CALEDONIA rugby may not now be in the hunt to land RBS Premiership silverware this season, but two of the district’s reviving clubs are out to put a firm spoke in the wheels of those who are this weekend.
Stirling County gained sweet revenge on Saturday for a frustrating 32-22 defeat to Bedwas at home in the British and Irish Cup by claiming a last-gasp 26-25 triumph over the current Welsh league leaders at a muddy Bridge Field. Both performances had high points which have lifted the mood around the club ahead of the return to domestic action and the visit today of the Scottish league leaders Ayr.
“Those two very solid performances in recent weeks have buoyed the team,” said Stirling coach Graeme Young. “But Ayr have been flying high and are a model of consistency this season so credit to Pete [Laverie] and Kenny [Murray] who have moulded a very new squad well. If we are to get the result we want the performance consistency across the whole 80 minutes will be key.”
Young needs a lift as since beating Melrose at the Greenyards in late October, County have lost their last three league matches and now need points to relieve relegation worries. He will be helped by the availability of Mark Bennett at centre, who faces his old club for the first time.
By contrast Aberdeen Grammar have won three on the trot against Dundee, Boroughmuir and home to Currie and are looking to extend their ten-point advantage over ‘Muir at the bottom to ease their fears of becoming embroiled in the dogfight.
They now stand in the way of Gala’s bid to bounce back from an agonising 16-13 loss away to Moseley as George Graham’s side attempt to follow Melrose’s lead and keep the Premiership trophy in the Borders.
The Maroons had added the English side to the scalp of London Scottish at home in the British and Irish Cup, but Graham’s priority remains a return to the top of the Scottish club tree and after losing their last league match away to Ayr, which allowed the Millbrae men to leapfrog them back into top spot – only a point separates them – he is seeking a response from his team today.
“After last week’s disappointment down at Moseley the boys are totally focused on returning to league action,” he said, “and there’s no better game than against Aberdeen, who, over the years, have always managed to push us to our limits.
“We will have to bring all the experience we have gathered over the last couple of weekends to the match on Saturday because Aberdeen will be a tough ask but if we play to our strengths I feel we should be too strong for them.”
Intriguingly, Aberdeen welcome back Scott Wight, the former Melrose player who grew up a devout rival to all things maroon. He has been released by Glasgow this week, having also played in the Rubislaw match that Gala won 26-25. Aberdeen coach Alex Duncan starts him at full-back, and will no doubt seek to utilise Wight’s hefty boot as Rob Aloe continues his partnership at half-back with Morgan Ward.
Duncan was surprised but delighted to have Wight available, but admitted that he would head south with a mixture of excitement and trepidation having been impressed by Gala and frustrated at that home defeat to the Borders side where fly-half Lee Millar – a product of Elgin – snatched victory for Gala with a late drop-goal. “I’d say we go into the last game of 2012 with a sense of anticipation against the in-form team in the Premiership,” he said. “Despite a narrow loss to Moseley in the B&I Cup, Gala have been in tremendous form in both competitions this season. They have forged a tremendous team spirit and team work ethic and are shrewdly led and driven by George and Scott [Nichol].
“We are still smarting from the well-taken drop-goal which edged the game at Rubislaw and with every match point vital for so many teams in the Premiership we will have to be at our best to pick up any in this encounter.”
Elsewhere this afternoon, Melrose host Edinburgh Accies and Currie are at home to Boroughmuir with both home sides eager to stay in the top four, while Dundee will bid to move out of the drop zone with victory over Heriot’s at Mayfield.