BT Premiership PREVIEW | Melrose and Ayr meet again in league final

Table-toppers Melrose welcome defending champions Ayr to the Greenyards this Saturday (7 April, kick-off 3pm) in a replay of last year’s BT Premiership final.

Melrose had finished top in 2017 as well and welcomed Ayr to their backyard looking to seal the title after a strong league campaign only to see the west coast outfit get their hands on the trophy in a close encounter, 8-12.

This year the sides have met on three occasions with Melrose taking the spoils twice, in the charity shield and in round 3 at Millbrae, before Ayr inflicted the Borderers first defeat of the season after 12 bonus point wins.

While Melrose will be emboldened by an imperious league campaign, they will know that they face as stern a challenge as they have all season when Ayr visit to defend their title.

The men in pink and black showed nerves of steel and incredible determination to close out their semi-final against a dangerous Currie Chieftains team, having been 18-points adrift in the first-half and playing well into injury time.

Their second-half performance in that match will give Ayr confidence heading into the showpiece fixture but the team are not getting ahead of themselves against a side that has lost only three matches.

Ayr Head Coach Calum Forrester said: “Melrose have been the outstanding side in the BT Premiership throughout the season and were worthy runaway league leaders in the regular campaign.

“They have strength across the park with big physical ball carriers in the pack and dangerous runners in the backline.

Our players are fully aware of how tough it is going to be on Saturday but have prepared well and are determined to finish the season on a high as we look to retain the BT Premiership title.”

Ayr make some enforced changes to their squad with Captain Pete McCallum replaced in the back-row by George Stokes. Grant Anderson will captain the side from full-back.

In the backline, centres Frazier Climo and Robbie Fergusson are injured and away on Scotland 7s duty respectively so Stafford McDowall and Matt Davidson, who played together in Ayr’s win at the Greenyards earlier in the season, take their places. Glasgow Warriors release Rory Hughes starts on the wing.

Melrose start an unchanged backline for a third game with Grant Shiels and Russel Anderson joining the forwards. Scotland centurion Ross Ford takes a space on the bench.

The home team’s continuity is symptomatic of the ‘big-game’ performances they have put in over the past weeks.

However, Melrose Head Coach Rob Chrystie is well aware that they will need to be at their very best against a visiting side that have lost just one of their last seven.

Chrystie said: “Ayr have had to work really hard to get into the final but have shown their calibre and ability to win big games over the last few weeks. They clearly will be looking to dominate up front which has set the foundations for their results as of late.

There has been an excitement and focus at training this week and we are looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead this Saturday.”

“Hopefully both teams and officials can serve up a positive and high-quality game that will showcase the BT Premiership.”

Melrose v Ayr, the Greenyards, Saturday 7 April, 3pm

Melrose: Fraser Thomson; Austin Lockington, George Taylor, Craig Jackson, Ross McCann; Jason Baggott, Murdo McAndrew;Grant Shiels,Russel Anderson, Nick Beavon, James Head, Angus Runciman, Ruaridh Knott, Grant Runciman CAPTAIN, Ian Moody

Replacements:Ross Ford, Dan Elkington,Ruairi Mcleod,Ali Grieve, Bruce Colvine, Gavin Wood, Patrick Anderson

Ayr: Grant Anderson CAPTAIN; Rory Hughes, Matt Davidson, Stafford McDowall, Craig Gossman; Scott Lyle, David Armstrong; Robin Hislop, Lewis Anderson, Steven Longwell, George Hunter, Rob McAlpine, Tommy Spinks, George Stokes, Blair Macpherson

Replacements:David Young, Jonathan Agnew, Scott Sutherland, Michael Badenhorst, Harry Warr, Paddy Dewhirst, Jamie Bova