Match Report v Dumfries Saints RFC | Saturday 29th February
A two hour plus bus journey to the south west corner of Scotland, an area with probably amongst the highest recorded rainfall in the country, in winter, and in the knowledge that Storm Jorge was on its way, all in order to play a game of rugby, is not for the fainthearted. Well done to all 19 of the RBG squad. A Herculean effort – and that was before a ball was kicked at 3 pm!
That effort then went above and beyond as we held on for a win despite two yellow cards, an injury to Happy that led to him being stretchered off at half time and Adam Greig also being forced to retire as he tried his best to hobble around the pitch with a hamstring injury and with hypothermia and cramp setting in! That bus journey home with four points must, however, have made everything seem worthwhile.
The wind was blowing straight at Stew Mel’s backs as we kicked off but Dumfries collected well and kept possession for a significant period, playing the right game in the conditions, with the visitors hardly managing to see the ball let alone touch it before Dumfries’s possession led to the first try of the afternoon. With 15 minutes played it was Dumfries 5 – Stew Mel 0. I had noted the score before the attempted conversion, which I knew wasn’t going to make it unless the ball had been launched by a bazooka!
The wind was so strong – and getting stronger – that even an attempt by a resident crow to fly the length of the pitch was quickly abandoned as it realised that walking would possibly be more productive. Unlike the crow, however, Dumfries were in full flight as they kept their attacks coming with ball in hand for remarkably long periods, and, with that possession, put Stew Mel under intense pressure. As a result, the penalty count against us began to mount.
We did, however, manage to gain some territory at last, pushing Dumfries back into their own half before sniffing an opportunity from 5 metres out; we were then, unfortunately, penalised and the chance of a score was lost. Dumfries were, however, still battling to get out of their own half and Stew Mel were retaining them well. With the resultant possession, Chris Baikie eventually touched down, Happy then slotting the ball between the sticks with a bit of assistance from Jorge. 25 minutes played, Dumfries 5 – Stew Mel 7.
At the restart, whilst the wind was playing havoc, it was actually of some benefit to the hosts as the ball was conveniently blown back to the Dumfries players, so, with more possession to play with, they continued their onslaught. After more sustained pressure, Stew Mel were penalised and, this time, the first yellow card was shown. Even with Dumfries’s one man advantage, Stew Mel still managed to put the hosts under pressure in their own half and a crucial interception by James Ferguson and Happy’s boot allowed Stew Mel to extend their lead with 30 minutes played: Dumfries 5 – Stew Mel 14.
Almost instantaneously, however, Dumfries came back once more, this time putting the one man advantage to good use and scoring an unconverted try to make it Dumfries 10 – Stew Mel 14. With the first half coming to an end, we ground out another crucial score, Darren Miller bundling over this time – but the half was not over until it was over, and another wave of pressure from Dumfries left them inches away from scoring. Thankfully, a combination of robust Stew Mel defence and an uncharacteristic Dumfries fumble meant the halftime score remained at Dumfries 10 – Stew Mel 19.
There was certainly a degree of urgency to get the second half underway as players and spectators alike were not enjoying the weather as the wind had increased and brought horizontal rain with it. The tactics that we adopted in the second period were as good as it gets and Stew Mel possession was definitely in the ascendancy, with our penalty count abating slightly and a few awards even being made in our favour. Scrums were well contested, although, at times, Dumfries appeared to have the upper hand care of some impressive drives – but Stew Mel stood firm and our play in the ‘loose’ was coming into its own.
With 60 minutes played, Dumfries were still pushing into Stew Mel’s half but, perhaps, without the same intensity they had displayed in the first half. There must have been some tired legs out there, and, again, the tactical kicks, although infrequent, were difficult to judge. It was a day to keep possession, not to squander it, and Stew Mel did exactly what was needed, gradually making their way out of their own half and pushing Dumfries back with a view to increasing our lead. That didn’t quite happen, as the Dumfries defence was strong, but, at least, the play was within their half.
As the weather deteriorated and another yellow card came our way, the game became a mental battle as much as a physical one. Thankfully it was Stew Mel who won both of those conflicts, with the scoreline remaining as it had been at the end of the first half. Final score Dumfries 10 – Stew Mel 19.
A hard fought game, in what were without doubt the worst conditions we’ve seen this season. Both teams did their best to play rugby with ball in hand and what stood out for both, in my opinion, was the defensive effort, which I would say was the best I have seen in any league encounter this season.
Although we have had the upper hand against Dumfries three times this season, all three games have been tough encounters. They are a well organised outfit with some outstanding players, particularly the chips off the old block that are Ewan Miller and captain Jack Steele!
It wasn’t a day for our backs but they did their job, while the forwards were, once again, superb to a man, Willie Malcolm putting in a tremendous shift and relocating to the wing when needed – Adam Greig returned the favour with some big hits in the middle of the park! Momo led his troops by example and took one for the team with that yellow card at the end. There were, however, a few casualties, and here’s hoping Happy and Adam will be back soon before the season finishes. There is still a job to do with 6 league games to go!
Whitecraigs are up next at home with, hopefully, some decent weather in store. Looking forward to it already!
Match photograph c/o Libby Blakeman @OGBlakemanphotography