Match Report v Biggar RFC | Saturday 1 December 2018 @ Inverleith
December is upon us already – although my calendar is dictated by rugby fixtures rather than the 25th. This game was possibly billed as the ‘top of the table clash’, although I thought ‘Clash of the Titans’ would have been more appropriate – sadly, from a Stew Mel point of view, it didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Biggar are, without question, a competent outfit who have flair and skill in their back line and strength and pace in their forwards. Their results speak for themselves. Top of the league and only beaten once and that was in a local derby, where, as we know, anything can happen. It would be stretching it somewhat to consider this fixture to have been a ‘local derby’ but I, amongst others, had been relishing the prospect of a rematch since our previous encounter, when we were eventually thrown onto the ropes and given a fair pounding.
There were, as always, positives from that game, as the team was still in something of a transitionary state with various combinations being tried and tested. We have come on leaps and bounds since that 32-3 drubbing on 8th September and I clearly recall Cash’s inimitable words as the dust settled after the final whistle – ‘we can do better than that at Inverleith’ – or words to that effect!
So here we were with that thought in mind and with a significant travelling support. Proceedings commenced with Stew Mel kicking off towards the castle on an overcast damp day. The starting line-up was more or less as it has been on recent Saturdays, showcasing probably the best we have – and, unlike Scotland, our strength in depth, with Charlie Simmonds starting at 9 for the unavailable Fraser Strachan.
The game started with a high tempo from both sides, although the damp conditions rather restricted the pace and sleight of hand, with knock-on’s by both sides leading to a couple of early scrums, a penalty to Biggar and a lineout at the halfway line. A further penalty gave the opposition more territory although the lineout 10 metres out resulted in a knock-on and the opportunity for Stew Mel to clear their lines. A clean lineout by Biggar led to the ball being moved quickly wide, and, with a clever grubber kick going beyond the defence, the touch down was inevitable. The successful conversion made the score Stew Mel 0 Biggar 7 with less than 10 minutes played.
As the game resumed there were further penalties, exchanges in possession and scrums during a period of scrappy, frantic loose play. Although Stew Mel were enjoying the majority of possession and were, dare I say it, slightly dominant, pressing within Biggar’s 22, we could not breach the line.
The tables then turned and Biggar attacked, gaining the upper hand after another frantic passage of play. It wasn’t long before they were over for their second try with around 25 minutes played – Stew Mel 0 Biggar 14. As the first half drew to a close, Stew Mel were again camped in the Biggar half, some good kicking from Michael Miller giving favourable field position, but there was still an inability to get over the line. A score at this time would have made all the difference, as, although Biggar were ahead by 14 points, Stew Mel were without a shadow of a doubt still in the game at this point.
As the second half got underway, the knock-on’s and scrums chopped and changed until Biggar managed to win back possession with a clever kick through resulting in a lineout 5 metres out from Stew Mel’s line. Our lineout had been functioning reasonably well up to this point but an unfortunate mistake lead to an opportunistic try for Biggar, bringing the score at around the 45 minute mark to Stew Mel 0 Biggar 19.
Around this time Thor was introduced after a bit of shuffling between the back row and second row, bringing a much needed ball carrying element into the mix in addition to his Gaelic football skills. It wasn’t long, however, before Biggar again seized the opportunity, due to a Stew Mel error, and got over for their fourth try of the afternoon. With 55 minutes played, it was Stew Mel 0 Biggar 26, and the visitors were beginning to show their superiority.
Further substitutions followed, with Freddie Roddick replacing Matthew Watson to add some spark and attacking flair, although, once again, as the slippery ball evaded the grasp of Stew Mel’s eager hands, Biggar took advantage with some quick hands of their own and a clever cross field kick by Lavery brought their fifth and final try of the afternoon. With around 70 minutes having been played, it was Stew Mel 0 Biggar 31.
With 10 minutes to go and with the remaining subs on, Stew Mel were again enjoying a reasonable spell of possession. Although we were getting closer and closer to the visitors’ line, we just couldn’t get over for at least one score which I feel we were deserving of. Final score Stew Mel 0 Biggar 31.
The harsh reality was that Biggar scored five tries and Stew Mel scored none. Two were clearly soft and as a result of our mistakes. The others were cleverly created and one in particular – after a cross field kick – would have made even Finn Russell proud.
Stew Mel, on the other hand, failed to capitalise in the first half when they clearly had the majority of possession, with a similar scenario unfolding towards the end of the second half. That’s rugby, I guess. Opportunities must be taken – but, of course, defence is equally as important as attack, and Biggar certainly showed their strength in that department. Having a 14 point advantage at half time, the second half was more of a defining period for Biggar, with their key player being the number 10, Conor Lavery, who ran proceedings most of the afternoon and was always well supported by a strong and mobile pack that gave him an enviable platform from which to launch attacks.
Regrettably Stew Mel didn’t have that luxury, although we had periods where the forwards competed well in the set piece and in loose play – but a little bit of luck was not on their side to get them over the gain line. There were some penetrating runs, particularly in the second half, from James Ferguson and Adam Greig but we still couldn’t breach that robust defence.
The negative score line, in my view, was maybe not a totally fair reflection of the game, given the possession we enjoyed, although Biggar were unquestionably the better side and deserved their victory, particularly given their second half performance which showed no weakening in the foundations laid in the first 40 minutes. They created and took their chances whilst we were not as creative, and, more significantly, didn’t take ours. They certainly put on a good show, with perhaps a little bit of unnecessary show boating in the latter stages! Sometimes seeing a game out with more conservative play is more endearing.
I do still believe that Cash’s words were correct. We can beat any team in this league at Inverleith, but, unfortunately, Saturday was not our day. I would also like to take the opportunity to wish Cash all the best on his ‘sabbatical’ – as they say, ‘Haste Ye Back’!
We’re back on the road again on Saturday against Glasgow Accies at New Anniesland. I suspect they will be tougher opponents this time around compared to our last encounter. The campaign rumbles on.
Match photo c/o Libby @ OGBlakeman Photography