1st XV vs Aberdeen Grammar: Match Report
‘Nick who?!’ was the cry on the club’s Facebook page after this ultimately comfortable win at Rubislaw. While we will, of course, welcome Cap’n Cash back with open arms after he returns from his holiday back in the Land Of The Long White Cloud, it does have to be said that the boys are doing rather well without him.
Conditions weren’t ideal at Rubislaw on Saturday. The pitch was heavy after several days of rain, the sun was low in the sky (despite the sensible decision to bring kick off forward by 15 minutes for that very reason) and there was a strong wind blowing towards the ‘wall’ end of the pitch.
Grammar, playing with the wind at their backs, had the best of the opening exchanges, and Alex Hagart landed an easy penalty after 8 minutes to start the scoreboard ticking over. We clawed our way back into the game thereafter, though, and a series of tap penalties ended with Willie Aitken worming his way over for a try. Mike Hanning kicked the easy conversion to make the score 7-3 in our favour.
Alex Hagart landed another penalty shortly afterwards to cut our lead to a single point. We then made the first of several telling substitutions, Ruaridh Mitchell replacing Hugh Lindsay at hooker. This wasn’t due to any shortcomings on Hugh’s part – the lineouts had actually been going quite well up till then – but (one must assume) simply to add a bit of beef to our scrum, which had been creaking a bit in the first half hour of the game.
Our pack showed their mettle again shortly before half time, with Willie making another short-range raid on the Grammar line that earned him his second try of the game. He’d even had the foresight to score under the posts this time, making the conversion even easier for Mike: 14-6 to Stew Mel.
Alex Hagart ended the scoring in what was a very long half of rugby (49 minutes?!) with another penalty.
Since the sad demise of the pitchside pie hut at Rubislaw, half time refreshments are served on the steps of the old pavilion at the other side of the pitches. It’s well worth the muddy walk over there, though, as their pies are (based on Saturday’s evidence) possibly the best ones in Scottish rugby – superb!
Back to the action, then. Grammar had obviously copped an earful from their coaches during the break, as they really took the game to us in the opening minutes. Our defence stood firm, though, the fact that Fraser Christie and Scott Brewster had been replaced by Hugh Lindsay and Ruaridh Stewart, respectively, meaning that we had fresh(ish) legs on the pitch.
Grammar also displayed a rather welcome tendency to run laterally, as if they were intent on running round our defence rather than going through or over it. While this met with some success while their big centre ‘Naca’ (Peceli Nacamavuto) was on the pitch, we managed to keep them contained.
We also had the weather on our side – the heavy pitch made it hard for the Grammar pace men to find any gaps, while any attempts to kick for territory were hampered by the stiff breeze in their faces and the sun in their eyes.
There also appeared to be some confusion as to Grammar’s game plan, with Hagart kicking for the corner at one point when 3 points seemed to be well within his grasp.
Further personnel changes around the 20 minute mark saw our customary swap at 9, Fraser Strachan replacing Andrew Manson … and a Grammar player picking up the only yellow of the match for (I think) a technical offence.
The final quarter of the game saw our pack really begin in assert their superiority as the Aberdeen eight tired. Rhys Morgan duly became the second prop to get on the scoresheet, scoring in the corner at the wall end after a great rolling maul. That made the score 19-9 (conversion missed), and thoughts turned to the all important fourth try.
We left it late, but the bonus point was duly secured after a series of ‘pick and go’s that must have started well outside the Grammar 22. After half a dozen expertly coordinated P&Gs, the aforementioned Ruaridh Mitchell flopped down just short of the line and gracefully reached forward to dot the ball down on the important side of the whitewash. You could probably hear his subsequent yells of exultation at scoring his first try for the 1s back at Inverleith!
Mike added the extras, the ref blew his whistle and that was that – a splendid 26-9 victory.
Looking back, this was maybe one for the purists, with all of the tries coming from front row breenges and most of our back play being of the defensive variety.
The lineout went well, though, with Ruaridh Stewart striving manfully to tidy up any throws that went adrift in the wind, while Mike Hanning and Ciaran White made good use of that wind to clear our lines in the second half.
We also seem to have developed a useful mix in the back row, the departure of Ben Wilson to Hamilton arguably leaving us with a better combination of players in Fraser Christie, Adam Howie and Stu ‘Chucky’ Wilson. They may not throw themselves about the park like Ben did, but they probably work harder, both individually and as a unit.
The team’s defence was also excellent in this game, with Mike, Seb and Neil putting in a power of work as Grammar fought to get back into the game after the interval. The ‘refreshments’ enjoyed on the long trip back to Edinburgh were very well deserved!
This win meant that we held on to third place in the table, two points behind GHA. It’s the men from Braidholm who visit us this Saturday, no doubt full of confidence after defeating Watsonians 32-24 last weekend.
We’re due GHA some payback for our narrow defeat on their patch on the second weekend of the season, though, so it should be a fascinating contest.
Never mind the Christmas shopping, see you at Inverleith at 2 pm on Saturday!