THE Scottish teams have been strengthened by pros for today’s final British and Irish Cup matches of the year as Gala and Edinburgh Accies seek to regain some pride against the same opposition that handed out sobering thumpings last week.
The Borders side suffered a heavy 62-7 loss away to Bristol last week – Bristol duly changed their team and beat Aberavon 78-0 on Tuesday night – and coach George Graham acknowledged that it was largely the Bristol reserve side. But this week, Edinburgh have shipped five players south to bolster his resources.
Into the pack come James Hilterbrand, Moray Low and Sean Cox, while Nikki Walker swaps his traditional Hawick green for maroon and his new Edinburgh team-mate Sam Beard stiffens the midfield. Ben Toolis was also due to start at lock, but suffered an adductor injury in training, while Stevie Cairns has also been ruled out by injury. The late changes hand Fraser Hunter a call-up to the bench and a first senior involvement for talented young back row Josh Irvine.
Graham said: “We knew when we went to Bristol that we were going to be under the cosh right away and that if we missed tackles they would punish us, and they did. We fell off a lot of tackles just because of the size, the physicality and pace that these guys were coming at. But the pros we could have had last week had injuries and we had to delve into our second team and expose a few players to a level of rugby they have never experienced. Still, we discussed it at half-time and, in the second half, we were much better. The score in the second half was 19-7, so there was a good bit of character and desire shown.
“But it is rubbish to say that this is not worthwhile. This is definitely a fantastic opportunity for Scottish players to be exposed to a new level. Without pro players, we will always be on the back foot, but we have ambitious, talented young players who want to move on in the game and if you want to aspire to be a pro then this is what you have to expose yourself to.
“We played against what was effectively the Bristol second team, but I think 42 of their squad of 48 are full-time pros who train every day. It will still be tough this weekend, but this will be the biggest pack we’ve maybe ever seen in Gala colours and Sam and Nikki will add something to our back division, so we’re looking forward to seeing what the boys have learned and how we stand up in front of our support.”
Accies have injuries too for the visit of London Welsh, with Greg Campbell out with a knee injury, but Edinburgh have helped out by releasing almost a full pack to the capital club. Flanker-turned-hooker Stuart McInally is joined by Alex Allan and Lewis Niven in the front row, with Rob McAlpine and Alex Toolis at lock and Edinburgh’s new Kiwi signing Mike Coman and youngster Hamish Watson flanking No 8 Calum Reid, as Accies strive to cope with the demands of a professional outfit recently relegated from the Premiership.
London Welsh stick with the majority of the side that handed Accies a 73-10 drubbing at Old Deer Park last Saturday, with Rob Lewis replacing Ollie Frost at scrum-half, Nathan Morris taking over at hooker from Nathan Vella and Pete Browne back from injury in place of Will Carrick-Smith in the second row.
“London Welsh are an impressive outfit,” said Accies coach Jonny Else, “well coached with talented players who play rugby with width and pace.
“Although this is a tough mission, our squad relish this challenge and are ready to attack with ball in hand at Raeburn Place this Saturday.”
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE