Match Report vs Dumfries Saints | 20th October 2018
I have to confess, from the outset, to having been a little bit excited about the prospect of these two teams meeting, not just this season (when it became a reality) but also last season, when there was a possibility at the semi-final stage of the BT National Cup. The reasons for these sentiments are numerous. Primarily, however, there are my family ties, plus the fact that I was resident in Dumfries for around 5 years. Dumfries was where I met my wife and Dumfries RFC was the last club I played for prior to hanging up my boots. If that isn’t good enough reason to wax lyrical down memory lane, then nothing is.
I have been back to Dumfries over the years but not specifically to Park Farm – there’s a clue in the name! I recall running out on to the lush, green, naturally fertilized pitch, side stepping the cow pats (and the occasional cow). And the stand – yes, there was a stand, where my girlfriend at the time (now wife and mother of my two sons) would take her seat 10 minutes before the final whistle. Why so late? Her excuse was that her midwifery skills were in demand at the local maternity hospital. Some excuse that – life before rugby!
We had no official touch judges in those days, either, but we did have medical back up in the form of the local vet (my uncle) who was adept at both inserting and removing stitches. In addition, he would happily dispense certain substances, not performance enhancing but purely medicinal and usually associated with equestrian events. The match reports – short, succinct and to the point, unlike the waffle you read these days – appeared in the ‘Dumfries and Galloway Standard’ with photos. Black and white, of course!
Although Dumfries is more of a football town, it has strong rugby ties with our friends in the Borders, particularly Langholm, who, at that time, were as good as any Borders team – sadly not so now. Dumfries was/is a great club and a great community, but, nostalgia aside, there was only one team that I was rooting for on Saturday.
If you haven’t given up reading this ‘report’ yet, you are probably thinking, ‘what about the match?’ or ‘let’s hope we can avoid another away fixture at Park Farm’. Stay with me, almost there! One final thing – a little bit of history was in the making on Saturday as not since 1982 had Park Farm been graced by a Murchie, a Miller and a Steele, the only difference on Saturday being that there was only one Murchie, one Steele and one Miller – and the Murchie was playing for the opposition!
It was a fine autumn day with a moderate breeze (but nothing that would get in the way of a good competitive game) as the Doonhamers commenced proceedings up against a rather revamped Stew Mel side. We had Michael Miller back at 10, Freddie Roddick ‘in space’ at 15 and Dave Hampton in his preferred number 13 spot. It was a welcome return, also, for Thor, Happy, and captain Momo, while Denis Pech was introduced to the starting linuep at Number 8.
It wasn’t long before Dumfries started to put some phases together, playing with a high tempo and scoring early on in the corner. The conversion was missed, and, after play resumed, although Dumfries were enjoying the majority of possession, Stew Mel managed to get their hands on the ball and eventually replied with a score by Chris Baikie, also in the corner and also unconverted. 10 minutes in, Dumfries 5 Stew Mel 5.
The opening stages were frenetic, with Dumfries certainly laying down the gauntlet as to how they were going to play, and their second try wasn’t long in coming. Prior to this, Stew Mel had been making inroads and showed their intent by choosing to kick a penalty in their favour to the corner rather than opting for a possible 3 points. A successful lineout and quick ball wide only resulted in a knock on, preventing any further momentum. An opportunity lost? Dumfries weathered the storm within their half, and, despite good forward drives by (in particular) Doug Randall and Denis, the ball was stolen and their lively scrum half broke through, only being denied a score by some desperate Stew Mel defending.
More pressure from Dumfries led to their second try around the 25 minute mark: Dumfries 12 Stew Mel 5. Up to this point – and only up to this point – I felt Stew Mel were still in it, but then Dumfries found another gear and notched up a couple more tries before half time, the score being 26-5 in their favour at the break.
It is always a long way back from that scoreline, but we remained positive as the second half got underway. Stew Mel were still struggling to get phases together, though, and Dumfries continued to have the upper hand; this resulted firstly in a penalty and three points, and, thereafter, a try at around the 55 minute mark. Dumfries 34, Stew Mel 5.
The penalty count was on the increase for both sides, although clearly more were being conceded by Stew Mel as they found themselves under intense pressure. We still had our moments as the fresh legs of Thor and Connor McKay led the charge, and their set piece scrum was solid. Despite their efforts, Stew Mel were still very much on the rack at this stage and Dumfries added another try to their impressive tally. 60 minutes played, Dumfries 41 Stew Mel 5. What now?
Whether Dumfries took their foot off the gas or Stew Mel upped the ante, there was a comeback of sorts in the last five minutes, with three tries courtesy of Jack, Momo and Michael. This earned us a losing bonus point that none of us would have thought possible. Final score Dumfries 41 Stew Mel 26.
A tough day and all credit to the hosts. They were undoubtedly the better team. Their style of play certainly belies their current league position, as you would expect them to be much higher up the table if Saturday was anything to go by. The Miller and Steele combination was as pivotal as it was in 1982!
A former football coach of one of my sons once said, when they were losing 10 nil at half time, that there were positives and negatives. The negatives were the fact that they were losing by 10 goals, while the positives were that the goalie was playing a blinder! It’s best to focus on the positives – and there were still quite a few for Stew Mel on Saturday. The loss of various players to injury didn’t help the cause and did create a bit of disruption – but, that said, I very much doubt if there would have been any significant difference to the outcome if we had suffered less casualties. Uncharacteristically poor defence at times and missed tackles also contributed to our downfall.
We’ve a big game against Highland on Saturday, which is where the focus must now be. No more time for nostalgia (you will be relieved to know I have only been to Highland RFC once!) Thus far we have a 50% success rate ‘on the road’ in the league – hopefully we can address that at the weekend.
Match photo c/o Libby Blakeman / OGBlakeman Photos