BOYS POISED FOR TRIP TO KILLIE
Greenock Wanderers make the relatively short trip to Bellsland tomorrow to play old adversaries Kilmarnock in the thirteenth round of matches in the British Telecom sponsored West Regional League First Division.
It is a landmark year for the hosts as they celebrate their Sesquicentenary having been formed in 1868 and have a series of commemorative events planned throughout the next twelve months.
Kilmarnock is one of the oldest and most popular clubs in Scottish rugby and has made a significant contribution to the game throughout their history. The iconic white shirt with red chest band and Maltese cross badge is known throughout the world and is even copied by top professional side and South African giants the Golden Lions Super Rugby Club who play out of Ellis Park Johannesburg.
Formerly known as Transvaal, the team had the distinction of beating the touring British Lions in 1903 while captained by one Alex Frew a Kilmarnock member and former Scottish internationalist and have worn the iconic colours in tribute ever since.
Currently Kilmarnock are having a mixed bag of a season and started promisingly with seven wins from their first eight games that produced several high end victories including a comfortable 45-20 rout of Wanderers at Fort Matilda in September.
They have however lost their last four league games on the trot dating back to mid-November, a sequence of results that has effectively ended any promotion hopes and dreams of a title success in such an important year.
Most recently ‘Killie’ have been well beaten by Stewartry and East Kilbride and the indications are that the early season confidence has evaporated and that injuries and non-availability is hampering selection and performance.
The Ayrshire side though is fiercely proud and will be out to remedy any shortcomings shown in some of their most recent displays tomorrow.
Wanderers focus will unsurprisingly be on their own situation and not on the impressive history and longevity of their illustrious hosts.
The locals will frankly be out to bag the points and build on what was easily their best performance of the season last weekend when they narrowly failed to hold on to a winning position against current table toppers Garnock.
Despite being in the lead with only eight minutes remaining the Fort Matilda men couldn’t hold on for the victory and succumbed to some late pressure from the visitors who pounded the Wanderers line in the closing stages and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
The performance, if not the result, will have given captain Dougie McIntyre and his men a huge lift and they now know that they are capable of going toe to toe with the best in the division.
McIntyre himself has been an inspirational on-field leader and the players have followed his example and rallied behind the impressive skipper and are now adopting a more positive, aggressive and tenacious approach to their game.
Results have certainly improved as Greenock have won three out of their last four matches including a rare victory on the road at Helensburgh a fortnight ago.
The next challenge is to maintain that winning habit away from home and with Kilmarnock’s recent results suggesting that they may be there for the taking, tomorrow’s 2pm showdown is a real opportunity for the locals to lay down a marker and put out a message that they are no longer easy-beats when they are away from their Fort Matilda base.
In terms of selection Wanderers will have to do without injury victims Ant Devlin, Kieren Smith and Kevin Murray but they welcome back solid citizen Martin Lavelle who will add much ballast to the forward effort.
Scrum-half Michael McLaren should also make it and his industry at the fulcrum has been a major influence in Wanderers recent upturn in form. He will link up with last week’s try-scorer Chris McCarron in a new look half-back pairing.
Vice-president Steven Haldane said, “A bit of self-belief last week worked wonders and the whole performance in terms of attitude, commitment and expectation was up a level from what we have produced so far.
“The boys have got to back themselves physically and mentally and what last Saturday’s effort showed is that when we do that we are an entirely different, stronger and better side”
Tomorrows tie is too close to call. Home advantage and league position would favour the men from Burns country but current form would indicate that Wanderers might just be ready to double up on that much sought after away win at Helensburgh two weeks ago.