TIME to stop talking the talk, and to see who is ready to walk the walk.
Champions Melrose lost to Stirling County at home in their final hit-out – the Charity Shiel – last weekend, and now face a trip to Mansfield Park to take on Border rivals Hawick in their league season opener, mindful of the 38-3 drubbing they endured in their last game of the last regular season. Can Hawick make it two-in-a-row?
County, meanwhile, head to Myreside to take on a Watsonians side who will be desperate to carry on their form from the tail-end of last season; new boys Edinburgh Accies face a baptism of fire with Ayr rolling into Raeburn Place; there is a west Edinburgh derby between Currie Chieftains and Boroughmuir to savour at Malleny Park; while Heriot’s are the guests at Glasgow Hawks’ Balgray house-warming party.
THE LOWDOWN –
WATSONIANS v STIRLING COUNTY
VENUE: Myreside @ 3.00pm
Watsonians: J Rowland; A Guthrie, R Hutton, G Innes, S McLeod; L Millar, A Harris; N Borel, R Graham, J Stanley, J Hodgson, C Borthwick©, G Nelson, C Boyle, J Miller. Subs: F Renwick, F Hobbis, F Simpson, E Fox, R Steele.
Stirling County: J Hope©; M Lamb, E Macgarvie, G Hughes, R Tagive; A Goudie, P Jericevich; R Chies, R Kennedy, A Nicol, J Pow, S Yarrow, H Burr, S MacDonald, A Mackie. Subs: B Gilchrist, M Walker, C Henderson, G Arnott, B Thomson.
TEAM NEWS –
Watsonians: Injuries to Michael Fedo and Rufus McLean during the warm-up games have ruled them out this week. First league starts for Josh Rowland, Angus Guthrie, Lee Millar, Connor Boyle and Jack Stanley; while Fraser Renwick and Finlay Simpson are set to debut from the bench.
Stirling County: Four changes to the squad which won at the Greenyards last weekend. Adam Nicol, Ratu Tagive and Brandon Thompson are released by Glasgow Warriors and Ewan Macgarvie returns after sitting exams. A strong bench will be looking to impact as the game progresses.
KEY BATTLE: Rory Hutton versus Ewan Macgarvie
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“The opening match of the season brings with it the usual mixture of nerves and excitement. We want to ensure we harness these emotions in a positive way and put in a performance that befits the jersey. Stirling County demonstrated the hard-work and confidence they have developed during pre-season in last week’s Charity Shield victory against Melrose and will no doubt look to play with a no fear approach. With a busy day planned at Myreside, including a charity ladies match in memory of former Watsonian rugby player Rachel Collins being played at 1pm, we are hopeful for a good turnout to kick the season off …” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
“We need to match the intensity levels of our Charity Shield win at Melrose and improve our accuracy in all areas this week. Stevie Lawrie has transformed Watsonians in the last year in to a well drilled, consistently competitive outfit. We lost both matches against them in the league last season so are in no doubt about the size of the challenge we face this weekend at Myreside.…” – Eddie Pollock (Stirling County)
Only direct Super 6 clash on the opening day of the last Premiership season.
Last season’s two wins over Stirling might give Watsonians a psychological edge – but the pro draft has favoured Stirling.
Big gap in both clubs back rows with the departures of Ruaridh Leishman and Rory Drummond.
Home advantage at Myreside on a balmy late summer afternoon with the faithful out in numbers might just shade it Watsonians way.
GLASGOW HAWKS v HERIOT’S
VENUE: Balgray @ 3.00pm
Glasgow Hawks: G Faulds; J McReady, C Symes, M New, L Masaga; L Brims, P Boyer; G Strain©, G Stewart, L Skinner, F Hastie, A Kirkland, B Flockhart, M Smith, G Adams. Subs: A Fraser, S Findlay, S Dow, K Kay, J Couper.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; J Blain, R Jones, R Kay, C Robertson; R Carmichael, A Simmers; J Scott, M Liness, S Cessford, C Marshall, A Sinclair, R Leishman, I Wilson©, J Hill. Subs: A Johnstone, M Bouab, S Dewar, A Ball, D Martin.
TEAM NEWS –
Glasgow Hawks: Glasgow Warriors duo Bruce Flockhart and Matt Smith who come straight into the back-row for injured club captain Stephen Leckey and young Gavin Wilson, while another pro in Lelia Masaga is on the wing. Scotland summer tourist Grant Stewart, who has not yet been given a pro contract, is at hooker; and Andrew Kirkland gets his reward for working so hard to get fit after a nightmare ACL injury at the end of last year by being handed a slot in the engine-room.
Heriot’s: Josh Scott, Ruaridh Leishman and Jack Blain make their league debuts for the club. Andrew Simmers is back after a year in the US and Iain Wilson has his first outing as new club captain.
KEY BATTLE: Matt Smith versus Iain Wilson
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“Heriots have been very smart in the off season. Bringing in experience like Ruaridh Leishman and Jason Hill in the back row is about as astute as it gets. They have some really exciting players and I am sure the return of the outstanding Andrew Simmers will be welcomed by Phil and his staff. We have a very young and fearless backline with some older and experienced forwards, so we hope that is a nice combination and we can get off to a winning start in our new home at Balgray on Saturday …” – Fin Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
“While we feel we have had a positive pre-season, we are well aware it counts for nothing and this weekend is the “real thing”. Hawks will no doubt bring a determined and exciting brand of rugby to their new home, Balgray, and we will simply look to match it and then add our own brand in an attempt to take the points …”– Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
The Pro draft has been kind to Hawks as they move into their new permanent base at Balgray after last season’s peripatetic nightmare.
Jack Turley will be missed by Heriots – but Ruaridh Leishman and Jason Hill should compensate.
Hawks will give it a go – but Heriots look too good for them.
HAWICK v MELROSE
VENUE: Mansfield Park @ 3.00pm
Hawick: K Young; L Ferguson, F Robson, D Buckley, A Roberts; A Weir, G Huggan; M Carryer, C Renwick, P Ceccarelli, D Redpath, K McNeil, A Grieve, S Graham, B McNeil. Subs: R Macleod, J Linton, D Suddon, G Walker, L Gordon-Wooley.
Melrose: F Thomson; I Sim, P Anderson, G Taylor, M Mvelase-Julyan; C Jackson, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Ferguson, R McLeod, J Head, A Runciman, R Knott, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: B Mclean, C Crookshank, R Darge, B Colvine, S Hutchinson.
TEAM NEWS –
Hawick: A couple of injuries last week has opened the door for some youngsters to put their hands up for selection. Pietro Ceccarelli has been released by Edinburgh to bolster the front-row. Callum Renwick makes his first Premiership start after some good performances during pre season. Youngster Jae Linton steps back into the squad after a long lay-off from injury.
Melrose: George Taylor has been released by Edinburgh to start at inside centre. James Head and Iain Moody return to the pack whilst exciting prospect Rory Darge will be looking to make an impact from the bench.
KEY BATTLE: Ali Weir versus Craig Jackson
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“A very tough first fixture, but can you think of anything better than a Border derby to kick off the season? I am sure Bob will have his side well prepared and raring to go, as always. We have large corporate event on, so we are hoping for a big crowd to get behind the team…” – George Graham (Hawick)
“Mansfield Park is always a challenging place to go and I am sure George will have them well-organised and fired up for this Border derby. All the squad has worked extremely hard throughout the pre-season and we are under no illusions as to how difficult a challenge it will be on Saturday. We have prepared well this week and looking forward to the first Tennent’s Premiership game of the season …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
To prosper, Hawick need to bolster their limited resources with pride, passion and commitment – qualities which were clearly lacking at Malleny Park last Saturday.
The mystique of Mansfield is now well dissipated – but a big crowd and a fresh start might raise the temperature.
Melrose have lost a stack of very good players over the summer – but their main men, Fraser Thomson and Craig Jackson, are still there – and they should have enough in hand to deal with whatever Hawick throws at them.
EDINBURGH ACCIES v AYR
VENUE: Braeburn Place @ 3.00pm
Edinburgh Accies: R Chalmers; C Gray, G Spencer, N Armstrong, C Ramm; R Mill, R David; R Sutherland, C Black, J Pearse, R Seydak, M Badenhorst, J Sole©, R Campbell, L Seydak. Subs: N Hall, C Lacour, S Hagerty, M Love, J Loomes.
Ayr: G Anderson; K Rowe, O Smith, D McCluskey©, J Bova; S Lyle, D Armstrong; R Sayce, R Smith, S Longwell, L Scott, M Sykes, D Corbenici, T Spinks, B Macpherson. Subs: J Malcolm, E McLaren, G Henry, A Rademaker, P Dewhirst.
TEAM NEWS –
Edinburgh Accies: The youth of Robbie Davis, George Spencer, Ruari Campbell and Sean Hagerty in the squad is offset by the experience of some seasoned players in Neil Armstrong, Richard Mill, Callum Black and Jamie Sole as Accies return to the top flight for the first time since 2015. South African second-row Michael Badenhorst is making his competitive debut for the Edinburgh outfit against the club he represented last season.
Ayr: Kyle Rowe, Ollie Smith, Marshall Sykes, David Corbenici and Dutchman Amir Rademaker are the summer recruits making their competitive debut, Skipper Pete McCallum is out with a tweaked hamstring but should be back next week.
KEY BATTLE: Lawrie Seydak versus Blair Macpherson
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Saturday is a great opportunity to kick-off our campaign with a bang – benchmarking ourselves against one of the most consistently successful clubs in the country for over a decade. However, our approach won’t change to how we navigated our way through National One: heads down, working hard for each other and letting the score take care of itself …” – Derek O’Riordan (Edinburgh Accies)
“We are looking forward to the first game of the season in what will be a difficult challenge away from home against Accies. I am sure they will be full of confidence going into this game, after picking up the winning habit in their National One title winning campaign last season. The players are excited about the challenge that awaits us and will be looking forward to working hard for each other to get the season off to a positive start …” – Pete Murchie (Ayr)
The Premiership is a much better league than Mark Dodson and his acolytes would have us believe – and the gap between it and the Championship is significant, as Marr found out last season.
Accies looked good winning promotion – but they will find Ayr to be a much bigger, more aggressive and better organised animal than anything they encountered last year, even during their Cup run.
Ayr’s professional mindset might be discomfited by the Raeburn Place porta cabins but it will be a major surprise if they do not have the power up front and the pace behind to win fairly comfortably.
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v BOROUGHMUIR
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 3.00pm
Currie Chieftains: J Forbes; B Robbins, J Reynolds, R Nelson©, S Hamilton; G Hunter, C Shiel; G Carson, F Scott©, F Watt, G Peterson, M Vernel, L Crosbie, T Gordon, S McGinley. Subs: R Patterson, A McWilliam, S Ainslie, R Frostwick, A Hall.
Boroughmuir: G Cannie; K Gossman, W Wardlaw, R Kerr, J Edmunds; C Laidlaw, J Hamilton; R Dunbar, J Matthews, D Robertson, S Smith, C Atkinson, A Mncube, M Walker, R Drummond. Subs: T Gracie, D Marfo, C Keddie, J Steele, M Johnstone.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains:Greg Peterson is released by Glasgow and first-year pros Luke Crosbie and Charlie Shiel have been released by Edinburgh. Steven Hamilton will make his competitive debut for the club with Roan Frostiwck and Adam Hall looking to do likewise from the bench. Rhys Davies, Vince Wright and new prop Matias Argiro miss out through injury.
Boroughmuir: Kerr Gossman, Will Wardlaw, Stuart Smith and Rory Drummond make their league debuts for the club as starters, while Jack Steele will do likewise off the bench. Edinburgh and Scotland prop Darryl Marfo will also gat game time as he looks to get back on track after several months struggling with a back injury. Youngster Jack Hamilton earns the scrum-half spot after some good performances during pre-season.
.KEY BATTLE: Joe Reynolds versus Will Wardlaw
WHAT THE COACH SAYS –
“We are really looking forward to getting our final Premiership campaign underway and it is great to start it at Malleny. Boroughmuir have really impressed through pre-season recording some big wins against strong opposition, including ourselves. They will come to Malleny energised and full of hope with a number of new signings. We feel we have come a long way since our first hit-out and Saturday will be a good measure of just how far. An Edinburgh derby packed full of talent, what more could you ask for! …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“A really tough start to our league campaign. Currie Chieftains will want to replicate their form from last season that took them into the top four. With the amount of talent on show from both teams this could be a cracker for both sets of supporters and any neutrals who venture along …” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
The Chieftains have a big point to make – and no matter how well Boroughmuir have recruited it would be a brave man who would bet against them making it – particularly at Malleny with Charlie Shiel and Luke Crosbie on board.