Match Report vs Preston Lodge RFC | 29th September 2018
A healthy group of supporters from both sides had gathered at Inverleith, which was refreshing to see. I had even managed to persuade my brother, an avid reader and critic of my match reports, to come and see the real thing. Glad he found the time from his busy globetrotting schedule to fly in specially from Dubai. I am sure he was not disappointed at what was ultimately on display (and his nephew thankfully delivered!)
Cast your minds back to Saturday 18 November 2017, the last time these two teams locked horns. It was in the BT National Cup, with Stew Mel just edging the tie 33-27, Adam Howie scoring the winner. It was edge of the seat stuff that day, and, given our form at that time, it was particularly great to get a result, a fact summed up by Charlie booting the ball over the stand into the Fettes playing fields at the final whistle (poetic licence!)
At that time, both Stew Mel and Preston Lodge were propping up our respective leagues. A lot can happen in a year, of course – not just in politics but also in sport. As the teams took to the pitch on Saturday past and I reflected on our previous meeting and current league positions, it was always going to be a difficult one to predict.
A now familiar looking Stew Mel side, with some minor adjustments to both forwards and backs, kicked off towards Ferry Road, gusty conditions prevailing at Inverleith.
There was the usual frantic start, with possession changing hands several times, although Preston Lodge were ultimately pinned down in their own 22. There was then an opportunity to break from the base of the scrum, and, the second the ball arrived in Thor’s hands, I had recorded the score. There was no stopping him from that distance and Chris Beattie also slotted the conversion. 7 minutes played: Stew Mel 7 Preston Lodge 0.
At the restart Stew Mel managed to secure possession but a ‘wind aided’ pass led to a Preston Lodge lineout and subsequent penalty. Preston Lodge were on the attack this time, but some text book defending by Stew Mel and a knock on resulted in a scrum just over the half way line. This steadied the ship, although a clever kick through by Preston Lodge forced some desperate defending and the ball was adjudged to have been carried over. The resultant scrum to Preston Lodge 5 meters out resulted in quick ball to their impressive number 12, who broke through tackles to score. The successful conversion meant that the scores were level with 20 minutes played.
At this stage the scoreline was a fair reflection of the game, with neither team showing any significant signs of domination in the forwards or the backs. The tables turned in Preston Lodge’s favour shortly thereafter, though, and (having seen the space and a possible overlap) they moved the ball wide to score their second try. The conversion was, however, never going to be easy. 25 minutes in, Stew Mel 7 Preston Lodge 12.
What next?! This time it was Stew Mel’s turn to have a go, and, after a penalty for a high tackle, an exemplary touch kick and a good lineout, we managed to move the ball to the midfield, releasing Sean Murchie to score under the posts with Chris again successful with the conversion. 35 minutes played, Stew Mel 14 Preston Lodge 12.
Preston Lodge then launched further attacks but some great defence from Stew Mel kept them at bay, Adam Greig in particular smashing everything that moved. This pressure gave us a momentary chance to get up field and Adam cleverly turned defence into attack and made the hard yards. Some good territorial kicks by Freddie Roddick pushed PL back into their own 22, and, whilst they made sure they secured possession from the lineout and attempted to move the ball wide towards the stand, their winger was soon bundled into touch. A penalty in PL’s favour then put them back in the ascendancy for another period, but, again, our visitors were kept at bay. A penalty then came Stew Mel’s way and gave us some more breathing space as the first half came to an end.
Some new personnel entered the fray as the second half commenced. Fraser Strachan, Connor McKay, Doug Randall and Michael Miller all came on with bundles of enthusiasm and contributed immediately to a strong start. Matt Sanderson again showed off his athleticism with several storming runs, always looking for the offload, and the try wasn’t long in coming. After a wee run, Sean crossed over for his second. 50 minutes played, Stew Mel 19 Preston Lodge 12.
Whatever happened or was said at half time had certainly translated onto the park and the best try of the afternoon – a sublime passage of play – was soon to come, the credit being taken by the ever eager Jamie McGurk. The move was started by the quick hands of Fraser Strachan, while the penultimate carrier was Chris Beattie, who had a fine afternoon both with his boot and in open play. 60 minutes played, Stew Mel 24 Preston Lodge 12.
Things looked a bit more comfortable at this stage – but were they? The big Preston Lodge pack had seemed to be tiring but this was short lived as they found another lease of life and kept the attacks coming, both from both loose play and via some solid scrummaging. From the half way line they attacked once more; Stew Mel defended but the attacking team ultimately prevailed and another try came PL’s way. With 15 minutes to play and the score at 24–17, nothing was guaranteed, and there was certainly more in Preston Lodge’s tank as they moved the ball wide again for another try. Stew Mel 24 Preston Lodge 22.
This led to an extremely stressful last 10 minutes which mainly comprised of lineouts, scrums and more scrums, together with penalties for both sides and a forward pass just to top it all off. The Stew Mel forwards manufactured a ‘Munsteresque’ series of pick and go’s which was successful up to a point and certainly had the intended result – reaching the final whistle without conceding again. Full time score: Stew Mel 24 Preston Lodge 22.
It was a most enjoyable game to watch, albeit somewhat nervy. The ‘what if’s or ‘could have’s were irrelevant. We got the result and the bonus point. There were some lapses balanced by, dare I say it, Champagne rugby. If we could be more consistent for the 80 minutes, I think any team would struggle against us – however, therein lies the key point. Preston Lodge were in this game until the very end, and, like us, put together some impressive phases.
As the season progresses it is getting more difficult to give specific mention to individuals, points scorers apart. This, in a way, is a good thing, as it allows us to focus on team effort & performance – and, indeed, game management – as a result. I do, however, think that some players merit individual mentions after Saturday’s performance. Freddie Roddick’s kicking for field position in the first half was excellent. Jamie McGurk is a live wire in midfield and tackled everything that came his way. The half back quartet of Charlie, Freddie, Fraser and Michael all offered options and Matt Sanderson was outstanding, particularly in loose play.
The impact from the bench (also referred to as ‘finishers’ – they are way more than that!) by Connor, in particular, was plain to see, while our turnover specialist Ruaridh Mitchell was a rock in defence. Ed Kelman punches way above his weight, and Adam Greig and Chris Beattie in the back three were clinical – as was our number 14, who did okay.
On this occasion, we showed that, as well as knowing how to win a game, we are mature enough to know how not to lose it. I think I even saw Cash and Jingles smiling at the final whistle!
East versus West this Saturday. Onwards and upwards. Feet firmly on the ground.
Match photo c/o Libby Blakeman / OGBlakeman Photos