1st XV Match Report vs Musselburgh

1st XV Match Report vs Musselburgh

In many respects, this season’s trip to Stoneyhill was a mirror image of last season’s. A good start, an indifferent middle and an excellent end that saw us score a couple of decent tries and threaten to nick the game from under our hosts’ noses.

The opening ten minutes saw us dominating possession and very much on the front foot in the Musselburgh 22. Happy came close to scoring after he broke through the centre, but was ultimately held up near the line; a subsequent attack saw Cammy Taylor dropping the ball as he stretched towards the line to dot it down after a succession of pick-and-go’s by our pack. In both cases, it could be argued, it would have been simpler – and, possibly, more productive – to recycle the ball and change the point of attack, rather than launching a solo attack on the Musselburgh line.

The men in blue started to regain their composure after that opening flurry, asking questions of our defence through aggressive forward play, clever offloads and sensible tactical kicking. We defended pretty well, but, ultimately, were unable to keep Musselburgh out, with our former player John Coutts (playing 13 today) crossing for the try after the home backs had spun the ball from right to left. Our calls for a possible forward pass in the lead up to the try fell on deaf ears, and stand off Pritchard’s tidy conversion from wide out made it 7-0 to our hosts.

We responded well, nearly scoring directly from the restart after Doc’s deep drop out sent the ball over the entire Musselburgh team and rolling towards the try line. Jack Somerville, in hot pursuit, claimed the touch down, but the ‘score’ was unfortunately ruled out for crossing by ref Neil Muir.

Mistakes began to creep into our play at this stage, possibly due to the players trying to force their way back into the game rather than working through the phases and playing to their skills. We were also struggling to make much headway against the muscular Musselburgh pack in the set piece.

Musselburgh had a chance to increase their lead on the half hour mark when they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts near the half way line, but Pritchard’s kick fell just short.

We conceded a second try just before half time after Musselburgh forced a series of scrums down by the clubhouse-side corner flag at the sea end of the ground. Our pack held firm but the ball eventually squirted out of the scrum on the blindside, allowing rookie ‘Burgh scrum half Kennedy to burst in for the score. It initially looked like our back row should have been more alive to the threat of a blind side move, but, to be fair, they were rather busy preventing a pushover try at the time.

The missed conversion made the score 12-0 to Musselburgh at half time, although we’d had to defend smartly in the lead up to the break as the men in blue continued to attack our line.

Given that our play had been beset with handling errors and missed tackles during the opening 40, the rain that started to fall during the interval wasn’t exactly ideal – the last thing we needed was a slippery ball and even more slippery Musselburgh attackers!

Those attackers resumed where they had left off after the interval, taking the game into our 22 at the Esk end. We defended competently, but, as with the first try, simply ran out of chances to force a turnover or a handling error. Flanker Graham eventually crossed for the score, Pritchard’s simple conversion making it 19-0 to our hosts after 50 minutes.

It was at this point that thoughts began to turn to the rather daunting prospect of us going two full matches without scoring a point, as those opening ten minutes when we were in the ascendancy now seemed a long time ago.

To our players’ credit, though, they started to claw their way back into the game, making the most of some tactical changes by the Musselburgh coaches that, if anything, only served to unsettle the home team. We’d also made a number of changes, Gus Wallace replacing Craig Willis in the front row, Lewis Scott replacing the crocked Adam Howie in the back row and James Ferguson replacing Nathan Ross on the wing after Murray Hanning came into the centre.

While we were still making a fair number of errors, we gradually started to gain the lion’s share of possession, with Murch and Jack Somerville putting pace on the ball and asking questions of the Musselburgh defence out wide. It was, however, through the centre that we eventually scored, with a quick tap penalty allowing Scott Docherty to waltz past the Musselburgh half backs as he’d done at Cartha a fortnight before. His easy conversion made the score 19-7 with 65 minutes gone.

We continued to push for points, another rapid attack down the left hand touchline a couple of minutes later seeing Jack coming very close to the try line before the defenders got hold of him.

We weren’t to be repulsed 10 minutes after that, though, another fine midfield break by Murchie allowing us to spin the ball along the back line. Excellent communication and precise handling saw James Ferguson dot down in the same corner that Kennedy had scored in earlier. Doc’s fine conversion made the score 19-14 with maybe ten minutes to play.

Euan Bowen replaced Doc shortly after the try, and duly pulled the strings as we attempted to sneak the game at the death. Musselburgh regrouped, however, and very sensibly ran down the clock by keeping the ball among their forwards. We desperately tried to force the turnover that would allow us to launch one last attack for the win, but, ultimately, had to settle for the losing bonus.

Another frustrating afternoon on the touchlines, then, the way we played for 20 minutes of the game making our lacklustre performance during the other 60 minutes all the more inexplicable. At least our players came away from Stoneyhill knowing that, when they do hit their stride, they are capable of playing rugby worthy of the top end of the table. You get the feeling that they just need one victory – whether deserved or ‘flukey’ – to validate the way they have been playing, as it must be difficult to stick to a game plan when that game plan has yet to net you a league win.

We also looked the fitter team at Stoneyhill – you get the distinct impression that we’d have sneaked the win if our fightback had lasted even five minutes longer.

We go again at Inverleith this Saturday, with Aberdeen Grammar the visitors. The men from Rubislaw have played well at home so far, defeating Kelso and GHA there, but have yet to win an away game. With their patchy away form and our ever-decreasing injury list, it should be a cracking game as we attempt to send our visitors back to the Granite City with their tails between their legs and the league points receding in the rear view mirror.

Bill McNie

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