SCOTTISH club rugby craves excitement and while there remains a push behind the scenes for a new, semi-professional eight-team set-up, the current ten-team Premiership is doing its bit to lift the tension as it heads into the final stretch of the season.
By beating nearest challengers Gala home and away, Ayr have seized the top spot but as they prepare to host Edinburgh Accies this afternoon the Maroons have played their game in hand and are now just two points behind having picked up two more bonus points than the leaders.
Bonus points are now crucial and while victories have been hard-won recently George Graham will be trying to keep his players focused on simply winning their last three games but also going for the four tries that will give them a chance of overhauling Ayr. If they do not pick one up today, at home to Dundee HSFP, and Ayr do then the Maroons will need the leaders to draw or lose a game in their final two weeks if they are to take the trophy back to Netherdale after a long absence.
But with virtually the entire division still involved in the race for the top four British and Irish Cup spots, and similarly even Melrose in fourth place not yet technically clear of ninth, and the relegation play-off spot, Edinburgh Accies coach Simon Cross believes that the top two may not have the final few games all their own way.
Reflecting on the win over Melrose in their last outing, Cross said: “I was incredibly proud of their effort and very relieved with the league points against Melrose.
“Ayr might look to have the league sewn up, but we will be doing our utmost to spark an upset and get a win at Millbrae. We worked very hard for our points against Melrose and this young side really grew up at the Greenyards.”
Ayr head coach Kenny Murray is certainly not taking anything for granted. “Every game remains significant throughout the league and they [Accies] will be keen to do us over,” he said.
“We’re definitely at the business end of the season now. The coaches and players are only concentrating on this one match against a quick and ambitious Edinburgh Accies side who will no doubt be buoyed by a huge win against Melrose last week. We know we’ll need to play at our best to gain the all-important points but every ounce of preparation has gone into just that and the players know what they have to do and the standards expected. Interestingly, it’s our 14th defence of the Bill McLaren Shield since we won it from Accies last October.”
Netherdale is expecting something similar, with Dundee looking to bounce back from a 40-20 loss at Boroughmuir and, just five points from fourth, push on towards the British and Irish Cup’s last spot.
“We travel to Netherdale having learned a few basic lessons from last week’s game against Boroughmuir,” said Ian Rankin, Dundee’s director of rugby, “which are: never underestimate the opposition, complacency never works and attitude is everything. After letting down ourselves and all associated with the club last weekend, the approach this week will be different as we head south to play the most consistent team in the Premiership.”
Stirling County face a tough trip to Malleny Park to play Currie while Aberdeen Grammar host Heriot’s at Rubislaw. Melrose travel to Meggetland to play bottom club Boroughmuir with coach Craig Chalmers determined to ensure his final season at the Greenyards ends with the club at least retaining its presence in the British and Irish Cup.