Final four’s excitement builds at prospect of Murrayfield

THE RBS Scottish Cup has taken on a new shape this season, but as four teams reach the semi-final stage this afternoon there appears to be no dilution in the excitement one step away from Murrayfield.

Dundee have appeared twice in the cup final but never won it and their opponents Gala are perhaps the shock troops, having challenged for Premier One and reached the semi-finals in their first season back in the top flight. Their one and only cup final appearance was back in 1999, but it proved to be a winning one as a side inspired by Chris Paterson, Nathan Hines and skipper Richie Gray claimed a Division Two and Cup double.

The other semi-final takes place at Millbrae where the only two clubs to win the cup back-to-back – Ayr and Boroughmuir – meet, with the Ayrshiremen bidding to become the first to claim three cup titles in a row.

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The SRU has tried various formats to build excitement over the past 17 years of the cup, from it being a straight knock-out affair to fixing the draws so that minnows host the top clubs and ensure big “cup days out” at different grounds around the country, before re-drafting it last year to create regional qualifiers and reduce fixture congestion.

Glasgow opted for their own knockout cup, which did not run entirely smoothly as Whitecraigs were forced to withdraw to protect their league campaign, sending Ayr straight into the last four; but the Borders, Caledonia and Edinburgh reported good crowds at derby matches.

Dundee’s director of rugby, Ian Rankin, believes today’s hosting of Gala at Mayfield will be one of the most attractive and significant fixtures of the year.

“Since having to dig very deep to sneak past Gala in our league match a few weeks ago both clubs have been scoring freely,” he said, “so this RBS semi-final promises to be a cracker.

“George Graham has done a great job with Gala, getting them to third in the league and a cup semi in their first year back in the top division and both clubs will be desperate to get a result that will take their players and supporters to the Final at Murrayfield.”

Gala coach Graham witnessed many big games in his time as a rugby league and union player, notably with Stirling County, Newcastle and Scotland, but he is similarly excited about the potential to add to a fine first season back in the top flight for the Maroons by rekindling memories of 1999.

“Playing in any semi-final is huge,” said Graham, “and the mindset is slightly different to what it would be for a league game, but if we keep playing with the same confidence and enthusiasm we showed in the first half of the season and again over the last few weeks, then we won’t be far away.

“It would be great to get in among the silverware again and everyone is certainly showing the right approach to the game. We’re looking forward to what is a hugely important match.”

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Meanwhile, Ayr head coach Kenny Murray feels similarly about his side’s meeting with Boroughmuir, commenting: “It goes without saying really that this is now the biggest game of the season for the club. It represents a golden opportunity to appear in a cup final at Murrayfield for the third time in a row.

“Boroughmuir will be desperate to do well and are likely to take some confidence from their win against us at Meggetland a few weeks ago. Naturally, they will want to finish with a flourish, but this is the cup and we are the holders and our players are determined to keep that trophy.”

Fergus Pringle, the Borougmuir head coach, responded: “This a huge game for both teams – cup games are one-offs – there will be a big crowd at Millbrae, but the ‘Muir squad is up for the challenge.”

Gala will not be the only Borderers vying for a place at finals day with Hawick YM aiming for a third Murrayfield appearance when they face Musselburgh at Mansfield Haugh in the Shield, while Hawick Harlequins are away to Dunbar looking to return to finals day a decade on from their solitary appearance.

Kilmarnock host Dunfermline in the other Shield semi-final and Helensburgh travel to Grangemouth to contest a place in the Bowl final.