Heriot’s have turned to one of their biggest stalwarts as they prepare to welcome champions Ayr to Goldenacre in the Scottish Rugby Premiership tomorrow.
Lining up at prop for the injured Gavin Cameron will be Stewart Mustard, 33, who has made at least one top team appearance every season since debuting in a cup tie against Musselburgh in 1998.
It is a remarkable feat of resilience by the man who came off the bench to share in last week’s 18-13 victory over Stirling and it comes at a time when it seems players increasingly flit across the club firmament.
“The only way I’d have played for any other club is if I moved away from Edinburgh,” says Stewart, a project manager.
“Heriot’s have given me some great times including two league and two cup victories and the spirit in the current squad is as good as ever. I’ll go on as long as I feel able to contribute.
“Ayr will be a tough ask for us but they like to play open rugby as we do so it should be a cracking game.”
The experience of Mustard, who has broadened out to cover the entire front row after gaining Scotland Under-19 caps at hooker when subsequent full internationalist Dougie Hall was a rival, is especially vital as Heriot’s stoke up another title challenge.
Drafted into the squad this season are Liam Steele, James Fleming, Keith Buchan, George Turner and Alex Henderson so the likes of Mustard are able to provide essential continuity.
Steele, formerly of Stewart’s Melville, is one of several players singled out as a particular threat by the Ayr coach Peter Laverie.
“Jason Hill and Murray Douglas are key players up front and they have plenty of threat in the back line with Graham Wilson, Colin Goudie, Liam Steele and Cammy Ferguson.”
Ayr come off the back of a 29-0 win over Currie and Laverie adds: “Our performance last week against Currie was very pleasing both in attack and defence and the key lesson will be to exercise patience and not try to force play.
“I’m sure Heriot’s will come at us from the first whistle hoping to score early points, we will have to be ready for this.”
Heriot’s coach Phil Smith, who promotes last week’s last-gasp try scorer James Fleming to the starting line-up, says: “We will be looking for another controlled performance this week as our control of last week’s game was probably the most pleasing aspect.”
At Malleny Park Currie will be looking to get off the mark against an Edinburgh Accies side keen to bounce back after surrendering their unbeaten record against Hawick.
Callum Kerr, a two-try winger against Stirling County, regains his place and injuries force a significant Currie overhaul.
Joe Reynolds, Elliot Mitchell and Dave Cherry drop out but that allows George Horne and Ruaridh Smith to move to their preferred positions of stand off and full back.
Coach Ally Donaldson says: “We feel we are improving in some areas but are just failing to put it together for 80 minutes.”
Accies, who have Iain Berthinussen back at centre with Ruaridih Bonner moving to scrum half and Andrew Findlater promoted to the flank, strike a similar note.
Coach Jonny Else says: “We have worked hard to sort out our tactical and technical errors and must make sure that we are accurate in possession.”
In the National League, free scoring Watsonians visit Hillhead/Jordanhill with an intriguing change that sees Ewan Miller move from wing to flanker.
With the entire front row who faced Biggar last week out injured, James Forrester, Ali Ross and Danny Moussa are promoted en bloc while Matt Page’s return after illness at scrum-half allows Ramsay Young to revert to the wing.
Stewart’s Melville head for Selkirk desperate to atone for a 32-0 home defeat by Peebles, who now get the opportunity to test themselves against the unbeaten Boroughmuir at The Gytes.