It certainly seems a considerable period of time since I last put together a match report. My memory may be rusty but I cannot recall such a long lay off between fixtures other than due to the weather. A break during the season like this can only do one of two things. It either rests and revives players desperate to get back or there is a loss of momentum, particularly for those in the ascendancy. I was optimistic that it would be the former rather than the latter as Dumfries Saints came to town for what was anticipated to be a hard competitive encounter.
We last met on 23 October 2018 – a bit of a family affair, as you probably recall – when we were well beaten, although we did make a late come back in the second half. For those of you who actually read the match reports, you may recall a comment made therein: ‘their style of play certainly belies their current league position as you would expect them to be much higher up the table if Saturday was anything to go by’. Well, here we are, and guess where Dumfries are sitting in the table! Yes, above us with a 2 point advantage. I was, perhaps, tempting fate when I made that comment, but I think you will agree that it was justifiable.
It was another pleasant rugby playing day at Invers, with the pitch looking particularly pristine and a strong Stew Mel squad which certainly appeared ready for the challenge. A welcome return for Adam Greig as Dumfries kicked off towards Ferry Road with a considerable breeze at their backs. Stew Mel gathered well and attempted to move the ball out of their half with a degree of success but unfortunately knocked on in the process. The first scrum of the afternoon was solid from both packs, and, with the possession going Dumfries’s way, they attempted to go wide but a trademark tackle by Joe Bailey put a stop to any progress and Dave Allan was there, getting his body in a good position over the ball for the turnover, Pocock style.
The wind was proving to be a challenge in terms of territorial gain. The first lineout of the afternoon for Dumfries was, however, lost as Stew Mel managed to turn the tables. There was, however, no further need for help as James Ferguson broke through and Momo made significant progress; possession was, however, ultimately lost, allowing Dumfries to kick long. The ball was well fielded by Adam, who made the yards before Ruaridh Mitchell battered his way forward, with further passes finding Happy and Doug Randall to take it on. Euan Bowen and Freddie Roddick then danced their way through the opposition with good support from Matt Sanderson.
With Stew Mel having the majority of possession thus far, it was unfortunate that a penalty came in Dumfries’s favour; the resultant lineout was, however, only temporarily successful as Matt had other ideas and won the ball back – and, with that, a Stew Mel penalty. Another scrum and it did appear that Stew Mel were showing that they had the upper hand, allowing Fraser Strachan time to consider his options as he changed direction, finding Euan, who kicked through for another short lineout.
After some good forward play, the gusty conditions contributed to a knock on, giving Dumfries an advantage which they took well, making an impressive break down the middle of the park, although the attentions of Sean Murchie and Freddie held things at bay in their own 22. Dumfries’s attack was certainly far from over, though, and, after a few phases, a scrum 5m out, once reset, allowed them a second bite at the cherry and they drove over for the first try of the afternoon. 15 minutes played, Stew Mel 0 – Dumfries 5.
At the restart Stew Mel won the ball back, continuing their attack, and, although getting over the line, the ‘try’ was not given. Now in a good position, the scrum was solid, and a clever kick through by Euan was grounded by Happy, who was also successful with the conversion. Stew Mel 7 – Dumfries 5, 20 minutes played. Stew Mel were still enjoying a significant amount of possession as play resumed, with Freddie and Adam making the breaks, well supported by Dave. Against the run of play, however, the ball was lost and a kick and chase by Dumfries gave them an opportunistic try approximately 25 minutes in. Stew Mel 7 – Dumfries 10.
Dumfries thereafter began to gain a bit more territory, making good use of the conditions, and, with a bit of cohesion, pushing Stew Mel back into their own 22. The lineouts were working in their favour, but, 10m out, they were penalised for crossing, allowing Stew Mel to clear their lines and launch another attack, Matt again showing his athleticism and pace. Dumfries managed to win possession back, finding themselves a short distance from the Stew Mel try line, but strong scrummaging prevented any further dividends, with Momo securing the ball; Connor McKay was then off on one of his breaks, wrestling with anything and anyone that came his way, well supported by his fellow front rowers.
Although there was a short period of living dangerously, Stew Mel managed to break out back into the familiar territory of Dumfries’s half, and, after good handling from Connor and Doug, with the backdrop of a rainbow and half the pitch baked in sunshine, this eventually lead to a well earned try as James charged over and Happy added the extras. Half time Stew Mel 14 – Dumfries 10.
With the wind now at Stew Mel’s back there was an inevitability about the tactics that would be adopted as Euan kicked off. The ball was not collected well, once again putting Stew Mel in the driving seat with possession and territory an advantage, although Dumfries’s defence was resolute until a penalty came Stew Mel’s way and Happy added the 3 points. That made it Stew Mel 17 – Dumfries 10 with around 43 minutes played. It was a good start to the second half and it wasn’t long before the first yellow card of the afternoon was produced, the visitors being the recipients. With the wind in their faces and down to 14 men, they had a challenge on their hands. After some scrappy play within Dumfries’s 22, Euan managed to find a way over and was successful with the conversion. 52 minutes played, Stew Mel 24 – Dumfries 10.
The restart into the wind was never going to be easy and Doug retrieved the footballer’s strike like an accomplished goalkeeper, allowing us to launch another attack deep into Dumfries’s 22. They regained possession, however, and made headway into Stew Mel’s half, although a penalty and a big boot, wind assisted, gave Stew Mel a favourable territorial position as Kyle Marshall made his way on, Doug heading off for a well deserved rest. The lineout was clean, Momo taking it on, and what appeared to be a training ground exercise saw Fraser breaking down the blind side then finding Sean, who dived over in the corner for the fourth try and the bonus point. 60 minutes played, Stew Mel 29 – Dumfries 10.
There was a feeling that the Stew Mel screw was now beginning to turn, and, despite a scrappy period of play, we were still dominant. The pressure was beginning to show as Dumfries’s discipline was being tested, albeit they were fighting for everything they could get and managed to retain possession for a reasonable period. Another Stew Mel substitution was made as Happy gave way to the experienced Dave Hampton, who always has a lot to contribute at this stage of the game. The Dumfries pressure continued temporarily as an exchange of knock ons and early engagements in the scrum allowed them a chance to try and get some points, but it was not to be as the Stew Mel bench was emptied, Chris Baikie entering the fray and Ruaridh Mitchell coming off. With 65 minutes played, a forward pass prevented progress but possession was soon regained and Fraser touched down for another try, converted by Euan. Stew Mel 36 – Dumfries 10.
Dumfries then coughed up another yellow card and there was a feeling the game was now wrapped up as Stew Mel were, again, the beneficiaries of another score, this time by Freddie, converted by Euan. 70 minutes played, Stew Mel 43 – Dumfries 10. Dumfries were still in the fight, looking for that consolation try which they probably deserved, but Stew Mel were equally ruthless in their attack, giving Adam Greig the final say of the afternoon. Final score Stew Mel 48 – Dumfries 10.
A good win which sets us up nicely for the last three games of the season, the big one being on Saturday 16 March against Highland. The conditions on Saturday were difficult but it was a case of who adapted to them best. The game management was exemplary and even, dare I say it, the kicking game (well, for the most part) worked! Hands were generally good and the forwards linked well, with an abundance of penetration, particularly in the middle of the park.
The back row of Matt Sanderson, Joe Bailey and Dave Allan produced, I think, their best display this season, the front row as always did what they all individually do best and the second row with Momo leading the charge did their job effectively. With this platform, where do you think all the scores came from? Yes, the backs, but they didn’t by any stretch of the imagination steal the limelight.
It was quite a turnaround from the last encounter at Park Farm. Dumfries, to be fair, had their injury woes and the yellow cards don’t help when you are already on the back foot and playing into a strong wind. They fought to the bitter end and all credit to them for that, their star performers again being Ewan Miller and Sam Hiddleston. All sentiment was, however, put aside on Saturday – this was no family affair!
Match photo c/o Libby @ OG Blakeman Photos