Match Report vs Aberdeen Grammar 10/12/16

Match Report vs Aberdeen Grammar 10/12/16

Rubislaw seems to have been something of a happy hunting ground for us in recent years, but the build up to this year’s trip north suggested that we were in for a real test on Saturday.

Grammar, after a strong start to the season, were down at the wrong end of the league table, and were therefore targeting the game against us as a ‘Must Win’. There was talk of them having rested players the previous week against Accies to keep them fresh for our visit, and of their talismanic centre ‘Naka’ flying up from London just so he could keep Jack and Happy honest.

The time of year and the lack of floodlights at Rubislaw led to an early kickoff being agreed for the game, and a 9 am departure from Inverleith. The trip up was a quick one, with none of the roadwork-related delays we had anticipated, so the players had plenty of time to stretch their legs and run through a few drills before the game got underway at 1.45 pm.

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Our team was understandably similar to the one that had performed so well at Sunnyside the previous week, with the only change seeing Mike Hanning replacing the unavailable Andrew Warnock at 10. And it was to be Mike who scored all of our points in what was a pretty turgid first half.

The first period didn’t start at all well for Grammar, with the aforementioned Naka (AKA Peceli Nacamavuto) limping off with a calf injury before he’d even taken contact. The opening 15 minutes were pretty cagey, with plenty of errors by both teams on the heavy pitch. Home hooker Fergus McKenzie opened the scoring on 20 minutes when he breenged in from outside our 22, breaking through several half-hearted tackles to claim a fine try. Knudson’s equally fine conversion from wide out on the stand side gave Grammar a 7 nil lead.

Grammar tails were definitely up at this point, while we were still struggling to impose ourselves on the game. Grammar had the edge on us in the scrum and also managed to nick a couple of our lineouts; our hosts were also making decent ground via ‘pick and go’s, making good use of the wind, and, generally, asking more questions of our midfield defence than Falkirk had done the week before.

Our first significant attack of the half came after 35 minutes, after we’d finally managed to coordinate a few phases and move into the Grammar 22 care of a fine break from our combative captain Duncan. Grammar were pinged for offside as our attack broke down, and Mike landed the penalty to peg Grammar back at 7-3.

He and Knudson then landed another penalty apiece before the break, making the score 10-6 at half time.

We were, to be honest, fairly happy only to be 4 points down at the interval, as it hadn’t been a good half. We hadn’t seen much of the ball, and, when we did manage to acquire it, there seemed to be some confusion between our half backs about what we were going to do with it.

We’d also conceded a fair number of penalties and (in the eyes of the home fans) had ‘got away’ with some tackles that might have been ‘rewarded’ with yellow cards on another day.

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Sesh must have made one hell of a team talk during the interval, as we took the lead before the half time pies had even had a chance to cool. James Ferguson was the scorer, making a textbook break up the far touchline to dot down in the corner. A fine conversion from Hanning gave us a 13-10 lead.

Knudson levelled the scores with another penalty shortly afterwards, but we were definitely in the ascendancy now, our set piece looking a lot more solid and our defence positively tigerish.

Our second try came on 50 minutes after a Grammar scrum on their own 22; we got the nudge, the ball squirted out the side and Happy was off and heading for the line. He was tackled, but was able to pop the ball up for Sami, who’d anticipated where Happy was likely to be held and had run a superb line to get him to the breakdown at precisely the right moment. Sami accordingly cantered in under the posts, Mike dinked the kick over and we were 20-13 in front.

Things got cagey again at this point, with Grammar struggling to make any progress as they took their turn to play into the wind and up the slope.  Scoring was limited to another penalty from Knudson after 65 minutes, the award coming after Grammar had mounted a rare assault on our line (20-16).

It looked like we were about to claim a third try shortly after that, Sean Murchie belting into the Grammar 22 in pursuit of a tantalising kick in behind the home defence. It looked like he’d win the race for the touch down, but the officials called play back for an offside on halfway.

We spent the next ten minutes on the attack in the Grammar 22, with James and Thor coming close to scoring on separate occasions. While the Grammar defence held firm, we crucially managed to come away with points after each visit to the ‘red zone’, Mike landing two penalties (one bounced in off the right hand upright) to give us a 26-16 cushion.

Grammar ended the game camped on our line in desperate pursuit of a losing bonus point. The organisation and execution of our close-in defence was excellent, as it had been throughout the second half, and our hosts had to make do with another kick at goal by Knudson. He’d already landed much harder kicks during the game, but pulled this one wide.

The ref’s whistle brought the game to an end immediately afterwards, the only dampener on the Stew Mel celebrations being the fact that big Thor had picked up what looked like a nasty shoulder injury during that last bout of try line defence.

Another hard-fought win on the road, then, and our third victory on the trot. This one was, if anything, the most pleasing of the lot – as Sesh freely admitted afterwards, we would probably have lost this game earlier in the season after that lacklustre first half. As it was, we showed considerable maturity to refocus on the game plan and start playing to our strengths, while the set piece was completely transformed in the second period.

While we rode our luck a bit by not having anyone sent to the bin, that’s arguably a sign that we are learning to play the ref and ‘cheat well’ in the Richie McCaw sense.

It’s actually a bit galling that we only scored two tries after the break, as the Grammar backs looked at sixes and sevens every time we put some width on the ball. Sesh also bemoaned the fact that we didn’t target the Grammar centres after Naka went off – am sure that will have been mentioned to our players at training by the time you read this!

Specific plaudits must go to our front row, whose transformation from ‘raw laddies’ to ‘battle hardened veterans’ continues apace, and to Sami, who once again put in another performance that would make the Duracell kanin look positively lethargic.

We’ve moved up to 9th in the table as a result of our recent heroics on the road, and welcome high flying Marr to Inverleith this Saturday (kickoff 2 pm). The town is likely to be Hell on earth by then, so please stuff the shopping, don your Christmas jumpers and get down to Invers to see if the boys can (ahem) ‘sleigh’ the men from Troon.

Bill McNie

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