Heriot's looking to seal league and cup double at Millbrae
The reigning champions are seeking to follow in the footsteps of Melrose in 1997, Hawick in 2002, Glasgow Hawks in 2004 and Ayr in 2013 by following up last weekend’s cup win over the Greenyards side at BT Murrayfield with a successful defence of their crown. Gala also won a double in 1999 but the league leg of that was the old Second Division title.
The Goldenacre side also won the BT Charity Shield last summer so it could be viewed as a treble and they will travel west with confidence built up by dogged semi-finals in both cup and league and that 21-13 victory over Melrose seven days ago. Ayr have home advantage and are buoyed by the thumping 48-10 defeat they inflicted on Melrose in the last four, not to mention a home and away league double this season over today’s opponents, so it all points to a cracker at Millbrae this afternoon.
Both squads are boosted by professional experience, with two-try cup final hero Neil Cochrane again released by Edinburgh to take a place on the Heriot’s bench, where he is joined by Glenn Bryce, the Glasgow full-back who will join Alan Solomons’ squad in the summer.
In the home side’s starting line-up, promising young hooker James Malcolm has enjoyed game time for the Warriors this season and so has wing Junior Bulumakau. Former Scotland Under-20 player Archie Russell, the younger brother of Scotland stand-off Finn, is on the Ayr bench.
Heriot’s won the inaugural Grand Final last year when they defeated Melrose at Goldenacre after the introduction of the play-off system, and the Edinburgh club are gunning for a fifth title since the official championship started in 1973-74. Ayr are aiming to be national champions for a third time.
Heriot’s coach Phil Smith makes only one change from his cup final squad, with Bryce in for the injured Iain Wilson, and he said: “The highs of last weekend have carried through to training this week with three quality sessions, which made selection much tougher than it looks.
“We go into this game knowing exactly how Ayr feel regarding the pressure and expectation having been the most consistent team in the league over the season. We also know they come into the game on the back of a terrific performance against Melrose.”
Ayr counterpart Callum Forrester has also been able to reward the bulk of his squad for their semi-final heroics, with just one enforced change to the starting XV. Hooker David Young is unfortunate to miss out following an injury picked up whilst farming so Malcolm returns following his pro duties with the Glasgow Warriors.
Forrester said: “Heriot’s will be coming to Millbrae this weekend on a high after their victory in the Cup final and now looking to defend their BT Premiership title. We have enjoyed a couple of close, hard-fought encounters so far this season and we expect the same again this weekend.
“Our preparations have gone well for this match and the players can’t wait to get out and play in front of the home crowd.
“We expect a big crowd down at Millbrae this Saturday which will create a great atmosphere.
“Both teams like to play with ball in hand and with a number of the outstanding players in the BT Premiership this season on show, this is set to be a great spectacle for Scottish club rugby.”