WITH the British and Irish Cup behind Scottish teams for another season, the tension begins to mount this afternoon around the chase for the Premiership title and the opportunity to be part of the cross-border tournament next year.
The title race has become a two-horse one, with Ayr heading to Heriot’s Goldenacre ground today (2pm kick-off) aiming to extend their six-point lead over second-placed Gala, who are at home to Currie (3pm).
Boosted by the availability of Glasgow and Scotland props Jon Welsh and Ed Kalman, as they continue their recoveries from injuries, Ayr coach Kenny Murray said: “This match throws up the prospect of a really tough encounter at Goldenacre.
“Heriot’s played well against us in September and the score [17-13] reflected a close game at Millbrae. Heriot’s have stayed in the top half of the table since then and, with a game in hand over Melrose who sit above them in the league, they will be desperate to secure that fourth spot and a return to British and Irish Cup action.”
Heriot’s head coach Phil Smith believes a home win is within reach. He agreed with Murray that there was little in the Millbrae fixture and believes his side can build on the recent derby win at Edinburgh Accies. He said: “After nearly beating Ayr in the away fixture we will at least go into this game hopeful that a repeat performance will mean we will be in the game throughout.
“Ayr are obviously the form team this season and any drop in level will mean we will be put under pressure, but we are still chasing a B&I Cup place so there is a lot to play for as Ayr try and close out the league title.”
The Maroons have a game in hand and their coaches George Graham and Scott Nichol know the importance of securing not only a win, but also a bonus point if they are to rein in the Ayrshire men, but winning will be a challenge enough after Gala survived a scare at Boroughmuir last time out, when a late penalty miss allowed them to leave Meggetland with a one-point win. They have a familiar look to the starting line-up with prolific try-scorer Euan Dods back in harness at No 8, Chris Auld at outside centre and half-backs George Graham and Lee Millar looking to pull the strings to another Netherdale win.
Both Heriot’s and Gala are confident that their games will go ahead, but they face checks this morning as the twin threats of sub-zero temperatures and snow bring a real threat.
Elsewhere, all eight teams below Ayr and Gala still have a mathematical chance of finishing in the top four and claiming a British and Irish Cup spot. Just 12 points separate Currie in third and Dundee in ninth spot, with Boroughmuir at the foot just 16 points off fourth place with six games to play.
Dundee HSFP’s match with Edinburgh Accies at Mayfield was called off last night, but Aberdeen Grammar are at Melrose (2pm) and at Stirling County host Boroughmuir (3pm).