Match Report v GHK RFC | Saturday 14th December
Old Anniesland, Saturday 14th December 2019
Another theatrical floodlit arena as we signed off for 2019. The squad was very much the same as the previous Saturday, although Charlie Simmonds’ unavailability resulted in some shuffling around in the three quarters and Craig Lamb coming in on the bench. League leaders GHK were fielding two former Scotland internationalists but one swallow – or, indeed, two- – doesn’t necessarily make a summer. There was certainly nothing ‘summery’ about the weather on Saturday – cold, windy, wet and wintry, although the rain had abated temporarily.
Once GHK had decided to appear we were off, Stew Mel playing towards the pavilion with a slight breeze in their favour as GHK got things underway. Stew Mel collected well and the ball was booted into space; it was then well retrieved as GHK attacked immediately, winning a penalty for a high tackle. The line out 10m out was well disrupted by Captain Momo, followed by a great drive by number 8 Scott Alldritt. I am sure, if he had popped over to Scotstoun to join his brother for the La Rochelle game, he could have done a reasonable job there, too! GHK managed to regain possession but their ambitious kick was over egged, resulting in a 22 drop out. The first scrum of the afternoon wasn’t long in coming – GHK ball and a further penalty to add insult to injury.
The pressure from GHK continued but, from a similar line out 10m out, Stew Mel managed to win the ball back and earned a scrum as the forwards, again, put on an impressive drive, making plenty of inroads and ultimately earning a penalty in their favour. A well executed line out and Momo was off again, retaining possession and allowing Fraser to execute a probing up and under before Geoff Angco, with immaculate timing, smashed his opponent and another penalty came Stew Mel’s way. The ball was quickly moved as James Ferguson showed his strength, forcing GHK back into their own 22. More pressure was then applied by both forwards and backs as they combined in an attack 10m out, Euan Bowen providing the inspiration with an impressive break in midfield.
The opportunity was, however, soon lost as GHK somehow managed to get their hands on the ball and break out of their own 22 with pace, their number 8 dreaming of scoring the first touch down before he was ultimately chopped by Stew Mel’s full back. This also somehow resulted in Adam Greig taking some of the impact as bodies slid on the greasy surface. Play was held up temporarily for injuries to both teams, but, thankfully, we were up and running again shortly thereafter. A frantic start!
It was now GHK’s turn to win territory and apply more pressure within Stew Mel’s half. They did this effectively – but not effectively enough as, once again, Stew Mel regained possession, moving the ball quickly through the hands of Chris Baikie and James before a knock on prevented further progress. 20 minutes played and no score, despite opportunities having been there for both teams.
Pressure usually leads to points, though, and the opportunity for a kickable penalty soon came Stew Mel’s way. The good news was that Euan Bowen bagged the 3 points; the bad news was that, as the ball drifted between the sticks, Momo came off injured to be replaced temporarily by the athletic Matt Sanderson. 30 minutes in, GHK 0 – Stew Mel 3.
The same principle of pressure next applied in GHK’s favour, and, with 3 points on offer, they grasped the opportunity to level the score. Again, once Stew Mel managed to get out of their own half, they began to push their opponents back in the far corner and to close in on the GHK try line, only to be penalised for a high tackle. GHK, with perhaps too much urgency, then threw the ball wide after a successful line out, determined to attack once more using the one man advantage they had gained after the first yellow card of the afternoon had been shown (in my view, a bit harshly). The attack came to nothing, however, and, at half time, the score remained GHK 3 – Stew Mel 3. Game on!
As the second half got underway the rain was back on and the wind had picked up significantly – and Stew Mel were up against both. They started well, taking the game to their opponents in their own half, only to be penalised. This allowed GHK to utilise the wind and kick long for territory, earning a line out well into Stew Mel’s half. With Stew Mel under pressure, it wasn’t long before a kickable penalty was awarded to GHK. Around 55 minutes played, GHK 6 – Stew Mel 3. Tense!
At the restart Stew Mel made inroads and won a scrum 10m out, although GHK managed to get their hands on the ball, and, after another big boot downfield, we had a line out in that far flung dreich corner of the pitch once again. Line outs don’t always go according to plan, though, and fortunately Stew Mel regained possession and won a scrum around the halfway mark. The introduction of the formidable Ruaridh Mitchell at this stage soon began to pay dividends as our scrum, which had been under a fair bit of pressure, particularly in the first half, now became the more dominant unit – and, with that pressure, penalties were going to come.
The wet conditions did, however, lead to errors from both sides and the ball squirted out of Stew Mel’s grasp like a bar of soap, giving GHK the upper hand once more. They were soon back in Stew Mel’s half launching the attacks. The Stew Mel defence was impressive but it didn’t prevent another penalty being awarded in GHK’s favour in a kickable position with around 60 minutes played. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your allegiances) it was a miss. Still tense!
After the 22 drop out got play under way, a further sequence of penalties, scrums and excursions into GHK’s half became gradually more intense, and there was a feeling amongst the Stew Mel faithful that, this time, the pressure being applied was definitely going to turn into something more – which it did, in the form of a totally justified penalty try. GHK 6 – Stew Mel 10. With perhaps 5 minutes left – it may have been less, although it felt like more – GHK launched a final onslaught, but, again the Stew Mel forwards and backs defended like Trojans and Ru got himself well over the ball, winning the penalty. The next step was simple – kick the ball into touch. Game over: GHK 6 – Stew Mel 10.
An attritional victory? Probably, but, without question, the better team ultimately won in my view. Great character was shown throughout, particularly when 3 points were on offer to draw level and the decision was made to take the scrum which ultimately led to the penalty try. For the first 20 minutes Stew Mel were under the cosh but kept their hosts at bay until the pendulum gradually swung back their way. I think this set the scene for the second half, when, despite having the elements against them, they dug deep to see the game out and ensure a great finish to 2019.
It wasn’t a great day for a game of rugby, particularly if you are in the backs, but Stew Mel have proven that, regardless of the conditions, they are still able to play their own brand of rugby, make the right decisions, adhere to good game management and play simple, effective rugby as the conditions dictate to get over the gain line. This is the sign of a good and settled side.
Let’s hope the momentum will continue on 11th January 2020 – 2 pm at Invers against Newton Stewart – and beyond! Our position in the league table is pleasing although there are still a number of teams snapping at our heels – beware!
Merry Christmas and all the best for 2020.