1st XV vs Kelso: Match Report
Theodora* (500-548), Empress of the Roman Empire, would have liked this Stewart’s Melville team. When faced with overwhelming odds in civil war, she elected to stay and fight the forces of darkness rather than flee. There were not many in our club, back in early September after we had been thumped by Peebles and Selkirk on successive Saturdays, that would have predicted an unbeaten run of 13 league games.
Theodora rebuilt Constantinople – making it the then most beautiful city in the world- gave women rights and decided who was to be Pope. Our aim of defeating Watsonians at Myreside for a play-off place in the Scottish Premiership is, perhaps, a little less lofty, but would, none the less, represent a tremendous achievement out of adversity if we manage it.
Inverleith was at its glorious best on Saturday, a well attended Sponsors’ Lunch overlooking Pitch 1 glistening in the midday sun. The diners were royally entertained by Kelso’s own John Jeffrey, who looked back on Kelso / Stew Mel clashes in the past and shared his thoughts on the future of Scottish rugby.
The match kicked off with Stewart’s Melville, playing into the wind, attacking the Castle end. After continuous pressure, we were awarded a penalty in front of the sticks. Rather than take the points, McCashin felt space on the stand side and Mike Hanning galloped through the hole left by the Kelso defence, who had been caught napping.
Nick is suffering a bit from Stuart Hogg-itis, in that he is expected to be brilliant every time he touches the ball, and, like Stuart, the opposition are fully aware of his talents – unwittingly, however, he does release space for others.
There then followed a peculiar incident: McCashin, for whatever reason, had the indignity of seeing his conversion attempt from in front of the posts charged down. Matthew Douglas then replied almost immediately with a penalty.
Ground conditions meant the game was played at breakneck speed, and, gradually, our scrum was giving our three-quarters possession on the front foot. McCashin sliced through from set piece possession and handed on to Hampton, who delivered the scoring pass to Bowie. Neil was illegally tackled over the line in the act of scoring, giving referee Kevin White no option but to award a penalty try and a yellow to Buckley.
That incident, unfortunately, set the tone for the rest of the match, as individual skirmishes periodically erupted, and, eventually, five cards were dispensed as Kevin tried to keep a lid on things. In summary, Stewart’s Melville thought it should have been a red card, and Kelso thought it should not have been a card at all.
Kelso’s contribution to the match up to this point had been their defence, but they then showed plenty of guile themselves to engineer an opening for Frankie Robson – albeit too far out for Douglas to convert.
Whilst our visitors were still reduced to 14, Morrell (with the sun top down – see Dundee and Hillhead reports) benefitted from neat back play, again off good set piece, to touch down. Nick’s conversion made the score 22-8. Kelso, at the time, had another miscreant, Cooney, in the bin for a deliberate knock on. The douce Inverleith crowd greeted the play with a polite ripple when a little more enthusiasm was what the team needed.
That should have been that, but Kelso struck back with two penalties (or ‘penas’ as BBC Alba calls them). Half time came with a yellow for Scott Brewster and a lead of 22-14.
There is much to admire about this Kelso team, battling for pride, with little at stake, to secure the Stewart’s Melville scalp, the players travelling in a self-drive mini-bus at a fraction of the cost of a coach and a large and vociferous travelling support. McGuiness and Cunningham, decent rugby men, are to be lauded for their committed approach.
When Morrell touched down for the bonus point try after the restart, it looked like game over, but cards to Ben Wilson (coming in from the side and booting the ball clear) then Alan Whittingham (deliberate knock on) meant we had to see out a passage of play with thirteen men. Douglas hoofed over a penalty and the score narrowed to ten points.
Our scrum had been on the ascendancy all afternoon and still coped with only seven forwards. When restored to fifteen, the forwards (Willie) were keen to hammer home our advantage by taking a scrum penalty, but we elected (ultimately unsuccessfully) to kick for the posts to calm nerves.
Tempers frayed on the touchline as Hanning’s aerial challenge on Hastie was questioned by Kelso coach Darren Cunningham, only for Bruce to disagree vehemently with his analysis. Fortunately it was more Alan Partridge than Alan Pardew.
Three passages of second half play require further elaboration. Firstly, Donald Seed (a menace in the lineout all afternoon) took the ball on the charge in midfield, only for Nick Hart to run alongside him and whip it out of his grasp – a glorious boost, if not overdone.
A word about the lineout: Nick is actually a good thrower-in with a natural arm. The lineouts will come right. Scott Lawson got a better deal with Richie Gray’s inclusion than Ross Ford did with his targets – it’s not always the hooker’s fault.
Secondly, from a similarly scrappy piece of possession, Matt Morrell rounded his man in the home twenty two and swiftly moved through the gears. The Kelso cover would not have coped if he had clutched and popped it into overdrive, but he sensed Nick on his inside with a clear run; unfortunately, Nick got Richie Minto and ball simultaneously, and that completed Nick’s afternoon as he was dazed in the tackle.
Thirdly, with Nick off, Mike Hanning was awarded a penalty and elected for a lineout in the corner to run the clock down. Unfortunately he overcooked it and Kelso were awarded the drop out 22. These things happen in tense situations.
With four minutes left on the clock, Kelso scored through Dom Buckley. Cue mayhem as we attempted to see out the last few minutes. We could not win a lineout for love nor money, no matter where we threw it, and a game that should have been put to bed after the bonus point try was back in the melting pot.
As a result of the stop-start nature of the match, extra time lasted an eternity until Kevin mercifully called an end to proceedings.
Myreside, then, and we have a four point advantage, but inferior points difference – do the math – see you there!
Kevin White (referee): “That was tough. Stewart’s Melville should have had more penalties from their scrum, but the ball squirted out as I was about to blow the whistle. The breakdown was difficult, but the officials worked as a team”
John Jeffrey (Kelso): “A great advert for Club rugby – I was slightly disappointed that, with nothing really at stake, we didn’t run some penalties.”
Brucie’s Bonus: “Very proud of the boys – sure, we made mistakes, but first half outstanding and plenty of guts with thirteen (men). I never felt we were in any danger.”
*Theodora – former ‘actress’ who became Justinian’s wife and co-ruler – read all about her in Wiki and Google – it’s worth it. She demanded all Senators lay down prostrate in her presence – might like to try that with the committee when Colin and Christina enter the room.