Gordonians are “red hot favourites” for the derby match tomorrow and the pressure is all on them, according to Aberdeen Grammar head coach Eric Strachan.
Local clashes like these are always important, but with Grammar in a real relegation battle right now their trip to Countesswells to play their old rivals has taken on an extra layer of importance.
With four matches left to go in National Two, Grammar are five points adrift at the bottom of the table in the sole relegation spot.
They need some positive results soon to stop them dropping down a division for the third year running, but they will not find it easy this weekend against a Gordonians outfit who are fifth and looking to complete a league double over their rivals for 2023-24.
Strachan said: “From my point of view, the pressure is all on Gordonians, they are red hot favourites and we’re happy to be underdogs.
“The derby will hopefully generate some interest in the local area which is crying out for some good quality rugby.”
Strachan’s opposite number Ryan Morrice said: “Grammar are fighting to stay in the league and we cannot underestimate them coming into this game, if we do we are in for a long afternoon.
“If we match their intensity then we can get ourselves on the front foot and ask questions of their defence.
“We are looking forward to the game, hopefully we get a big crowd down and decent weather.”
Grammar’s regular skipper Jonny Spence will miss the game with a shoulder injury, but knows his charges and the hosts will be giving “absolutely everything” to get a victory.
“Both teams have lost a bit of form in recent weeks and will be throwing absolutely everything at it to get a win,” Spence said.
“We realistically need to win at least three out of four of the remaining games to avoid relegation. That’s not a setting we wanted to see ourselves in, but we do remain optimistic.
“This week we’ve got Jordy Robertson returning to our ranks after a lengthy stint of offshore work and injury which will give the team some added physicality.
“It’s a derby game so form matters not – it’s all about who wants it more on the day.”
So, Robertson looks set to be back for Grammar while William Simmers and Matthias Schosser return to bolster the Gordonians’ front-row.
For the home side, Finn Lennox is also back from an injury and Matt Hillier and Sean Mills also return to add some experience to a young backline.
Gordonians captain Struan Robertson said: “We know how hard this game is going to be, both teams like to front up and release the backs when space opens up.
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase the rugby in the north-east, and Aberdeen, so hopefully the weather can come through for us as it would be amazing to see a big crowd out to watch.
“I feel as a team, if we stick to our structure and play our own style of rugby, we can compete with the teams at the top of this league and we just need to show that desire and fight this weekend.
“Grammar are a good team with strong player, they will definitely test us all over the park – how we match up to that will decide how the game goes.”
When the sides met in October, Gordonians won 17-5 at Rubislaw.
In National One, third placed Highland welcome champions Ayr to Canal Park.
Highland pushed Ayr close at Millbrae earlier this month and thanks to a collaboration between the home club, Stagecoach and Smarter Choices, Smarter Places – aimed at promoting active travel – supporters can take advantage of a free electric bus shuttle leaving Inverness Bus Station at 1.30pm to get to the ground in time for kick-off.
In National Three, third-placed Orkney are due to host seventh-placed Dumfries Saints.
The National Shield first round takes place with a number of local teams in action.
The women’s Shield also starts with Orkney Dragons in action at home tomorrow and Highland and Inverness Craig Dunain on the road on Sunday.
Tributes paid to one of rugby’s ‘most committed ambassadors’
Meanwhile, tributes have been paid to past Aberdeen Grammar president Jim Rae who died at the weekend.
Rae was born in 1953 and moved from the Borders to Aberdeen as a youngster in 1964 where he attended Aberdeen Grammar School.
He went on to play for the FPs in a variety of positions before going on to join the club’s executive committee.
He served as Grammar president from 2012-2014 and 2018-2020.
The Press and Journal’s long-serving rugby reporter Jack Nixon, who retired last year, described Rae as one of rugby’s “most committed ambassadors” and “a constant inspiration”.