Match Report v Glasgow Academicals | Saturday 8 December @ New Anniesland
A number of changes from the previous encounter back in September. This time around, for the return leg, there were one or two adjustments in the back line, with previous Man of the Match Fraser Strachan returning at scrum half and a late change to the published team due to the late withdrawal of Dave Hampton. Dave’s absence led to James moving back to number 13 and the introduction of Craig Davidson on the left wing. Freddie Roddick was also into provide the last line of defence at full back.
In the pack, the only significant changes were in the back row, where Joe Bailey came in at 6 and Denis Pech, the driving force, at 8.
I had previously expressed some surprise at Accies’ position in the league and this was expected to be a hard game. Although we had won the corresponding fixture at Inverleith by 40 points to 15, we had only really pulled away in the second half. Our form on the road has been reasonable thus far, but, if I was a gambling man, this is not one that I would have bet my shirt on. There were too many factors – the weather, home advantage, players’ availability and possibly even Brexit – that combined to shroud this game with a degree of uncertainty. This, of course, adds to the excitement, and I was certainly hoping for a good result – and, of course, a performance which would provide a fitting send off for Cash.
As I took my seat in the stand alongside my brother in law Rory (he made it this time), a former Glasgow Accies stalwart and son of former Scotland and British & Irish Lion Lawrie, he was full of optimism from an Accies perspective. Rather than tempt fate, I was tight lipped.
Stew Mel commenced proceedings in front of the ageing stand, the pitch impeccable despite the inclement weather. The ball was well collected by Accies who cleared for the first lineout at around the half way line. An attempt to kick downfield was, however, charged down, giving Accies possession, but a penalty was subsequently awarded in Stew Mel’s favour. A good kick by Michael Miller gained some territory but Accies managed to steal the ball at the lineout and, again, kicked for touch, resulting in another lineout. It wasn’t the tidiest but nevertheless possession was retained, and, after another touch finder, this time it was Stew Mel’s turn to win the ball back, enabling James Ferguson and Kyle Marshall to punch holes in the Accies defence.
In the early exchanges Stew Mel generally appeared to have the upper hand, pushing Accies well into their own 22. Sustained pressure eventually led to us being awarded an eminently kickable penalty; Happy slotted it home to make the score Accies 0 Stew Mel 3 with 10 minutes gone. Another long kick off by Accies and a clearance kick by Stew Mel resulted in a lineout around the halfway line which Stew Mel again managed to win. We were still very much in the ascendancy, and, with knock on’s from both sides, we were starting to enjoy a degree of dominance at the resulting scrums, Accies frequently finding themselves on the back foot and having to opt for safety by kicking for touch.
The Stew Mel lineout was also functioning reasonably well, giving the back line attacking opportunities. Firstly James and then Freddie Roddick came at pace and waltzed through a dishevelled Accies defence for the first try (long overdue) of the afternoon. The conversion was, however, unsuccessful, as Happy’s tee did not appear to be playing ball. 25 minutes played, Accies 0 Stew Mel 8.
After the restart the lineouts and scrums took on a familiar pattern, with Stew Mel again enjoying the upper hand in both. More quick ball and width gave Freddie another opportunity as he took off on a
‘Hoggy’ type break, eventually being wrapped up by some desperate Accies defence. A knock-on gave Accies some respite, but this was short lived as Stew Mel applied more pressure, driving Accies back into their own half with some good penetration on the right. This was followed by quick ball wide to the left and our second try eventually came care of newcomer Craig Davidson. This was clearly the result of some good, basic rugby, involving the width of the park, good running lines, good hands and simple passes for one side to the other. 35 minutes played, Accies 0 Stew Mel 13.
As the first half was coming to an end the rain, temporarily abated, returned and both sides began an aerial bombardment, with Accies having the rare opportunity of an excursion into Stew Mel’s 22. This was, again, short lived as a massive boot downfield put them back into their own 22. Accies did, however, launch an attack from deep and managed to get themselves into a reasonable position; they were then awarded a penalty which may have been kickable if your name was Greg Laidlaw … the failed attempt was as inevitable as the half time whistle. Accies 0 Stew Mel 13.
After a dominant first half, what could the second half bring? Quite a lot, actually! The penalty count – not in our favour, I hasten to add – was mounting and the passages of play were turgid. From the restart, despite some good carries, the slippery ball was playing havoc and adding to the aforementioned penalty count. Accies were also pushing forward, making it particularly difficult for Stew Mel to get out of their own 22. The somewhat partisan crowd had now found their voice and were pushing their team on. The Accies players responded accordingly – and it also seemed that the crowd were also inadvertently putting a little bit of pressure on the referee, who appeared to be quivering in his muddy boots!
After retaining the ball from a clearance and in a good attacking position with numbers out wide, Accies opted to kick well into Stew Mel’s 22. Freddie, however, plucked the ball out of the dark sky and sent it back. After a number of penalties, scrums and driving mauls Accies were encroaching on the Stew Mel line, but, rather like the Biggar game the week before, Stew Mel stood firm for a significant period. We eventually managed to progress towards the halfway line with some good carries from Joe Bailey, Happy and Connor. Accies continued to attack, though, desperate to get some points on the board, and, to their credit, their game plan seemed to be working.
The fresh legs of Chris Baikie, Willie Malcolm and Matt Sanderson entered the fray at this point, adding to the already robust defence. Play continued to follow a now familiar pattern, with forwards battling it out, kicks that weren’t finding touch, penalties … and then the inevitable yellow card. This was shown, somewhat harshly, to our number 8 Denis Pech and, unfortunately ended his illustrious afternoon. It was no coincidence that the elusive try came Accies way soon afterwards, the missed conversion leaving the score at Accies 5 Stew Mel 13 with around 70 minutes played.
With only a short period remaining and another penalty award to Accies, the decision was taken to grab the 3 points on offer and come away with at least a losing bonus point. Final score Accies 8 Stew Mel 13.
A tough game alright, with a good first half when we should have scored more points and a second half that really tested our defence. I think we passed that test with flying colours. Overall the backs looked sharp and showed some good hands in the damp conditions. Freddie is obviously at home at Anniesland, whether it’s Old or New! James and Happy made the crucial yards and well done to debutant Craig Davidson on his try. On a day like Saturday, however, I think it has to be the forwards who deserve all the accolades, as they got down and-dirty in a fair, hard edged and competitive way. The carries by Thor, Connor and Kyle, in particular, were top drawer and Joe Bailey was immense around the park. He punches way above his weight and was well supported by Alex and Denis whilst Ruaridh and Momo steadied the ship through stormy waters. The clear outs were exemplary by all eight on the park with none of them having any comprehension of the word ‘fear’.
As the heavy pitch took its toll, Chris, Willie and Matt were essential in seeing out a well-earned victory that could easily have slipped out of their grasp. I’m sure that, despite this being a close run thing, it still made Cash’s impending long haul flight just a bit more bearable. After a touch-line altercation with my brother in law, he eventually conceded that the better team had won. I would totally agree with that in respect of the first half, whereas, as Alex’s dad commented, the second half was certainly ‘interesting’.
The final game of 2018 at home vs Lasswade on Saturday. Hopefully we can muster a large and vocal support of the magnitude that Accies appeared to have on Saturday.
Photograph courtesy of OG Blakeman Photos