Stewart’s Melville coach Bruce Macnaughton insists his team will have “no fear” when attempting to be first to bring down all-conquering Boroughmuir at Meggetland in the National League tomorrow.
A run of six straight victories has seen Stew Mel climb to third in the table and, if second-place Watsonians were to slip up at home to Selkirk, Stew Mel could then enter the play-off place.
Macnaughton says: “I know Boroughmuir will start favourites but I really don’t think we have anything to fear.
“In the previous meeting with Boroughmuir we were 13-5 ahead with 15 minutes remaining when we lost Nick McCashin and Ross Samson to the sin-bin simultaneously.
“In the end we went down 15-18 but we have built up a lot of momentum since then.”
One of the keys to the revival, according to the coach, has been a back three comprising of Alan Whittingham, Matt Morrell and Michael Hannan.
Whittingham will be absent tomorrow with Matt Hanney standing in but Macnaughton remains confident.
“Matt has been at a few different clubs but he continues to know how to finish on the wing and Michael has been a revelation since switching from stand off to his original position.
“Fair play to Fraser Strachan who joined us while Ross Samson (ex-Edinburgh and London Irish) was still around and opted to fight for a place at scrum half.
“Now he is reaping benefits while Nick McCashin is a class act at stand off with experience of playing for Bay of Plenty and Spanish side La Vila against Saracens in the Amlin Trophy.
“Up front there is a solid spine based on stalwarts Willie Aitken, Scott Brewster and Donald Sangster with 19-year-old Rhuarid Stewart breaking through on the flank.
“There is certainly enough talent to trouble Boroughmuir especially as Nick McCashin has hopefully settled in Edinburgh.”
In one respect this season is proving like a groundhog day for Stew Mel.
Macnaughton says: “A few years ago we went to Edinburgh Accies and received a real hammering which was the catalyst for our unbeaten run until the end of the season.
“This time round we inexplicably lost 32-0 at home to Peebles and, after another setback the following week at Selkirk, have embarked on our present streak. What we will need to avoid, though, is taking our foot off the gas as that nearly cost us when getting past GHA (34-28) in one of three single score wins from our last four matches.”
In the Stew Mel pack, Jonathan Hamblin returns at second row and Nicholas Hart takes over from Adam Howie at hooker.
As for hosts Boroughmuir, who have played ten and won ten, they lived dangerously in squeezing past Hillhead/Jordanhill and make a couple of changes. Jordan Webster returns on the wing and replaces Ross Bradford while in the pack prop Nick Fraser returns from a spell playing in Canada and starts.
Watsonians will be strengthened for their home match against Selkirk by the return of Edinburgh youth signing Neil Irvine-Hess in the back row after injury while their opponents have Scottish clubs’ internationalist Fraser Harkness returning at full back.
In the Premiership, title chasing Heriot’s head for Gala after defeating leaders Melrose last week.
Brothers Russell and Max Nimmo are both unavailable which allows Jason Hill and Harry Boisseau to return to the starting line-up.
Coach Phil Smith says: “After the high of last week we have quickly had to focus for another monumental challenge.
“With the top four teams playing each other (Ayr are at Melrose) this weekend no-one will want to lose ground so I sense two close encounters.
“We are well aware of the challenge that Gala will set us as they led for most of the game at Goldenacre and I am sure their British and Irish Cup experience will have further hardened an already tough squad.
“We know, however, if we can repeat last week’s efforts and accuracy we will be hard to beat.”
A major bonus for Heriot’s is that sevens cap Michael Maltman continues to be available.
Gala will be primed for a special effort having been pipped by a late Heriot’s fightback earlier this season.
George Graham jnr is still out injured so Grayson Hart keeps his place at scrum half and, with James Hilterbrand on the bench for Edinburgh, he is replaced with Ollie Atkins among the substitutes.
Gerald Sibanda is back on the Gala bench after a long injury lay-off. Gala coach George Graham snr, says: “After a good win last week against a very resolute Currie we are totally focused.
“Heriot’s will travel to Netherdale full of confidence after a very good win against Melrose and they have kicked on since we last met in August where we let them off the hook when we were winning 27-9 just after half-time.
“If we win we close the gap on first and second-placed teams with two games in hand.”
Elsewhere, basement club Currie head for Stirling County while Edinburgh Accies, without a win since overcoming leaders Melrose six matches ago, await Aberdeen Grammar FPs. Accies welcome back Ewen Campbell and internationalist Lee Jones starts at wing with Nyle Godsmark switching to full back. Alex Blair starts at stand off partnering Mike Campbell. Up front Jamie McCarthy returns.
The Dons recall Stevie Aitken after two weeks stranded offshore due to bad weather.