1st XV vs Selkirk: Match Report
Defence is an art. The unheralded Matt Taylor is responsible for Scotland and Glasgow’s defence tactics, and the fruits of his labour are routinely demonstrated in Glasgow’s Points Against column in the RABO table.
Simon Cross was recruited by Dean Ryan of Worcester from Scotland Under 20s and Accies purely to work on defence. The recent mis-match between Ryan Grant and Israel Folau during the Scotland versus Australia autumn international will have Matt figuring out ways of avoiding these situations. Our former coach, the late Grant MacKenzie, based his coaching around defence. It’s not new – Gareth Edwards used to say, ‘give me 15 guys that can tackle and I’ll give you a rugby team’.
There is a satisfaction felt by the players about being part of a tight defensive unit – space is quickly closed down and everyone relies on each other in the chain to do their job. The strong defensive unit is confident in its ability to withstand wave after wave of attacks – the weak unit is apprehensive and coughs up penalties. Eventually, the tackled player is targeted to form a maul – or a mistake occurs that allows a ‘turnover’ – or the tackled player becomes isolated. The attacking team become frustrated as all their training ground moves are anticipated and passes are forced.
As our season has progressed, we have become a better defensive unit, and nowhere were this unit more needed than Saturday. Our bar chart showing possession can only have registered 40%, at best, yet Selkirk were restricted to a try when we were reduced to 14 men, and another (rather frustratingly) right at the death.
Stuart Wilson, on his full debut, must have been our leading tackler, but Mike Hanning is inspirational in the way he tackles low and hard, once upending Harkness or ‘Herky’- so often our nemesis in these Selkirk fixtures. Nick marshals our defensive line, and, as one would expect from a player with his pedigree, has an awareness of where the danger lies.
We faced the Selkirk match with a bit of apprehension, knowing their ability to live off scraps with ball in hand. Kibble, Craig and Davies are archetypal Borders players, steeped in rugby, and always seem to do the right thing. Selkirk, though, looked respectful of our recent run, and so the early exchanges were very even, with a few nerves on both sides.
It took until the 17th minute for Nick to open our account with a penalty, then he doubled the score moments later. Scott Hendrie replied, but then occurred our only real scoring opportunity of the match. Nick broke through the middle, heading towards Willie’s house with support on his right. Unfortunately, ‘Herky’ anticipated the pass but knocked on while attempting the interception.
The home faithful bellowed for a yellow card, but the referee, Duncan McClement, did not oblige. Duncan, a late replacement for Kevin White, got most things right and was consistent in his decisions. It’s not easy for the referees, as the crowd and the players’ interpretation is actually different from the laws as they currently stand. Half time, then, saw the score at 6-3 after Hendrie missed a kick that would have squared it up.
The Selkirk back row includes Angus Duckett, who was part of the Scottish Club International squad last year. Unfortunately, a footballing injury to our in-form Donald Sangster in midweek prevented a match-up between Duckett and ‘Sangy’ that would have been tasty. It is to our back row’s credit that we still managed parity in this area, although it has to be said that Kissick, the Selkirk Number 8, pirated a lot of lineout ball and is an uncompromising ball carrier.
The least said about the lineout, the better. In the first half we lost the odd put in, including one where had we kicked a penalty to the corner, and, in the second half, it got worse – we hardly won a throw. Even the normally reliable ‘Scott Brewster at two’ option was successfully stolen by Renwick and Fluhler. The lack of a third lineout option meant the opposition could target our jumpers. The Selkirk throw in tactics were interesting, as they did not commit numbers until the last minute, all of which added to our lack of control in this phase of the game.
The scrum was a different matter, with almost total control in that area for Stewart’s Melville. This control was, on one occasion, highlighted by Fraser following the strike and expecting the ball to pop out on the Selkirk side – only for us to push Selkirk off the ball, leaving it clear at our base, where it was picked up (in the absence of Fraser) by the Selkirk back row.
Possession generally dried up in the second half, and we went behind to a Harkness try conceded while Rhys Morgan was in the cooler. We regained the lead with a long range spot kick, Cash having previously missed a similar award.
We were without the ball for so long that, when we did get it, we kicked to relieve the pressure – and, with Harkness keen to run, this was not always the correct option. In addition, if we kicked to touch – Selkirk inevitably won the resultant lineout.
With five minutes to go, however, we were awarded a scrum around the half way line. The Selkirk eight were shunted twenty metres and the referee awarded us another penalty. By now the penalty was well within range for Nick, but we elected for another scrum; again, Selkirk retreated and infringed. Again we prepared for another scrum – then the referee lost patience and trotted behind the posts with his hand up, leaving Nick to establish an eight point margin.
Selkirk regained the ball from the kick off and threw everything at us, knowing they had to score twice to win or once to secure the losing bonus point. With the last play of the game, Welsh squeezed in at the corner.
Saturday was a huge occasion for us and now we can build for the remaining fixtures. The next league game is the Saturday before Christmas at Hartree Mill, Biggar. It’s never easy at Biggar, but the pitch is much improved – so no excuse. The players deserve your support, so let’s get down there in numbers.
Next Saturday is Livingston in the Cup, where, in order to progress, we need a handsome victory.