FORMER Scotland and Lions loose-head prop Ryan Grant is in the Ayr squad which will take on Boroughmuir at Meggetland this weekend, in the opening round of matches of the 2016-17 BT Premiership campaign.
The 31-year-old has been a free agent since being released by Worcester Warriors at the start of the summer. He has been training with Edinburgh during the last month in the hope of earning a contract but has failed so far to convince head coach Richard Cockerill that he is worth taking a punt on.
Grant is now hoping that some dominant displays for the Premiership champions during the next few weeks will help his case. He has been named on the bench this weekend but is certain to feature at some point.
Ayr start the match as short-odds favourites but will be wary of the threat posed by Peter Wright’s side after suffering a bloody nose when they made the trip through to West Edinburgh last October. Ayr also conceded seven tries when losing to Melrose at home in the Charity Shield last weekend, and with strike-runners such as Jordan Edmunds, Ronan Kerr and Mark Hare in the home ranks, they know they will be punished again if they don’t hit the ground running.
Boroughmuir winger Jordan Edmunds certainly believes that his team are ready to do significantly more than simply make up the numbers.
“Getting the champions in the first match of the season is as hard as it gets, but at least we have them at home and we take a lot of encouragement from that result last year,” said the Scotland Club XV.
‘We’re taking the view that it’s best to get them first-up and maybe catch them cold. Our pre-season has gone pretty well, and we’ve got a pretty settled group, with the guys who have joined the club really buying into our culture and the way we want to play. We’re miles ahead of where we were this time last season, so we’re ready to have a real go.”
“It was a shock when we beat them last year,” he continued. “They had won all their games up to that point and came to us off the back of a great result against Melrose, whereas we had just lost to Hawick and were in a pretty dark place, but we really showed our spirit that day.”
“We fronted up physically, which you’ve got to do against Ayr, and the forwards took on a lot of work. Jamie Ritchie had been released by Edinburgh and he really made a difference – but I think what we realized afterwards is that we shouldn’t need a player like Jamie to show us how it is done, we are big enough and ugly enough to do it ourselves.”
“Afterwards we said that performance should be the benchmark for the rest of the season, but we couldn’t quite get into the habit of doing it consistently. We would have great spells in matches but then blow it with a bad decision, a silly handling error or something like that.”
“So, the aim this year is to build that consistency. We’re a year further down the line with Wrighty [head coach Peter Wriight] so he now has a better idea of what he can expect from us and we have a better idea of what he wants.”
Despite Boroughmuir struggling in the bottom half of the table throughout last season, Edmunds managed to finish the season as a top try scorer, having got over the line 14 times. They played a free-wheeling brand of rugby which was great to watch when they were on song.
So, it is slightly surprising to hear the winger talking enthusiastically about the team adopting a more structured and pragmatic game-plan this coming, because that tends to mean that the ball is less likely to make its way out to him in the wide-channels.
“I think we shot ourselves in the foot a few too many times last season. We were so desperate to move the ball and try to stretch the opposition that we ended up putting ourselves under pressure,” he explains. “We still want to have a go, and sometimes that might be from our own half, but only when it is on. We need to have that calmness to know when to kick and when to stick it up the jumper.”
“I’m quite happy with that. I don’t mind coming in off my wing to look for work; and besides, if the team is winning more games then we should be spending more time on the front-foot and that will translate into more try-scoring opportunities.”
THE LOWDOWN –
BOROUGHMUIR v AYR
VENUE: Meggetland@ 3pm
Boroughmuir: G Cannie; C Whyte, R Kerr, M Hare, J Edmunds; C Laidlaw©, J Adams; D Robertson, J Matthews, D Winning, C Keddie, D Marek, A MnCube, M Walker, T Drennan. Subs: C Davies, R Dunbar, T Gracie, J Troxler, B Mills.
Ayr: G Anderson; S Lyle, D McCluskey, S McDowall, C Gossman; F Climo, D Armstrong; R Smith, P MacArthur, A Prentice, R McAlpine, S Sutherland, B Macpherson, T Spinks, P McCallum©. Subs: L Anderson, R SayceJ Agnew, P Dewhirst, J Bova.
TEAM NEWS –
Boroughmuir: With Grant McConnell, Callum Atkinson, Jamie Ure, Archie Erskine, Alan Nethery and Sean Corrigal all unavailable for one reason or another, the depth of the squad is being tested already. Club debuts are being made by Ciaran Whyte, Jonny Matthews, Dan Marek and Tom Drennan; while Cal Davies is on the bench after returning from a stint in New Zealand.
Ayr: Stafford McDowall returns to the squad following pre-season outings with Glasgow Warriors so Scott Lyle moves to the wing. In the pack, Pat McArthur is released by the Warriors and starts at hooker. Former Scotland and Lions prop Ryan Grant is on the bench after joining the club as short-term front-row cover.
KEY BATTLE: Jordan Edmunds versus Scott Lyle
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“There are no easy games in the Premiership but to start against the current champions is really exciting. Ayr will be keen to make up for their defeat in the Charity Shield last week so our players know they have to be at the top of their game to even have a sniff of victory …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
“Last weekend’s match gave us a good indication of where we are at in our preparations and provided the players with a number of good learning opportunities. This week’s training has gone well and we will need to be at our best to get the result at Meggetland on Saturday …” – Calum Forrester (Ayr)
VERDICT: Ayr’s strength in depth is decisive
HERIOT’S v STIRLING COUNTY
VENUE: Goldenacre @ 3pm
Heriot’s: R Jones; C Simpson, L Steele, R Carmichael©, C Robertson; S Edwards, T Wilson; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, J Turley, A Sinclair, M Maltman, J McLean, C Marshall. Subs: L Sinclair, S Mustard, C Smith, H Fraser, R Kay.
Stirling County: J Hope©; B Sorbie, C Pringle, R Curle, K Gossman; L Bonar, P Jericevich; M Macdonald, R Kennedy, G Holborn, C Hunter-Hill, H Burr, L Wynne, C Fusaro, R Leishman. Subs: M Emmison, C Clark, J Pow, A Grant-Suttie, R Swan.
TEAM NEWS –
Heriot’s: Jack Turley is back after a year with Fylde and forms a heavyweight engine-room with Adam Sinclair, who has arrived from (coincidentally) Stirling County. Another County convert in Ross Jones is at full-back, Craig Robertson is also making his debut on the wing and Stuart Edwards is back at stand-off.
Stirling County: Club debuts for new recruits Gary Holburn, Peter Jericevich, Kerr Gossman, Ross Curle and James Pow in the starting fifteen, plus Joe Beech is off the bench. Warriors professionals Lewis Wynne and Chris Fusaro will give the back-row serious grunt, while second-row Callum Hunter-Hill has been released by Edinburgh.
KEY BATTLE: Rory Carmichael versus Ross Curle
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Stirling have made some strong signings over the summer, most notably Ross Curle, so will deliver a stern test for our season opener. Our pre-season has been good though still plenty to work on, with the number of new recruits and returning players trying to fit into our structure and culture …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
“We have prepared well over pre-season and are looking forward to kicking off our league campaign this weekend. Heriots have recruited well and will be confident at home, however we feel there is real strength in depth now in our senior squad and have two confident sides heading through to Goldenacre on Saturday …” – Peter Jericevich (Stirling County)
VERDICT: The travelers squeeze a win but it is going to be tight.
MELROSE v WATSONIANS
VENUE: The Greenyards @ 3pm
Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, N Godsmark, C Jackson, S Pecqueur; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Anderson, N Beavon, A Runcimaan, R Knott, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: R Ferguson, R McLeod, A Miller, B Colvine, B Chalmers.
Watsonians: K Young; M Bertram, M Allen, D Innes, S McLeod; E Fox, W Thomson; F Hobbis, S Crombie, K Whyte, J Hodgson, C Borthwick ©, M Fedo, A Duckett, R Drummond. Subs: D Miller, N Borel, E Dods, E McKirdy, R Hutton.
TEAM NEWS –
Melrose: Ally Miller has been released by Edinburgh and will make a welcome return to the hallowed Greenyards turf from the bench. Craig Jackson is back at inside centre after sitting out last week’s Charity Shield defeat to Ayr.
Watsonians: A new coaching team in Stevie Lawrie, Richard Snedden and Neil Cochrane, a new captain in Craig Borthwick and a raft of new faces, including six debutants this weekend in Finn Hobbis, Jamie Hodgson, Willie Thomson, Ewan Fox, Michael Allen and Rory Hutton. Michael Fedo also returns to the club after a spell in the Southern Hemisphere.
KEY BATTLE: Iain Moody versus Rory Drummond
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Watsonians have recruited incredibly well and Stevie [Lawrie] will be desperate to get off to a winning start as their head coach. Our boys have all worked hard during pre-season and are desperate to get out on The Greenyards this Saturday and hopefully entertain what is sure to be a large and vocal crowd …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
“We congratulate Melrose on winning the regular season and BT Cup last year, alongside their recent success in the BT Charity Shield last weekend. With this in mind, we know just how tough a prospect it is travelling to The Greenyards for game number one. However, we welcome the challenge and understand that we will need to be at our very best …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
VERDICT: Home advantage edges it
GLASGOW HAWKS v MARR
VENUE: Scotstoun @2pm
Glasgow Hawks: R Beattie; K Rowe, B McGroarty©, P Kelly, S Yawayawa; R Thompson, G Horne; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain, A Linton, A Kirkland, S Leckey, O Blackwell, J Eaglesham. Subs: C Fenton, L Skinner, H Livingston, C Harrison, P Boyer.
Marr: C Kolarik; S Bickerstaff, C Bickerstaff, C Sturgeon, R Dalgleish; D Steele, K Barreto; A Acton, O Rossi, W Farquhar, K Hatherall, E Bulger, M Pearce, A Johnston©, R Miller. Subs: S Adair, A Other, R Jackson, T Buchanan, T Steven.
TEAM NEWS –
Glasgow Hawks: George Horne and Paddy Kelly have been released by Glasgow Warriors to start at scrum-half and in the centre respectively. New faces in the pack are number eight Jake Eaglesham and flanker Oliver Blackwell, while teenagers Sam Yawayawa, Kyle Rowe and Ross Thomson will make their first senior starts behind the scrum.
KEY MAN: George Horne
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“After eight weeks of hard work, these 20 players get the opportunity to represent Glasgow Hawks in the first BT Premiership match of 2017/18 season. We are hoping that the 3G pitch at Scotstoun will allow for an exciting open brand of rugby that will allow both teams to play with lots of attacking ambition and flair…” – Finlay Gillies (Glasgow Hawks).
VERDICT: Hawks off to a flyer.
HAWICK v CURRIE CHIEFTAINS
VENUE: Mansfield Park @ 3pm
Hawick: A Weir; D Graham, L Armstrong, D Buckley, R Combe; K Brunton, G Munro; N Little, F Renwick, K Bryce, D Redpath, B McNeil©, G Graham, R Gibson, S Graham. Subs: S Muir, C Hamilton, K Davis, G Cottrell, L Ferguson.
Currie Chieftains: B Robbins; R Smith, H Elms, R Nelson©, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; J Cox, G Carson, A McWilliam, S Ainslie, V Wright, M Vernel, T Gordon, R Davies. Subs: C Wilson, K Burney, S McGinley, M O’Neil, G Faulds.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie: Dutch international Vince Wright makes his competitive debut in the second- row; while home-grown Campbell Wilson, plus Falkirk recruits Kris Burney and Glen Faulds, will all be hoping to make their first league appearances for the club off the bench.
KEY MAN: Charlie Shiel
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“The clubs rebranding continues to be a success and we are hoping to see that positive energy translate into our performance on the pitch. I cannot think of a more fitting fixture to start the season after the sudden passing of our Director of Rugby Greco Hogg, who played a big part in the history of both clubs …” – Ben Cairns (Currie)
VERDICT: Currie have got what it takes.