THE scrum changes inevitably grabbed much of the attention at the start of the season, but Aberdeen skipper Greig Ryan believes it is another change which has slipped under the radar that is costing his team points.
In a bid to improve the matchday experience the RBS Premiership clubs agreed to a new ten-minute half-time interval during which they could spotlight youth rugby or provide other forms of entertainment for the crowd. Ryan welcomes the move as helping to increase the attraction of club rugby, but believes the switch has caught his team cold.
He said: “Last season we were able to use the quick, four-minute break to our advantage as if we were in a winning position we felt a fast turnaround helped us to carry the momentum into the second half.
“But twice already this season, we’ve been caught cold in the second half of a match and, of course, it’s always disappointing to surrender a game from a winning position. We need to make sure we hit the ground running after the break but the new rule is taking a bit of getting used to.
“We aren’t making any excuses and as a team, we all know that we need to maintain our focus and drive for the full 80 minutes. You don’t win a game on a first-half performance alone.”
Aberdeen opened the season with a good win at Hawick but then lost 18-17 to Edinburgh Accies at home and, last weekend, went down 33-21 away to Gala. They welcome Stirling County up to Rubislaw this afternoon in the first Caledonia derby, with both sides seeking a win to hoist themselves up the table.
Coach Kevin Wyness is missing Harry Duthie and Matt Dixon to injury, but Tom Preece returns to the starting line-up and Scotland hooker Fraser Brown has been released by Glasgow and starts on the bench. Ryan’s brother Mark starts at stand-off and his other brother Sam is on the bench.
Stirling were awaiting late fitness checks before confirming their team but veteran Craig Deacons returns for the injured Ruaridh Leishman and Andy Watt is back from injury.
Melrose make the short trip to Hawick for a Premiership derby once again after the Teries’ return from the National League, and have stiffened their pack for the challenge. Gary Holborn, Struan Dewar and James Head all come in this week, while in the backs Andrew Skeen returns to fly-half with Scotland sevens player Mark Robertson taking over at outside centre, Allan Dodds returning on the wing and Austin Lockington replacing Fraser Thomson at full-back, the skipper struggling with a calf injury.
Hawick hand a debut to 19-year-old scrum-half Jake Evens, who has come north from Sedgley Park to fill the No 9 void created by injuries to Greg Cottrell and the versatile Gary Johnstone, and the two-week suspension of Bruce Campbell, whose appeal was dismissed by the SRU this week.
Evens has fit-again Rory Hutton alongside and with James Johnstone another threat in the backs, that half-back control will be crucial. As ever, it will hinge on who gains the upper hand in what promises to be a ferocious forward battle with Bruce McNeil in the second row as part of a strong Hawick back five.
Gala and Ayr are on the road hoping to pounce on any slip-up by Melrose and reclaim the top spot, the Maroons at Glasgow Hawks and Ayr in the capital to face Heriot’s, while Currie and Edinburgh Accies meet at Malleny Park with the hosts seeking a first win of the season.