It’s a funny old game, rugby.

Seventy minutes into our match at Laigh Bent on Saturday, I was ready to trot out the old ‘it’s a game of two halves’ cliché yet again, our 21-10 half time lead having turned into a 34-21 lead for the home team in the space of thirty minutes.

Ten minutes later, and we had scored two converted tries to claim the win and five very welcome league points. Am still pinching myself as I type this!

The first half was a relatively balanced one, with both teams enjoying periods of superiority during which they scored some nice tries. Hamilton were first to get on the scoreboard, scrum half Turnbull scrambling over after some soft penalties earned our hosts a lineout near our line. The conversion from stand off McLeish made it 7-0 to the Bulls with five minutes gone.

We responded with a try on 12 minutes, a turnover in midfield allowing Sami to canter towards the Hamilton line on the stand side. He had support to his right, but opted to take the ball into contact rather than make the pass; it looked like the chance had gone as Sami hit the deck, but he had the presence of mind to pop the ball up to Euan Morrison, who ran in unopposed. Happy’s Barnton buddy Mike Hanning slotted the easy conversion to tie the game at 7 all.

The pendulum now swung back in favour of Hamilton, who blitzed our defence and forced a series of penalties. We kept them out, though, and they were forced to make do with a long range penalty from McLeish on 27 minutes.

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One of the fascinating features of the first half, apart from the fact that Seb was wearing the 12 jersey while starting on the bench, was the battle for lineout domination. Our old mate Richie Maxton was winning pretty much everything for Hamilton, while our lineout actually started to work pretty well once Craig Willis and his jumpers decided to keep the ball well away from the Bull with teeth like a racehorse. And it was from a lineout that our second try came after 30 minutes, Duncan Wood’s catch allowing Mike Hanning some running room. Mike timed his pass to Rappestad perfectly, the big Swede cantering past the stranded full back to score under the posts. Mike’s conversion edged us ahead at 14-10.

It was at this point that young Sam Ross hobbled off with an ankle injury, Seb trotting on (see what I did there?) to replace him at full back.

It didn’t take long for Seb to make his mark, his break up the far touchline sparking a passage of play that ended with centre Jack Hannay scoring under the posts. Another easy kick for Mike and the half time whistle saw us 21-10 in the lead.

The half time break saw the Hamilton youth section selling pies from silver trays by the side of the pitch – life doesn’t get much better than that, folks!

The Hamilton players must have been on raw meat rather than hot pies at half time, as they came out of the traps like steam trains when play resumed. A combination of missed tackles by us and great running lines from the Hamilton backs saw home full back Wilson score just a couple of minutes into the half, McLeish’s conversion taking the score to 21-17 in our favour.

Hamilton reclaimed the lead three minutes after that as their forwards rumbled over in the corner, back row replacement Alexander claiming the score. McLeish’s fine kick from wide out made it 24-21 to Hamilton.

Three minutes after that, we conceded one of the most bizarre tries you’ll ever see. It started with us enjoying a rare period of possession, with Sean Murchie carrying the ball into the home 22. Hamilton came away with the ball care of an interception, then no less than three random fly hacks (one of them a desperate clearance attempt from our own James Ferguson) saw home sub Inglis touching down. McLeish’s kick bounced back off the post, but Hamilton were still 29-21 ahead.

We emptied our bench at this point to bring on some fresh legs and clear heads, Messrs Rappestad, Goldring, Willis and Wallace being replaced by Messrs Docherty, Scott, Grant and Dixon over a ten minute period.

Hamilton were still on the front foot, though, claiming their fifth try on the 60 minute mark. A penalty for offside earned Hamilton a lineout in the corner; they then rumbled the ball towards our line within a rolling maul, prop Young touching down in the right hand corner once again. McLeish’s kick was, for once, well off target, but we were still 34-21 down.

Given how little we had seen of the ball in the second half, it looked like the game was about to be officially put beyond us when Hamilton were awarded what looked like an eminently kickable penalty after 70 minutes. McLeish had, however, departed the field injured by this point, so the kick went to the corner. Those fresh legs in the pack had obviously started to have an impact, as we managed to keep the home forwards out and, somehow, win a turnover.

Too little, too late, though? Not so, as the man in the generously cut 12 shirt almost single handedly sparked an unlikely fightback to win us the game.

A good break by Sean up the right wing was broken up around the half way line, but Sean managed to pop the ball up as Seb steamed into the line and broke through the home defence. It looked like Seb had run out of steam and/or been tackled well short of the line, but referee Matt Duncan awarded the try after going to the TMO (i.e. he asked the touchie). Mike Hanning’s fine conversion from wide out narrowed the gap to six points (34-28).

Hamilton stormed back up the park from the restart, kicking to the corner then setting up an attacking scrum. That man Trotter managed to intercept the ball in the ensuing passage of play and set off towards the Hamilton line once again, aided by some pretty poor tackling from the home backs. Seb knew that the try was beyond him this time, and was no doubt mightily relieved to find Sean on his shoulder. Sean scored under the posts, Mike kicked the conversion and the ref blew his whistle – mayhem ensued!

A cracking game of rugby, then, though you can understand how gutted Hamilton must have felt after their fine second half fightback only earned them two points rather than five. The Bulls play some really nice rugby – but, if anything, they play too much nice rugby at times.

Our players deserve great credit for not buckling after that second half onslaught, and for having the presence of mind to finish off those two late opportunities. The pack were excellent throughout, putting real pressure on the Hamilton scrum during the first half and doing pretty well in the lineout despite the Maxton Factor. We’ve been working really hard on our set pieces at training recently, and Sesh and Jingles must have been delighted to see that hard work starting to bear fruit.

The coaches also deserve praise for those wholesale substitutions in the second half. It must be tempting to leave our ‘bigger units’ on the business side of the whitewash for as long as possible in a game, but, in players like Ben and Lewis, we have subs that can ask different and equally meaningful questions of the opposition.

We’re back at Invers this Saturday, with Dundee High the opposition. The Mayfield men started the league well but have fallen away a bit recently, losing four of their last five games as their injury list starts to grow. No better time to play them, then – here’s to three wins in a row then a cracking Rugby Club Ball on Saturday!

Stewart’s Melville RFC 35 – Hamilton 34
Bill McNie

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