Scotland’s top ten rugby teams will begin their 2013/14 RBS Premiership campaign at 3pm tomorrow throughout the country.
After the competitive benchmark that was set last season, the league is due to move up another gear with all teams looking to be triumphant at the top of the domestic game and desperate to have their chance in the British & Irish Cup, with another four coveted places up for grabs.
Also, the new “crouch, bind, set” scrum variations will add another element of interest for players and supporters alike.
For defending champions, Ayr, it’s a trip north to Bridgehaugh where they’ll take on British & Irish Cup side, Stirling County.
Newly appointed head coach, Peter Laverie, said: “This is a massive game to get our league campaign started and there's no doubt Stirling will provide a stern challenge in front of their home crowd.
“I expect a physical battle and an intense match and we'll have to see how the new scrum engagement sequence beds in. Our players enjoyed a good break and have worked very hard in pre-season training, but the real business starts tomorrow and I know they are desperate to get going.
Stirling County head coach, Graeme Young, said: “Ayr set the benchmark last season with impressive consistency. Our players have worked hard during pre-season to build upon our strengths and improve our areas for development.
“The new scrum laws will add to the spice this season I’m sure. The squad are excited to get underway in what is shaping up to be another very competitive league.”
The remaining two British & Irish Cup sides, Gala and Edinburgh Accies, will be welcoming Currie and Glasgow Hawks to their home turf at Netherdale and Raeburn Place respectively.
Gala head coach, George Graham, said: “As is with the start of any season you’re never sure how things are going to turn out and you can only hope that all the hard work and dedication will be rewarded.
“If that is true then we should be up there once again with the best of them. However, everyone will be in the same frame of mind, so we have to get off to a flying start if we’re to continue to progress to the place where we want to be and that is league winners.
“There are a lot of games, injuries and decisions to be made before anyone can say that though and I'm sure Currie will come to Netherdale trying to do the same as us and get that first win under their belt.”
Ally Donaldson, Currie head coach, said: “Gala away is about as tough as it gets for an opening encounter. They have been one of the top-sides over the past two seasons and have kept the bulk of their squad so will have the benefit of that.
“This season again promises to be exceptionally competitive and every point will be crucial.”
Edinburgh Accies’ new head coach, Jonny Else, said: “We know how tough playing any Hawks side is, especially as they are newly promoted and full of confidence. We are at home, so we must take the initiative and be fully prepared for anything that they throw at us.”
Jamie Dempsey, Glasgow Hawks head coach, said: “This is a big step up for Hawks travelling to play Edinburgh Accies who will be starting this season confidently after another strong performance last year.
“We will relish the challenge and hope to perform well in what will be a tough away encounter. First matches of the season will always be challenging and the team who can compose themselves best while physically pressurising their opponents will come out on top.”
The remaining two fixtures are Melrose v Heriot’s at the Greenyards and Hawick v Aberdeen Grammar at Mansfield Park.
For Melrose, with a selection of new players and a new coaching set-up there is a lot of excitement for the beginning of the season. Head coach, John Dalziel, said: “With a few new faces on both our coaching team and throughout our squad there has been fresh enthusiasm to our pre-season preparations.
“We hope this is very much the start of a new cycle for Melrose and this week’s fixture will be a firm test of where we are. Heriot’s first up is just about as hard as they come.
“We know Heriot’s and their coaches very well and recent games between the two clubs have been very competitive, high scoring matches. With the Greenyards looking at its very best we hope that this will be a very entertaining match.”
Ayr v Stirling County, Bridgehaugh, 3pm
Ayr team: Grant Anderson; Cammy Taylor, Robbie Fergusson, Dean Kelbrick, Kerr Gossman; Ross Curle, Peter Jericevich; Denford Mutamangira, Fergus Scott, Nick Cox, Scott Sutherland, Colin White, Graham Fisken, Andrew Dunlop, Calum Forrester (captain).
Replacements: James Malcolm, D'Arcy Rae, Callum Templeton, Sylvain Diez and Richard Dalgleish.
Stirling County team: Joff Hope; Graham Lindsay, Danny Gilmour, Brian Archibald, Ben Addison; Stuart Edwards, Colin Turnbull; Jamie Bhatti, Alex Moffat, Colin Hutton, Ruaridh Leishman, Matt Larsen, Steve Swindall, Sean McDonald and Jamie Swanson.
Replacements: Reynor Kennedy, Kris Burney, Struan Robertson, Bengy Bersanti and Matt Lamb.
Gala v Currie, Netherdale, 3pm
Gala team: Liam Draycott; Grant Sommerville, Chris Auld, Alan Emond, Craig Robertson; David O’Hagan, George Graham (captain); Luke Pettie, Russell Anderson, Rory Sutherland, Opeta Palepoi, Craig Borthwick, Gary Graham, Ben Murray and Euan Dodds.
Replacements: Callum MacKintosh, Craig Keddie, Steve Cairns, Andy Mclean and Graham Spiers.
Currie team: George Horne; Callum Kerr, Ethan Pollock, Jack Broadley, Ruaridh Smith; Joe Reynolds, Richard Sneddon; Alastair Hamilton, David Cherry, Fraser Watts, Gary Temple, Michael Vernal, Mark Cairns (captain), Malcolm Peacock and Ross Weston.
Replacements: Joe Roe, John Cox, Elliot Mitchell, Joe Strachan and Harvey Elms.
Edinburgh Accies v Glasgow Hawks, 3pm
Edinburgh Accies team: Jamie Sole; Jamie Farndale, Ewen Campbell, Ruaridh Bonner, Nyle Godsmark; Alex Blair, Alex Black; Duncan Morrison, Michael Liness, Phil Cringle, Greg Campbell, Jamie McCarthy, Neil Aitken, Tom Drennan and Robin Snape
Replacements: David Bates, Fraser Rawlinson, Max Gordon, Mike Campbell and Sam Pecqueur.
Glasgow Hawks team: Mike Adamson; Tom Steven, Ally MacLay, David Milne, Ross McLymont; Andy White, Patrick Boyer; Steven Findlay, Jack McFarlane, John Lohoar, Ruaridh Wilson, Rory McKay, Andy Kirkland, Mateusz Bartoszek and Ross Miller (captain).
Replacements: Finlay Gillies, Brendan Cullinane, Craig Brodie, Jack Steele and Haddon McPherson.
Melrose v Heriot’s, The Greenyards, 3pm
Melrose team: Fraser Thomson; Damien Hoyland, Andrew Skeen, Joe Helps, Alan Dodds; Richard Mill, Bruce Colvine; Nicky Little, Richard Ferguson, Nick Beavon, James Head, Ross Ovens, Peter Eccles, Grant Runciman and Graeme Dodds.
Replacements: Chris Keen, Gary Holborn, Perry Parker, Austin Lockington and Harry Leonard.
Heriot’s team: Liam Steele; Colin Goudie, Keith Buchan, Cameron Ferguson, Harry Boisseau; Graham Wilson, Guy Murdoch; Craig Owenson, George Turner, Gavin Cameron, Murray Douglas, Russell Nimmo, Lawrie Seydak, Chris Mulligan and Jason Hill.
Replacements: Michael Robertson, Scott Burnside, Declan Slaven, OJ Brown and Max Nimmo.
Hawick v Aberdeen Grammar, Mansfield Park, 3pm
Hawick team: Ally Weir; Neil McColm, Lee Armstrong, Gary Johnstone, Greg Anderson; Gregor Hunter, Bruce Campbell; Shawn Muir, Lindsey Gibson, Liam Launders, Rob McAlpine, Kieran Wilson, Stuart Graham, Keith Davis and Bruce McNeil.
Replacements: Matt Landels, Wullie Blacklock, Craig Smith, Scott McLeod and James Parker.
Aberdeen Grammar team: Will Wardlaw; Angus Rennie, Harry Duthie, Peceli Nacamavuto, Erland Oag; Rob Aloe, Morgan Ward; Matt Dixon, Sam Bingham, Struan Cessford, Ed Nimmons, Jamie Metcalfe, Rob Cessford, Greig Ryan (captain) and Tom Preece.
Replacements: Mike Cox, Nicki Fraser, Tony McGuiness, Mark Ryan and Luke Earle-Wright.