Veteran coaches face off in all-Edinburgh clash

Willie Aitken of Stewarts Melville, centre, will be looking to take the game to Accies right from the start of the game. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Willie Aitken of Stewarts Melville, centre, will be looking to take the game to Accies right from the start of the game. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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EDINBURGH Accies and Stewart’s Melville meet this afternoon in the RBS Premiership play-off at Hawthornden in Lasswade to decide which will be in the top ten next season.

Four years ago both Edinburgh clubs dropped down to the second tier of the club game.

Accies bounced back the ­following season. They have brought through many talented young players in the last couple of years and have been involved in the British & Irish Cup.

However, a bad run since ­November led to them finishing in second bottom place this time around in the Premiership and earlier this week the club’s hierarchy took the bold step to part company with coaches Jonny Else and Malcy McVie, both club stalwarts, and replace them with the canny operator that is Bob Easson, their director of rugby.

Time, well 80 minutes, will tell if that was the right decision.

Stewart’s Melville come into the match having lost on the last day of the National League season to closest rivals Watsonians, but the collection of a losing bonus point meant they still ­finished in second behind ­champions Boroughmuir.

Before that Watsonians ­encounter the Inverleith side had not lost in the league since September, when they went down 45-20 at Selkirk and their run of 12 wins and a draw was quite a feat.

Like Accies they too will have a canny operator leading things from the technical area, Bruce McNaughton, having had a long career in coaching.

In terms of team selections Accies have been dealt a blow with Scotland ‘A’ and Edinburgh Rugby EDP Alex Allan missing out through injury. Duncan Morrison is an able deputy at prop though and they can call on another Alex – Toolis – the big Australian second-row who is also an Edinburgh Rugby Elite Development Player.

Toolis will team up with skipper Greg Campbell in the ‘boiler house’ and their partnership will be crucial. In the back row former Scotland Under-20 man Callum Reid starts and, after a frustrating season with niggling injuries, he has the chance to show a wider audience the skills that saw him training with Glasgow Warriors at one point.

Behind the scrum, Mike Campbell starts at scrum-half while there is a solid centre partnership of Iain Berthinussen and Ewen Campbell, and three exciting young talents take up the wing and full-back spots.

Ruairidh Young, who is back to full fitness after a broken leg, and Edinburgh Rugby EDP Jamie Farndale, both played for Scotland Under-20s in the recent RBS 6 Nations, while Nyle Godsmark has been one of the club’s best performers in 2013/14 and earned Club XV honours as a result. Stewart’s Melville have prop Rhys Morgan back in the starting XV after a ban saw him miss the Watsonians match a fortnight ago.

Other then his return there are few other changes to the set up and up front the likes of ­Willie Aitken, formerly of ­Peebles, and Scott Brewster will really be looking to take the game to Accies early on.

Behind the scrum the Stewart’s Melville backline has ­improved as the season has progressed and in Fraser Strachan and captain Nick McCashin they have a very solid half-back pairing with the latter knowing the best time to kick for territory when it is ­required. Stew Mel’s two wingers, Alan Whittingham and Matt Morrell, have both played in the top flight before for other clubs and both have had great first seasons at ­Inverleith.

All in all there are intriguing individual match ups across the board in what looks likely to be, on paper at least, a tight match played in front of a large crowd.

Accies: R Young; J Farndale, ECampbell, IBerthinussen, NGodsmark; ABlair, M Campbell; D Morrison, M Liness, P Cringle, G Campbell, A Toolis, T Stuart, C Reid, R Snape. Subs: D Bates, C Lacour, J McCarthy, T Hancock, R Bonner, J Marples, S Pecqueur.

Stew-Mel: M Hanning; A Whittingham, D Hampton, N Bowie, M Morrell; N McCashin, F Strachan; W Aitken, N Hart, R Morgan, S Brewster, F Morrison, R Stewart, A Howie, B Wilson. Subs: R Anderson, C Mackay, J Hamblin, S Wilson, D Sangster, S Trotter, C Beattie.