E&L are the team to beat as Cities and Counties kicks off

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The opening games in the Scottish Cities & Counties championship take place today and defending champions Edinburgh & Leith start their East section campaign with home clash against West Fife at Sighthill.

E&L have topped the highly-competitive East section for the past two seasons and have earned the right to be considered clear favourites to have the measure of chief rivals East Lothian and West Lothian yet again.

Today’s visitors will also be tackling an E&L team that has five changes from the line-up that captured the title last July with team manager Willie Watson losing the services of Colin Hutchison, Davie Brown, Jamie Gracie, George Kirk and Craig McCall.

Hutchison and Brown are out for the full campaign but Gracie, Kirk, and McCall will be back in the reckoning for fixture No.2 against West Lothian at Linlithgow.

Watson’s replacements for the five missing stars are four recalls in the shape of Ian Paterson, Alan Trotter, Alan Brown, and Stephen Pringle plus a debut – under Watson – for Kevin Tennant of Carrick Knowe.

Rink 1: Alan Trotter (Maitland), Craig Paterson (Bainfield), Neil Watson (Parkside), Paul O’Donnell (Carrick Knowe).

Rink 2: Gavin Smith (Pilrig), Brian Stoddart (Bainfield), John McDermott (Sighthill), Robert Marshall (Slateford).

Rink 3: Andrew Caldwell (Craigentinny), Derek Smith (Parkside), Darren Hush (Carrick Knowe), James Hogg (Carrick Knowe).

Rink 4: Stephen Pringle (Carrick Knowe) Davie Fisher (Colinton), Alex Hurry (Parkside), Paul Veitch (Parkside).

Rink 5: Kevin Tennant (Carrick Knowe), Gordon Bold (Craigentinny), Alan Brown (Gorgie Mills, Mal Higgenbotham (Tanfield).

Rink 6: Daniel Gormley (Craigentinny), Ian Paterson (Craigentinny), Robert Donaldson (Parkside), Willie McDonald (Craigentinny).

East LOTHIAN qualified in second place for the knockout stage last season and the six-times champions enter this latest campaign with star figures Alex Marshall MBE, Willie Wood MBE and Derek Oliver unavailable for selection.

The absence of Tranent trio John McCrorie, Kenny McCrorie, and Jamie Higgins plus Scott Logan of East Lothian Co-op and David Sked of Gifford also takes a shine of their line-up against Fife County at Windygates.

The return of veteran campaigners John White of Haddington and Ormiston’s Stuart Johnston after several years of self-imposed exile is a positive while the team – captained by Craig Valentine of Port Seton – includes six new faces, Billy Cormack (Macmerry), Steve Greenan (Prestongrange), Calvert Allison (East Linton), Gordon White (Aberlady), Mark Riding (Elphinstone) and Stephen Cochrane of EL-Co-op.

The six EL skips are Brian Young (Tranent), Steven Morgan (Port Seton), Alister Kennedy (West Barns), Craig Valentine, Scott Kennedy (West Barns), and Billy Mellors (West Barns).

West Lothian have star names Neil Speirs, John Aitken, Calum 
Logan and George Sneddon missing the game against 
Stirling East at Burnhead (Larbert) while Midlothian entertain Borders at Newbattle.