CLUB rugby should move into a higher gear this afternoon, provided the North Atlantic deluge holds off long enough, with the shift of the RBS Cup into the quarter-final stages.
It is debatable where the real excitement is being generated in the Scottish club game in a season that is increasingly fractured by the weather, other competitions and international breaks. But eight of the leading clubs across Scotland have the opportunity this afternoon to fill their clubhouses and put on a show that reminds supporters that the club game remains alive and kicking.
Melrose are top the RBS Premiership by a point from Gala, but their Border rivals have a game in hand, and both are at home in the last-eight stage as they seek to maintain hopes of a league and cup double.
Heriot’s are the visitors to the Greenyards (2.30pm), in what is already a game for two prizes, with a place in the cup semi-final and the Bill McLaren Shield up for grabs. Heriot’s have already beaten Melrose this season on league business, but with ‘Rose’s cup pedigree and eagerness to hold on to the McLaren Shield the Edinburgh side can expect a hot reception.
Melrose head coach John Dalziel said: “The cup is a welcome break from the intensity of the league but it comes with huge pressure in terms of winning.
“Games between the two teams have traditionally been open, high-scoring affairs, with both sides intent on playing a similar style of rugby.
“We know the conditions are set to be tricky, but the players have prepared very well over the last few weeks and we are extremely determined to continue our recent winning form.”
Stirling County are the visitors to Netherdale and Maroons coach George Graham is hopeful that the break from the league will provide a re-energising effect.
“We have a settled team from our last outing where the boys outplayed a good Accies side in atrocious conditions,” said Graham.
“The cup is a welcome break from the intensity of the league duty but it’s also a chance to reach the next stage and possibly Murrayfield.
“To do that we will have to be at our best to tackle a much-improved Stirling side.”
A number of professionals have again been released to the teams – Lewis Niven (Melrose), Kevin Bryce (Heriot’s), Aleki Lutui, Alex Toolis and Hamish Watson (all Edinburgh Accies), and Finlay Gillies and Mike Cusack (both Glasgow Hawks) – and Graham remains unconvinced by the value of that.
“I feel its unfortunate that this competition is not strictly amateur anymore.
“It was always the competition where amateurs got a chance to go to Murrayfield under their own steam, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, which in my opinion is very sad.”
Ayr are the cup holders and they host Glasgow Hawks (2.30pm). Peter Laverie, the Ayr head coach, knows that the cup may be the best chance his side have of silverware this term and believes the west coast derby will lift excitement levels.
“We’re back on cup duty against none other than our local rivals, Hawks, which always makes for a tough encounter,” he said. “One the players will no doubt be up for.
“There are battles in a number of key positions, intensified by the fact the boys all know each other on a personal level.”
In the capital, Raeburn Place is the setting for a city clash between Edinburgh Accies and Aberdeen Grammar Rugby. That is if there is any rugby today.
The rains have hit the plains of the Borders, Edinburgh and the west coast with some venom in the past 24 hours, and supporters are advised to check with their clubs before travelling to the grounds, or at least look out some swimwear and goggles, if the water continues to fall this morning.