At the risk of getting carried away with meteorological conditions, I have to say that it was a beautiful day at Invers – how good it would be if that was the norm!
There were a few changes in the squad, particularly in the back line, due to injuries and unavailability. Kyle Dixon moved into the number 13 position to accommodate Adam Greig’s return to the left wing, Freddie Roddick took up the number 12 berth to complete the midfield and Matthew Watson started in his familiar position at 15.
In the forwards the only significant change was Cormac McCracken coming in at number 7. The bench was also strong and it wasn’t long before Willie Malcolm was called up after Ruaridh Stewart unfortunately appeared to succumb to an injury during the warm up.
Falkirk kicked off in the Ferry Road direction, the first scrum of the afternoon coming with barely a minute played. There was a good drive from the Stew Mel forwards but, unfortunately, this was deemed rather over eager play for this stage of the game; this resulted in a further scrum that led to Falkirk possession around the half way line. They kicked for touch and gained a lineout 10 metres out. Ruaridh Mitchell was receiving treatment at this stage and was soon replaced by Chris Baikie. Our lineout was good initially, but, having lost possession, Falkirk then took the initiative and benefited from a penalty; they opted for another lineout, which, in hindsight, wasn’t the best decision, as Stew Mel won possession back. Euan Bowen made the break, supported by Willie and Momo, and, after we put further width on the ball, Freddie jinked his way through the Falkirk defence to open the scoring with about 10 minutes played. Stewart’s Melville 5 Falkirk 0.
Stew Mel immediately took advantage of a Falkirk mistake, but the visitors returned the favour moments later. It took some strong defence to keep them at bay as they were admirably determined to use their back division and the width of the pitch. They were the beneficiaries of another penalty, claiming a further lineout 10 metres out from Stew Mel’s try line. It was scrappy but Falkirk still managed to hold on to possession before a knock-on resulted in a scrum 5 metres out. It appeared that Falkirk were then penalised for collapsing the scrum which gave Stew Mel the chance to clear their lines.
Despite Falkirk then regaining possession once again, good defence from Stew Mel (particularly in the midfield, where Freddie was making some big hits) kept them at bay. A penalty soon came Falkirk’s way, however, and, with 15 minutes played, they opted for the 3 points on offer. Stew Mel 5 Falkirk 3.
At the restart Falkirk knocked on, resulting in a scrum around the half way line. A quick clean ball from Fraser Strachan on the blindside found Adam Greig with Willie in support; Willie duly crossed for our second try with Euan Bowen being successful with the conversion this time. 20 minutes played, Stew Mel 12 Falkirk 3.
Another restart saw Matt Sanderson take the ball well, and, with Momo driving forward and Willie again in support, a penalty was awarded. A clean lineout, some good hands and a scintillating break by Adam made another score look likely but a handling error led to another scrum.
Both teams were starting to play with more width, and, with advantages being played, it wasn’t long before another penalty was awarded to Falkirk. Although they were trying to play expansively utilising their backs, the Stew Mel scrum, with 30 minutes played, was beginning to dominate.
Fraser cleared his lines, and, although Falkirk had a successful lineout this time, a forward pass led to another solid scrum from Stew Mel, allowing Adam to break through once more and gain some territory. With both teams making mistakes, scrums were coming for both teams, but, with a significant drive, a Stew Mel penalty was awarded around the half way line. A clean lineout saw the forwards rumble on. A combination of good hands from Connor McKay, Kyle Dixon and Freddie gave Matt the opportunity to get the third try of the afternoon. 35 minutes played, Stew Mel 17 Falkirk 3.
Connor’s afternoon was then unfortunately cut short due to an injury and he was replaced by number 17 Doug Randall. With Falkirk winning a penalty and using a quick ‘tap and go’ to get close to the Stew Mel line, more good defence was the order of the day. Further penalties were, however, being awarded for what I think were infringements; these normally result in someone taking the hit for the team, and, in this case, that someone was Doug, who temporarily had to leave the field that he had only recently joined. The resolute defence, with 14 against 15, still did its job to make the half time score Stew Mel 19 Falkirk 3.
The scoreline at this stage was, I think, a fair reflection of Stew Mel’s performance, and they appeared to be getting the upper hand, particularly in the forwards This prevented what looked to be a fairly spritely Falkirk back line from getting clean or quick ball.
The second half wasn’t long started before Adam broke out of his own 22, further good hands from Matt then playing Freddie in for his second try of the afternoon. This gained us the bonus point with 48 minutes played. Unlike the previous Saturday, we didn’t take our foot off the gas at this stage, probably aware that Falkirk were still hungry to get some points on the board. They then managed to do just that – ironically, the scorer was one of their forwards, who were otherwise having a tough day at the office. 55 minutes played, Stew Mel 24 Falkirk 10.
The chat on the pitch must have been along the lines of ‘that is all they are getting’ as Stew Mel continued to build some good phases, mainly as a result of strong scrummaging. This allowed the backs to find space and Adam was soon over with 60 minutes played, the try again converted by Euan to make it Stew Mel 31 Falkirk 10. Replacements were then made, allowing Jack Somerville (who had been pacing up and down the sideline like a caged animal) into the action at number 13. Jack’s defensive efforts were immediately rewarded and further good hands almost had Freddie in for his hat trick. Falkirk kept him out, but he’d make amends later!
Further stoppages for injury and some reshuffling of the pack didn’t seem to dampen the forwards’ spirit as massive drives led to penalties being awarded, not once but twice. As I’ve said, they certainly had the ascendancy, and it must have been very rewarding if a number between 1 and 8 was on your back. It’s not a great spectator sport, though, and the backs had to perform a series of callisthenics to keep warm! Once ‘normal’ play had resumed, supersub Willie had something to say as he touched down for his second of the afternoon, converted by Euan. This made it Stew Mel 38 Falkirk 10 with about 15 minutes left on the clock.
At this stage we were witnessing what we all like to witness at Inverleith, good clean ball allowing our backs to showing what they can do when we put pace on the game. A good break by Sean Murchie on the right wing led to Momo attacking once more and Freddie claiming his hat trick to make it Stew Mel 45 Falkirk 10 with 70 minutes played. As the number of scrums continued to mount, the referee exchanged words with both captains; I’m not sure what was said but it was pretty clear from where I was sitting that the scrums were only going one way, regardless of who had the put in.
Mistakes were, inevitably, starting to creep in now, and, with Matt always alert to any opportunity, he was in for another try. 75 minutes played, Stew Mel 50 Falkirk 10. Matt was off again at the restart, his solo attack indicative of what the team were now doing, and some good interplay between Doug Randall and Sean gave the latter (number 14) an opportunity to find his way over for the final try of the afternoon (his 23rd of the season). Falkirk still had the fight but, once again, good defending from Stew Mel prevented any change in the full time score line: Stew Mel 57 Falkirk 10.
It was, by and large, a good afternoon. I have to confess that, when assessing the team prior to kick off, I wondered how Freddie might adapt to the tightly filled space that is number 12, as opposed to the open space he enjoys from full back. Although I did have my concerns, my son Scott had a completely different take, suggesting that Freddie – given his eye for gaps, his agility and his defensive capability – would flourish. How right he was! Despite this change and others in the back line, they soon settled and illustrated what they can do.
This could be the last report of the season for two reasons. Firstly, whilst there may be a game Belfast on 20th April, what goes on tour, stays on tour. Secondly, the game against Highland could be one of three things: the biggest game of the season, a game that we are only playing to fulfil our league fixture obligations or a game that may not happen at all. If it’s the latter then this could be the last report (this season) – ‘Phew’, I hear you all say!
Match photo c/o Libby @ OG Blakeman Photos