Preview to Ayr (A) 18.01.1415/01/2014
Rare diamonds, off-shore accounts and Tongan tresses
Stand by your slide rules... It's that time of year when supporters of those involved in the Heineken, Amlin and British & Irish Cups are mopping their brows and trying to work out what it takes to qualify for the knock-out stages. Websites and rule-books are scrutinised, heads are scratched and bonus points are like rare diamonds.
The demands of the TV companies mean that contenders in different pools of the Heineken and Amlin may play at different times between Thursday and Sunday, giving a possible advantage to those playing later, who may know exactly what they need to do to qualify by the time they leave the dressing room.
The B&I is less in thrall to TV, meaning that, with a couple of exceptions, all games will start at 2pm on Saturday.
Jersey will take the field at that time, having made their longest-ever journey (approaching 600 miles if you'd gone over land and sea) for a competitive fixture, in which they will take on Ayr, whose home town is most famous as the birthplace of the 18th Century poet Robert Burns, still widely recognised as Scotland's national poet.
Sadly the two sides won't be involved in the battle for quarter-final spots, with second place in pool 6 the most either could hope for. However both sides will be looking for a win to kick-start the remainder of their league campaigns.
The hosts have the best record of the four Scottish sides in this season's B&I, with 6 points from five games in which they've averaged 22 points per outing. Sadly the remaining trio - Stirling County, Gala and Edinburgh Accies - have struggled to compete, with 'nil points' thus far out of a possible 75 against mostly full-time professional sides.
In a game sponsored by RBS, Jersey welcomed Ayr to St Peter in
October with bagpipes, so it is to be hoped that this Saturday's
hosts will return the favour with bean crock, Liberation Ale and a
chanteuse belting out Man Bieau P'tit Jèrri (a.k.a. Beautiful
Jersey) over the Tannoy.
News from the Jersey camp
Steve Boden is in charge of selecting Jersey's squad for the final time this week before Harvey Biljon steps into the hot-seat on Monday after an intense two-week recce.
Expect a bit of rotation and experimentation from Boden, possibly an untried youngster, and hopefully an appearance against his old side for Nick Campbell. The former Ayr and Glasgow Warriors lock missed out in October, although wee Nick (pictured above by Sue Trower opening his off-shore try account against Ealing in November) got to have lunch with his Ma on her birthday as a consolation prize.
The Jersey squad will be announced on Friday morning, when they
are due to depart the Island at 10am on the first leg of their
journey. See HERE for
details of Jersey's line-up
Any Previous? October 12th - Jersey 28 Ayr 16
Ayr led 7-10 at the break, Finn Russell getting all the points for the visitors and Aaron Penberthy scoring a converted try for Jersey. Russell stretched the margin to 7-13 early in the second half, but a five-card trick from Welsh referee Dan Jones (three yellow, two red) was too much for the Scots, and Jersey roared back into the lead with another Penberthy try, followed by scores from Tom Fidler (below) and James Copsey to seal a bonus point. The full match report is HERE
Ayr in recent history, August 2012 to date
Ayr ended last season requiring an extension to the trophy cabinet at Millbrae. They took the Scottish Premiership title (for the second time) with room to spare and also ended the season holding the Bill McLaren Shield (as shown beneath).
Bill's Shield is a challenge trophy awarded for performances in
both cup and league games in honour of the great man and slightly
similar to the Ranfurly Shield in New Zealand, the so-called 'Log
o' Wood' which dates back to 1902 (this season the Shield was lost
to Melrose in August, won back by Ayr in early November and then
surrendered to Gala - the current holders - three weeks later. And
finally, they took the Scottish Cup in a thriller at Murrayfield,
when Cameron Taylor scored a try in the 100th minute (Johnny
Wilkinson territory) to seal a 28-25 win over Ayr.
Ayr became just the fourth club since the advent of league rugby in Scotland to clinch the league and cup double.
This season the Champions had a mixed start, with a home defeat by Melrose and a 20-19 reverse against Heriot's FP in their first seven games.
After travelling to Jersey in October, Ayr won three games on the spin against Stirling County, Melrose and Edinburgh Accies, but then suffered a hat-trick of losses to Currie, Gala and Heriot's FP. Their most recent league outing was a 32-14 win over Aberdeen Grammar just before Christmas, leaving the men in pink fourth in the Prem table, but within striking distance (7 points) of leaders Gala.
In the B&I, Ayr's trip to Jersey was followed by their most disappointing game of the season, a 10-53 home humping by Cornish Pirates, who take this competition more seriously than most. In December the Scots played the Ulster Ravens - almost a local derby - and achieved a superb 41-22 win at home before losing 38-21 in Belfast. Last weekend the long journey to Penzance ended with a much closer game against the Pirates, which finished 28-21 in muddy conditions.
There was a change in Head Coach for Ayr last summer, with Kenny Murray joining Pro 12 side Glasgow Warriors as Assistant Coach, and Peter Laverie promoted within after five years at Ayr.
Ayr have a sharing arrangement with the Scottish Elite Development Player (EDP) squad, with players available to both their club side and Glasgow Warriors according to demand.
One EDP, fly-half Finn Russell, is certainly one to watch, and Ayr have several new signings in the pack, including Scotland Under 20 props D'arcy Rae and James Malcolm (they're in the U20 squad for the upcoming 6Nations), EDP hooker Fergus Scott and lock Graham Williamson. Look out too for French utility back Sylvain Diez, whose interests are said to include running with the bulls in Pamplona, and top try-scorer (nine so far this season) Robbie Fergusson.
A total of eight Ayr players made the cut for the 27-man Scottish Clubs squad for forthcoming matches against their counterparts from Ireland and France.
History of Ayr Rugby
There's an extremely comprehensive history on the website of our hosts, telling all about the old days, their ground and some of the famous names they have produced. You can read it HERE - watch out for the mention of "outstanding club stalwart, the indefatigable Jock "Stiffy" McClure who played for the club until just short of his sixtieth birthday but was robbed of international caps by the Second World War."
Following the Game
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Jersey v Ayr through the following channels:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey on Friday from 5.30pm, and live commentary (the 'every game live' pledge delivers exactly what it says on the tin) on Saturday afternoon (available online and on your transistor-wireless device) with Tim Pryor and summariser William Church.
• Preview in Friday's JEP and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 on Saturday afternoon at around 4pm
The B&I this weekend
Four quarter-final places are still up for grab: reigning cup holders Leinster 'A' (23 points so far), inaugural champions Cornish Pirates (24) and Rotherham Titans (18) are already certain to win their groups and progress, along with Bristol (23), who at worst will be one of the two best runners-up. The four highest-ranked sides will get home advantage in Monday's draw. Other realistic contenders are:
Leeds (21) - need two points minimum at home to promotion rivals Bristol to seal their QF ticket
Munster & Plymouth - the pool 4 rivals, level on 18 points, go head-to-head (in a sort of 'not playing each other' way). The Irish seem to have the advantage - not only are they playing winless Stirling County, but Albion's match at Nottingham kicks off an hour earlier
London Scottish (20), London Welsh (16) & Pontypridd (16) - in pool 5 the Scots have the advantage - a four-point lead over their rivals, as well as being at home to Welsh. Ponty should hoover up maximum points at home to Edinburgh Accies, but that may not be enough
Friday January 17
Ulster Ravens v Cornish Pirates, KO 19:30
Ealing Trailfinders v Leinster A, KO 19:45
Saturday January 18
Aberavon v Gala, KO 14:00
Ayr v Jersey, KO 14:00
Bedford Blues v Rotherham Titans, KO 14:00
Connacht Eagles v Llanelli, KO 14:00
London Scottish v London Welsh, KO 14:00
Leeds Carnegie v Bristol Rugby, KO 14:00
Moseley v Cross Keys, KO 14:00
Nottingham Rugby v Plymouth Albion, KO 13:00
Pontypridd v Edinburgh Academicals, KO 14:00
Stirling County v Munster A, KO 14:00
Congrats to Jersey's under 14s, who came back from 5-19 down last week to defeat their Guernsey rivals 20-19 in a top-of-the-table Sussex league encounter.
There are two away games for Jersey teams this weekend, with Jersey 2s travelling to Guernsey on Saturday looking to emulate the under 14s - this match with their Sarnian rivals will be the curtain-raiser to the Guernsey v Thurrock league game. On Sunday Banks Ladies travel to Ashford - their hosts are top of South East South League 1.
The fashion for close-cropped hair or shaved heads isn't one that is big among the Tongan community - Jersey fans will know the long locks of Talite 'Vee' Vaioleti and Latu Makaafi, even if Elvis Taione is a bit closer to short-back-and-sides.
Next week Latu (shown above with Grant Pointer celebrating
Elvis's try against Ulster last Saturday) will be shedding his
tresses in the clubhouse after the game against his old club
Rotherham. It's being done for a very worthy cause, namely to go
towards relief work in his home country, which has been devastated
this week by Tropical Cyclone Ian.
Details of how to sponsor Latu will be available next week.
Enjoy your weekend's rugby!