MELROSE found themselves facing a hooker crisis at the start of this season, with regular first choice Russell Anderson and his understudy Richard Ferguson both unavailable, but they have found a pretty impressive solution to the problem by persuading 47-times capped Scott Lawson – who was involved in the Scotland squad during the last Six Nations, coming off the bench in the opening weekend defeat and being an unused substitute in the victories over France and England – to come out of retirement to fill the gap in the middle of their front-row.
The 36-year-old, who is now director of rugby at the University of St Andrews, came off the bench against Glasgow Hawks last week and is now slated to start in what promises to be a cracker against Watsonians at Myreside, with last year’s champions looking to keep their unblemished start to the season intact against a home outfit who will be desperate to bounce back after last weekend’s heartbreaking injury-time defeat to Heriot’s.
Heriot’s and Ayr are the other two teams to have taken all the points available in their opening rounds of this year’s Tennent’s Premiership campaign, and they face – respectively – winless Edinburgh Accies away and fourth placed Stirling County at home.
Meanwhile, Glasgow Hawks host Boroughmuir, and Currie Chieftains welcome Hawick to Malleny Park.
HOW IT STANDS –
THE LOWDOWN –
WATSONIANS v MELROSE
VENUE: Myreside @ 3.00pm
Watsonians: J Rowland; A Guthrie, D Innes, L Millar, S McLeod; E Fox, A Harris; G Jackson, R Graham, J Stanley, J Hodgson, C Borthwick©, F Simpson, G Nelson, C Boyle. Subs: F Renwick, F Hobbis, J Miller, A Bell, P Cunningham.
Melrose: F Thomson; M Mvelase-Julyan, P Anderson, C Jackson, I Sim; S Hutchison, M McAndrew; G Shiels, S Lawson, R McLeod, J Head, A Runciman, R Darge, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: B Mclean, C Young, R Knott, B Colvine G Wood.
TEAM NEWS –
Watsonians: Rory Steele drops out through injury, but DJ Innes is fit again so comes in at centre and Angus Guthrie moves to the wing. In the pack, Greg Jackson replaces Nathan Borel at loose-head, and Finlay Simpson starts at blindside flanker in a reshuffled and youthful back-row, with James Miller dropping to the bench.
Melrose: Skipper Grant Runciman returns at openside flanker, with Rory Darge switching to blindside, and Iain Moody at eight. Former Scotland hooker Scott Lawson’s Indian summer continues with a step up from the bench to the starting fifteen, and Iain Sim replaced Bruce Colvine on the wing.
KEY BATTLE: Lee Millar versus Craig Jackson
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“As much as we were disappointed to lose last week, we recognise that Heriot’s manufactured a chance to win the match at the death and duly took it. The players have been honest in their appraisal of the performance and worked hard this week in training. Melrose represent a massive challenge. Rob and his staff have the team playing well and have picked up where they left off last season…” – Stevie Lawrie (Watsonians)
“Watsonians at Myreside is always a challenging fixture and I am sure they will be looking to come out the blocks firing this weekend. It is clear we will need to defend well as they have the ability to mix their game up and score in a number of ways. We are looking forward to challenging ourselves this weekend and I am sure both teams will look to play in a positive way that hopefully a large crowd will enjoy …” – Rob Chrystie (Melrose)
VERDICT: Melrose have looked good in their first two games – but they were never seriously challenged by either Hawick or Hawks. Watsonians were disappointed last week at Goldenacre but they definitely have the fire-power to get a result against any team in the league – if they can keep their shape and their discipline. This could go either way – but it will be a cracker – and not a pro player in sight.
EDINBURGH ACADEMICALS v HERIOT’S
VENUE: Raeburn Place @ 3.00pm
Edinburgh Accies: J Loomes; R Chalmers, C Gray, N Armstrong, C Ramm; R Mill, M Love; R Sutherland, C Black©, C Lacour, R Lovett, M Badenhorst, A Inwood, S Hegarty, R Campbell. Subs: N Hall, J Pearse, A Wood, R Davis, W Stephen.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; J Blain, R Jones, R Kay, C Robertson; D Martin, A Simmers; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, C Jupp, A Sinclair, R Leishman, I Wilson©, J Hill. Subs: A Johnstone, J Scott, J McLean, A Ball, S Edwards.
TEAM NEWS –
Edinburgh Accies: Jamie Sole is at a wedding so Sean Hagerty comes in to make his Premiership debut; Clem Lacour comes in at tight-head with James Pearse dropping to the bench. A reshuffle of out wide sees Cammy Gray move from wing to outside centre, and Jamie Loomes come in to the starting line-up at full-back.
Heriot’s: An unchanged starting fifteen, while Jack Mclean and Stuart Edwards return from injury to bring some real pedigree to the bench, with Finlay Munro and Dougie Steele dropping out.
KEY BATTLE: Michael Badenhorst versus Adam Sinclair
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“No doubt that Heriots are Goliath to our David this weekend given league pedigree and sheer size; however, its derby day and anything can happen …” – Derek O’Riordan (Edinburgh Accies)
“After a positive weekend we move onto another Edinburgh derby. The Watsonians fixture allowed the players to experience life without the ball due to poor discipline, and I hope they have learned their lesson. It was doubly frustrating having put in such a strong first half performance. Edinburgh Accies will bring a different challenge, which is the beauty of this league. They look to have a fairly open play book which should allow for some long periods of ball in play. We will look to continue to work and develop our group in the areas of our game that need to be ironed out. If we are able to do this, and keep our standards high elsewhere, we should be in the game until the end …” – Phil Smith (Heriot’s)
VERDICT: Derek O’Riordan remains upbeat and Accies will no doubt have a go – but it is difficult to see them getting much change out of a very strong Heriot’s squad – particularly without Jamie Sole. Exciting it may be – but there is only likely to be one winner. Accies will have to get as lucky as David did against Goliath.
GLASGOW HAWKS v BOROUGHMUIR
VENUE: Balgray @ 3.00pm
Glasgow Hawks: R Beattie; L Masaga, E Oag, M New, L Jones; L Brims, P Boyer; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain©, A Kirkland, L Skinner, S Dow, M Smith. Subs: A Fraser, A Nimmo, J McLean, K Kay, C Symes.
Boroughmuir: R Arthur; K Gossman, W Wardlaw, R Kerr, J Edmunds; G Cannie, T Wilson; R Dunbar, J Matthews, R Montgomery, T Drennan, C Atkinson, J Steele, M Walker, R Drummond. Subs: D Robertson, C Keddie, S Smith, J Hamilton, A Purwell.
TEAM NEWS –
Glasgow Hawks: Matt Smith and Lelia Masaga have been released for the second time this season, and fellow Glasgow Warriors pro Lee Jones will make his debut for the club as he works his way back from an injury lay off. Liam Brims is fit to resume at stand-off, which allows Mark New to return to his favoured inside centre position. Veteran Steven Findlay makes his first start of the year teaming up in Dalziel old boys front-row with Gary Strain and Grant Stewart.
Boroughmuir: Ronan Kerr starts at inside centre, with Greg Cannie moving to 10 and Tom Wilson getting a chance to start in his preferred position of scrum-half. Aaron Purewal, who missed last season with a knee injury, comes on to the bench after showing up well in the 2ndXV. No pro release this week so Ross Dunbar and Ryan Montgomery are the starting props, while Callum Atkinson adds serious size to the second-row having not been well last week. Jack Steele goes back to his old club at blinside flanker.
KEY BATTLE: Matt Smith versus Rory Drummond
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“Boroughmuir were very impressive last week and they have some outstanding attacking threats across the pitch. We will be seeing some familiar faces in the large shape of Jack Steele and the elusive Kerr Gossman, who have had previous stints with Hawks. Boroughmuir have some real quality in the backline, with Jordan Edmunds and Kerr, and if Rory Drummond is allowed space and time to carry they have the ability to hurt any team in the league. We have looked closely at our performance from last weekend and we have had a really good week of learning and development. The players have worked extremely hard and I am very hopeful that these young men can show the Premiership what they are truly capable of …” – Finlay Gillies (Glasgow Hawks)
“A lot of pleasing things last week in our defeat of Hawick and we seem to be heading in a positive direction. Hawks will be desperate to put the last couple of results behind them, so we know this is going to be a difficult game. With two teams willing to play is should be exciting…” – Peter Wright (Boroughmuir)
VERDICT: Another tough afternoon in the offing for Hawks even with a 3-0 pro differential. Boroughmuir swatted Hawick aside last week – but they will find that this young Hawks side are made of sterner stuff. A betting man would, however, have to take Boroughmuir to win fairly comfortably – so long as they play to their potential.
AYR v STIRLING COUNTY
VENUE: Millbrae @ 3.00pm
Ayr: G Anderson; R Nairn, P Kelly, D McCluskey©, C Gossman; F Climo, A Rademaker; S Longwell, R Smith, E McLaren, A Davidson, M Sykes, D Corbenici, T Spinks, B Macpherson. Subs: A McGuire, R Sayce, A North, D Armstrong, S McDowall.
Stirling County: C Robertson; N Matawalu, E Macgarvie, G Hughes, R Tagive; A Goudie, P Jericevich; R Chies, R Kennedy©, M Walker, J Pow, R Bundy, G Arnott, S MacDonald, H Burr. Subs: L Brymer, B Dineen, D McLaren, J Hope, B Thomson.
TEAM NEWS –
Ayr: Dutch scrum-half Amir Rademaker, Glasgow academy prospect Euan Mclaren and Glasgow Warriors loan player Andrew Davidson are all elevated from the bench to the starting team. Stafford McDowall and Wolf Van Djik (another Dutch import) join the squad.
Stirling County: Ross Bundy starts at lock for the injured Cameron Henderson and Murphy Walker returns to the side in place of Glasgow Warriors pro Adam Nicol. Niko Matawalu comes onto wing with Ewan Magarvie shuffling in to centre and Brandon Thompson dropping to the bench. Donald McLaren and Liam Brymer come on to the bench after impressing for the 2ndXV.
KEY BATTLE: Blair Macpherson versus Hamilton Burr
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“The victory against Currie Chieftains last weekend was a step in the right direction, with a lot of positives that we will be looking to build on, but we know that there are many areas of our game with room for improvement, and we have worked hard on those this week. We will have to be at our best against a Stirling team who have put some impressive performances together so far this season and had a good victory last weekend …” – Peter Murchie (Ayr)
“We were happy to pick up full points last week at home and were much more clinical than we had been the week before. Ayr at Millbrae, however, is a completely different challenge. Under new coach Peter Murchie they have tweaked their style of attack and we expect a high-tempo, physical match which – with so many talented players on show – should excite the crowd …” – Eddie Pollock (Stirling County)
VERDICT: The new look Ayr team laid their marker down against Currie Chieftains last week – and Stirling showed their mettle against Accies. Two great clubs – two good teams – three pros apiece – Ayr with home advantage have the edge.
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS v HAWICK
VENUE: Malleny Park @ 3.00pm
Currie Chieftains: J Forbes; B Robbins, J Reynolds, R Nelson©, S Hamilton; G Hunter, C Shiel; R Patterson, G Carson, A McWilliam, R Davies, M Vernel, L Crosbie,T Gordon, S McGinley. Subs: C Wilson, F Watt, M Kelly, R Frostwick, A Hall.
Hawick: K Young; A Roberts, A Mitchell, D Buckley©, F Robson; K Brunton, G Huggan; R Macleod, C Renwick, P Ceccarelli, D Suddon, D Redpath, S Graham, D Davison, B McNeil. Subs: A Grieve, T Hope, S Fairbairn, A Weir, K Davies.
TEAM NEWS –
Currie Chieftains: Both first year pros have been released and will start, assuming they are not called up by Edinburgh on Friday night. Luke Crosbie’s availability allows Rhys Davies to move to the second-row to fill the gap left by the injured Stephen Ainslie. AP McWilliam rotates in at tight-head prop for Fraser Watt.
Hawick: Pietro Ceccarelli is released by Edinburgh to start at tight-head, so youngster Ruaridh Macleod switches to loose-head in place of the unavailable Matt Carryer. Drew Davison makes his first start as one of four players promoted after impressing for the Force (2ndXV) last week, alongside Gareth Welsh, Kyle Brunton and Andrew Mitchell. Stand-off Lee Armstrong is sidelined through injury.
KEY BATTLE: Luke Crosbie versus Stuart Graham
WHAT THE COACHED SAY –
“Having played each other twice in pre-season, both teams know each other well. Hawick will be disappointed with the way they have started but will have learnt a lot over the last few weeks and I am sure will come to Malleny determined to get their season up and running. We were happy with large parts of what we did last time out, however, Ayr taught us a lesson in turning pressure into points. We made it too easy for them at vital times and that told on the scoreboard. We have worked really hard this week on our analysis to understand how the game got away from us and we will look to right a few wrongs this weekend …” – Ben Cairns (Currie Chieftains)
“I need a reaction from the players this week. We all know that last week was unacceptable and cannot be repeated. We need to move on and ensure that we are prepared for the trip to Malleny. We played Currie twice in pre-season with different outcomes. We know what they bring and we need to be in the best place we can be if we want to get anything from this game …” – George Graham (Hawick)
VERDICT: Luke Crosbie is a big player for the Chieftains and is sure to help them bounce back from their setback at Millbrae last week. For Hawick it is all about self respect – and getting fifteen men on the pitch ready, willing and able to fight for the jersey.