a Stirling County side which seemed to lose a fair bit of momentum during the lead-up to Christmas after a promising start to the season. This is the home team’s first game of the new year and they are not far off full strength for the encounter.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
HERIOT’S v WATSONIANS
VENUE: Goldenacre @ 2pm
Heriot’s: R Jones; J Rae, R Mulveena, R Kay, C Robertson; R Carmichael©, T Wilson; M Bouab (YCx1), M Liness, S Cessford (YCx2), C Marshall, A Sinclair, M Hughes, J McLean (YCx1), J Turley. Subs: A Johnstone, S Mustard, M Maltman (RCx1), S Edwards (YCx1), L Steele.
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, M Allen, D Innes, J Harries; R Hutton, A Harris; N Borel, R Graham (YCx1), N Fraser, J Hodgson (YCx1), C Borthwick©, M Fedo, G Nelson, E Dods. Subs: D Miller, F Hobbis, J Miller, W Thomson (YCx1), R Steele.
TEAM NEWS –
Heriot’s: Robbie Mulveena and Rob Kay return from holiday to team up in the centre, with Stuart Edwards and Liam Steele dropping to the replacements. Martin Hughes is promoted from the bench to start at blindside flanker and Jack McLean returns from injury, while Michael Maltman is on the bench after a disciplinary panel decided this week that his first half sending off against Hawick was punishment enough for a swinging arm.
Watsonians: Nick Fraser comes in at loose-head with Nathan Borel shifting across to the tight-head and Finn Hobbis dropping to the bench at the expense of Martin Christie. An unchanged backline, but on the bench Willie Thomson comes in for Murray Scott, and Rory Steele replaces the injured Jack Harrison.
KEY BATTLE: Rory Carmichael versus Rory Hutton
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We welcome the ‘Galacticos’ of the Premiership to Goldenacre on Saturday for what is turning out to be a very important game. We faltered last week, while Watsonians continued their good run of form. This means the top four places are becoming more and more difficult to nail down. However, there is nothing like a local derby to get the bowels moving again and with a full house for lunch I am hoping to get a positive reaction from the squad. Our first match saw both teams almost cancel each other out, with us just managing to get enough decent possession to gain the win. This week should be different as both teams are now looking a bit more settled in their squad, which hopefully means nerves will not be part of it …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
“We were pleased with some of our execution in attack versus Marr last week, however the players have identified a few areas that were in need of tweak as we prepare for this week’s derby. We also didn’t do a huge amount of defending last week so we will need to ensure we are robust in this area of our game. Last time out against Heriot’s, we started with a bang and somewhat fizzled out in the second half through a mixture of good game management by our opposition and our own lack of accuracy. We have endeavoured to create a more consistent effort in our play and will need to demonstrate this on Saturday at Goldenacre if we are to acquire the performance we desire …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
VERDICT: ‘A tetchy, tense encounter which fizzed like a firecracker with a faulty fuse’ was how we described the last game between these two old rivals on a miserable night at Myreside back in September – when a brilliant drop goal from Stuart Edwards eventually swung it Heriots’ way. ‘The Force‘ has been with the ‘Galacticos’ of late with good wins against the Chieftains, Stirling and Marr – whilst Heriots shot themselves in the foot against Hawick last week. It looks tight – with Rory Hutton at stand off maybe giving Watsonians the edge – though the return of Jack McLean should pep Heriot’s up.
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v MELROSE
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 2.30pm
Currie Chieftains: A Hastings; C Gray, R Tagive, R Nelson©, B Robbins (YCx1); J Forbes, C Shiel; K Burney, G Carson, A McWilliam, H Bain, V Wright (YCx1), L Crosbie (YCx1), T Gordon, R Vernon. Subs: C Mackintosh, D Ferguson, S Ainslie, M Vernel (YCx1), M Hooks.
Melrose: C Jackson; G Wood, N Godsmark, G Taylor, R McCann; J Baggott, B Colvine (YCx1); G Shiels, R Anderson (YCx1), N Beavon, A Runciman (YCx1), R Knott, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman© (YCx1), I Moody. Subs: R Ferguson, R McLeod (YCx3), A Grieve, M McAndrew, A Lockington.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: Kris Burney comes in at loose-head, Graeme Carson moves across to hooker and Callum Mackintosh drops to the bench. Richie Vernon is released by Glasgow again but this week starts at number eight as opposed to outside centre. Ratu Tagive, who signed during the summer on a partnership deal with the Warriors, makes his first appearance of the season after rupturing his Achilles during pre-season, and Adam Hastings is at full-back. There is further good news for the Malleny men in that club co-captain Fergus Scott is playing his first game in almost a year for the 2nd XV after reconstruction surgery on his shoulder.
Melrose: Neil Irvine-Hess and Grant Shiels return to the pack. Craig Jackson moves to full-back and George Taylor shifts in from the wing to take over the number 12 jersey.
KEY BATTLE: Ratu Tagive versus Nyle Godsmark
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We are really looking forward to challenging ourselves against the league leaders. We’ve been in pretty good form of late so we go into the game with confidence. However, we expect a big reaction from Melrose after their loss last week to Ayr. With four of the top five playing each other it looks set to be a pivotal week in the battle for a play-off spot …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“The Chieftains look a team full of confidence having beaten Ayr away and convincingly dispatching of Boroughmuir last weekend. With an extremely impressive squad available this weekend we know they will have threats across the park and ask questions of our defence …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
VERDICT: This looks tasty! A very good Melrose side could be defined by how hard they come back from their poor show against Ayr last Saturday. Chieftains are going great guns – and with the natural regularisation of pro draft now swinging their way they look particularly strong this week – on paper – especially in the back row. But rugby is not played on paper. Melrose’s aura of absolute invincibility may be gone – but Chieftains will still need to play very well to get a result.
STIRLING COUNTY v AYR
VENUE: Bridgehaugh @ 3.00pm
Stirling County: J Hope©; L Trotter, E Macgarvie, R Curle, K Gossman; G Hughes, P Jericevich (YCx1); R Chies (YCx1), R Kennedy, G Holborn (YCx1), C Hunter-Hill (YCx2), J Beech, H Burr, L Wynne, R Leishman (YCx1). Subs: M Emmsion, A Wood, J Pow, S MacDonald, G Gilliland.
Ayr: G Anderson© (YCx3); P Dewhirst, S Lyle, S McDowall, C Gossman; F Climo (YCx1), D Armstrong; R Hislop (YCx1), R Smith, S Longwell (YCx1), J Agnew (YC x2), R McAlpine, T Spinks, G Stokes, B Macpherson (YCx1). Subs: L Anderson, R Grant, G Hunter (YCx1), J Agnew (YCx1), D McCluskey, M Davidson.
TEAM NEWS –
Stirling County: Callum Hunter-Hill is released by Edinburgh and Lewis Wynne is released by Glasgow Warriors in a strong looking side.
Ayr: Captain Pete McCallum is out after injuring his shoulder last week so Jonathan Agnew comes into the second-row and Blair Macpherson stats at number eight after impressing when he shifted there last week. Frazier Climo makes his belated return after a hamstring injury after his comeback was postponed due to illness last week, with Scott Lyle moving to outside centre. On the bench, Danny McCluskey also returns from injury and Ryan Grant is released by Glasgow.
KEY BATTLE: Peter Jericevich versus David Armstrong
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“We are really looking forward to hosting Ayr at Bridgehaugh this weekend, who will be confident after an excellent result last week at the Greenyards. With it being five weeks since we last played, we are feeling fresh and motivated to put into action the key areas we have been working hard on in training …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County)
“Last Saturday was the most complete performance we have had so far this season and the challenge for this group of players is to back-up that outing this weekend. Stirling County have a strong set of forwards and an exciting backline so we will have to prepare for them to attack from anywhere. As we enter the latter stages of the season, every point is important as we aim to secure a play-off spot …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
VERDICT: Ayr have got the bit between their teeth and with Frazier Climo back at No 10 – Stirling County are in for a long, tough afternoon.
MARR v BOROUGHMUIR
VENUE: Fullarton Park @ 2.00pm
Marr: R McGee; S Bickerstaff, R Dalgleish, C Bickerstaff, T Steven; C Kolarik, K Baretto; O Kebble, O Rossi, F Watt, E Bulger, R Miller, M Pearce, A Johnston©, S Vunisa. Subs: G Jackson, W Farquhar, B Johnston, D Steele, T Bunchanan.
Boroughmuir: C Whyte (YCx1); G McConnell, R Kerr, G Cannie (YCx1), J Edmunds; C Laidlaw©, E McKirdy; R Montgomery, J Matthews (YCx4), P Richards, J Ure, A Erskine (YCx1), A Mcnube (YCx1), D Marek, C Keddie. Subs: M Walker, D Robertson, T Drennan, J Adams, M Hare (YCx1).
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmuir: Ryan Montgomery comes in at loose-head prop and Dale Robertson returns to bolster front-row cover from the bench, while Jamie Ure comes into the second-row for his first start of the season due to injury.
KEY BATTLE: Ross Miller versus Archie Erskine
WHAT THE COACH SAYS – “After last week’s poor display, we know that we have to improve tenfold. What a massive game for both clubs, a real relegation battle with the winner maybe getting some momentum for the rest of the season …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
VERDICT: Fullarton Park can be a tough place to play – but that is incidental to Boroughmuir on Saturday. They are about to hit the wall. It is make or break. No more excuses.
HAWICK v GLASGOW HAWKS
VENUE: Mansfield Park @ 3.00pm
Hawick: A Weir; R Combe, K Davies (YCx1), D Buckley (YCx1), G Munro; L Armstrong, G Cotterill; S Muir, M Carryer, N Little, D Redpath, C Hamilton, G Graham (YCx2), S Graham (YCx2), B McNeil© (YCx1). Subs: F Renwick, M Landels, R Gibson, L Ferguson, C McLelland.
Glasgow Hawks: S Peffers; K Rowe, B McGroarty©, P Kelly, R Beattie (YCx1); R Thompson, P Boyer; S Findlay, P Cairncross, G Strain, A Kirkland, F Hastie (YCx2), S Leckey (YCx1), C Kerr, J Eaglesham (YCx1). Subs: L Skinner, A Linton (YCx1), J Steele, L Brims, S Yawayawa.
TEAM NEWS –
Glasgow Hawks: The forward pack is unchanged from their last outing before Christmas. In the backline, Hawick boy Scott Peffers starts at full-back against his hometown club, with Bobby Beattie starting on the wing and Glasgow pro Paddy Kelly at inside-centre
KEY BATTLE: Scott Peffers versus Ali Weir
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“It has been a welcome return to training this week and all the players have put in some hard work over the festive period to make sure we hit the ground running. Hawick have been on a very impressive run of late and I am sure this is down to the addition of George Graham to the coaching team. They got a huge five-point win against Heriots and proved that at home they are one of the hardest teams to beat in the league. Earlier in the season we had a very close encounter at an extremely muddy Balgray in Glasgow and we are expecting similar conditions at Mansfield Park this Saturday …” – Fin Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
VERDICT: Hawks have not won a game since October – and it will take a lot of steel for them to check that run against a resurgent Hawick at Mansfield – no matter how hard they worked over the festive period.