Match Report v Falkirk RFC | Saturday 7th September
Sunnyside really lived up to its name on Saturday, the sun splitting the sky and the pitch in great nick. There was a decent crowd in attendance, too, with Finn Russell once again on hand to see how his brother Harry got on at 9 for the home team.
There was a rather familiar look to the Stew Mel team that took to the field, with Matthew Watson at full back, Sean and Jack on the wings and Happy and Jamie McGurk starting in the centre. Darren Miller, a close season signing from Myreside, started at hooker, with big Roo and Chris Baikie either side of him, while Scott ‘brother of Gregory’ Alldritt made his competitive debut at 8.
We started the game on the front foot, an excellent scrum allowing Jamie to burst up the park before offloading to stand off Mike Miller. Mike swung the ball right before a chip ahead allowed Sean to burst through the backpedalling defence to claim the touchdown. Happy missed the difficult conversion, but we were still 5-0 up with only 7 minutes played.
We then effectively surrendered possession for the next 10 minutes as we were repeatedly penalised by the referee. Two Falkirk penalties went to touch then the third one went over the posts from close range to make the score 5-3 in our favour.
We came close to scoring again on the 17 minute mark, a scrum on the right hand side leading to a barnstorming run from Matt Sanderson. He was, however, stopped just short of the line by some dogged Falkirk defence.
Falkirk really took the game by the scruff of the neck after that, attacking with intent through the midfield. We recovered the ball and launched our own attack up the middle of the pitch – only for some wayward handling to gift an interception to one of the Falkirk backs, who hared off towards our posts. Jamie managed to get back to prevent the try but an excellent offload to winger Calum Rennie gave Falkirk their first five pointer of the afternoon. What looked like a fairly simple conversion was missed, but we were still 8-5 down with 20 minutes played.
We spurned another scoring chance three minutes after that, strong running by Dave Allan and captain Momo ending with Matt being held, once again, within inches of the line. Our ‘red zone fever’ flared up once again with 30 minutes played, another promising attack ending when we were penalised for offside with the Falkirk line seemingly at our mercy.
We were forced to revamp our team two minutes after that, a nasty head cut sustained by Fraser Strachan bringing his match to a premature end. With no back subs on the bench, Dave Allan went to the wing, Jack moved to the centre, Happy moved to 9 and Willie Malcolm came into the back row (there will be a quiz later, hope you are paying attention!)
We also earned our first penalty of the half around this time, Falkirk having been awarded eight in their favour by now. We were lucky not to have at least one player in the bin as a result – definitely something to work on before the next game!
Falkirk claimed their second try on the 35 minute mark, some more slack handling in our midfield allowing the home backs to launch another attack. Their handling was, unfortunately, exemplary, with the ball being shipped along the backline before winger Alan Connolly dotted down in the right hand corner. The conversion was missed once again, but we were now 13-5 down.
We managed to rally in the remaining minutes of the half, earning a penalty in front of the posts that Happy easily knocked over. He then added a second kick to make it 13-11 to Falkirk at the break.
We have tended to play much better in the second half in our recent games against Falkirk, and that’s pretty much what happened on Saturday, better tactical kicking allowing us to pin our all-action opponents deep in their own 22. We claimed two tries from this tactic in the first 13 minutes of the second half, Happy darting over from close range on the 45 minute mark then Darren Miller rumbling through a big hole in the home defence after 53 minutes. Those tries and another penalty from Happy made the score 24-13 in our favour with 20 minutes left to play – bonus point time?
Falkirk were, to their credit, determined that that wasn’t going to happen, and very much bossed the final 20 minutes of the match. Errors started to creep into our play once again, earning Falkirk a kickable penalty, while our already rather makeshift backline got even more makeshift when Jamie was yellow carded for an alleged no-arms tackle after 75 minutes (‘It was chin on chin!”, he protested rather cryptically as he trudged off).
Falkirk had been held up over our line just before then, but made no mistake shortly after Jamie had headed off to claim a prime spot in the showers, the home pack rumbling over for a fully deserved pushover try that left the score at 24-21 to Stewart’s Melville at the final whistle.
This was one of those games where it felt like we had lost even though we had won. We had left so many points out on the field, as the saying goes, while most of Falkirk’s points came as a result of errors on our part. Saturday was something of a reality check, and that’s maybe no bad thing.
Given how close the other games in National 2 were on Saturday (two games drawn and a combined winning margin of only 18 points across the other four games), it already feels like the teams in the league are going to be very closely matched this season, with no whipping boys and no runaway leaders. In that environment, winning ugly (as we did on Saturday) may be more important than ever.